Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mustard Gas on the Sixth Floor

I came home after a late lunch today and found the door to the Holiday wide open. When I walked in I immediately began to choke. There on their hands and knees were Hari and Jun scrubbing the floor and in the air around them was something horrible. Instantly it filled my mouth, settled on my lips and grabbed me by the throat. I gagged and my nose began to burn as I closed my mouth.

Jun had a towel over his mouth and Hari's face was bare as they scrubbed lines of liquid into the floor. I threw my possessions in my room and left, trying not to breathe as I went toward the open door. "Be careful," Jun cautioned me, "Don't fall."

I have had up close and personal experience with Third World cleansers in Bangkok but not even Vixol--the most potent toxin I've ever used-- was anything like what these two Nepali guys had their countenances inches from today. Whatever they were using became a gas as soon as it hit the air and at least thirty minutes later I can still feel it in my chest. This isn't a cleanser--it's a weapon.

I came back with two packs of face masks and handed them to Jun and Hari, who grinned and said, "But we're finished" while Jun indicated his bandito face-towel. "I don't think that's enough," I said, "You should probably wear three masks at a time."

It reminded me of the day that I toured a Toshiba plant in Thailand where behind a glassed-in wall, people wearing face-masks sprayed appliances with paint that settled around them in a cloud of colorful specks. When I looked in horror at the man who was showing me the plant, he said quietly, "We use robots to do this in Japan."

"The opportunities are greater for us in Hong Kong," a young Nepali told me in the Chung King Mansions elevator the other day. Yes indeed--in a city where the front seats on double-decker buses are equipped with seatbelts and a voice regularly announces, "Dear passengers, when using the stairs on the bus, please use the hand rail," Nepali men have the opportunity to turn their lungs into lace before they're thirty.

No comments: