My room at Ascension House isn't much larger than ones I've had at Chungking Mansions, but there's at least one crucial difference. I don't have to make my morning coffee two inches away from my bed. Here there's a kitchen, which I share with five pairs of shoes and an occasional sleepy Indonesian face passing through to use the bathroom. I don't drink that first cup of coffee on my bed either. I go out on the porch, sit on a white plastic chair, and listen to birds and crickets and the distant sound of a train that passes below the hill every once in a while.
When I'm alone in the house, I write at the kitchen table but now that I have company, I go to my room, turn on the air conditioner, and finish the last of my coffee. When I look up at my windows, all that I see are green leaves, and last night I came home to a baby gecko, frozen above my light switch. I'm glad to have this as my base for a few weeks, even though the smell of mildew is disconcerting. But when I open the windows, the same smell drifts in from outdoors, along with a strange hint of sour milk. The air conditioner is the only source of air without an odor.
Yesterday I roamed around Shatin for a while, discovering that its most commonly used thoroughfares are shopping malls, linked by skybridges. The mall that is connected to the subway and train system was as crowded as the Puyallup Fair, and possibly noisier. On the streets outside I've yet to find food that isn't franchised, so when my blood sugar went to absolute zero, I got on a train and went back to the area around Nathan Road. Sitting in a small congee joint, I ate comfort food and regained a decent world view again. This weekend, my goal is to find congee in Shatin that isn't in a shopping mall, and perhaps noodles too.