This is a repeat post, slightly edited, from several years ago. It was a post that was part of my “book” series.
I lived in Hong Kong for three years and wrote about a group of fifty best friends I spent every waking hour with during a three year teaching term. This is an ongoing writing project that will eventually culminate all of its bits and pieces into a book somehow, somewhere…someday.
Writing is an outlet for me when a) shit gets weird b) when life gets fun c) when I’m pissed off or d) when I have serious insomnia. The below is mainly a result of my one and only serious experience with insomnia during my full-time living in Hong Kong. According to my Ayurvedic friends and friends who walk with crystals in their pockets, I was “Vata Deranged”. Meaning: I have an obscure mix of nature-city girl who is neurologically wired to and for mountain air and ocean living but ironically drawn to the mayhem of cosmopolitan distraction purely for the sake of art (DNA strain of tortured artist). City living brings about a “Vata-Derangement” in my constitution and a deluge of maniacal responses to cope with the meltdown of my nervous system. To this day double decker buses and the sound of any drill makes me angry.
I was deranged for three years and wrote 300 pages of a story that has been sitting on my desktop.
The below is for my good friend and fellow teacher, Tanya Boulton who now works for Pure Yoga in New York City. She still dances in her underwear and has since created her own clothing line called tanya.b. She’s one of my favourite teachers.
Miss ya, doll. Today, I will teach for you and for sure, Biggie Biggie BIggie will be on my playlist.
“Hold onto the ledge and promise me you won’t fall.”
Lights from the Bank of China Tower flickered between strands of Tanya’s hair. The beginnings of a monsoon was brewing, its fist stirred the guts of Victoria harbour into a windy agitation of angry gusts. It blew Tanya around, a mass tangle of brassy blonde, smoky grey lashes and glossed lips.
“Okay, now tilt your chin down, don’t smile, put one leg up on the ledge, keep the other leg on the ground and make like a knock-kneed supermodel pout.”
Her and I were on her rooftop of her Central Hong Kong apartment on Caine Road and any man walking by with a penchant for Victoria’s Secret models, which is pretty much every man, would have been thrilled to see my friend dripping head to toe in black lingerie, white angel wings and strappy black heels that coiled ribbons of silk up to her colt-like knees. I laughed behind the lens of my camera at how ridiculous our lives were. And even more so at the ratio of all the highly attractive single girls I knew while living there. We floated like lonely ducks in the middle of Asia’s golden pond.
“Someone tell me I have a nice ass or something” was one of our many commonly shared sentiments.
We still shudder to this day.
We travelled in packs, which probably didn’t help our situation. A red rover lineup of legs and breasts for the oncoming traffic of Queens Road Central, I’m just guessing, may have been slightly intimidating to infiltrate. We spent our time together between classes, at all hours of the day, doing semi-ridiculous things, like, for example, hanging out on windy rooftops on a Tuesday night in our underwear. Tanya was the model and I was a pretend Leibowitz with her new Canon. Just because.
The sky line of office towers lights danced behind her, performing their 8p.m nightly ritual. For fifteen minutes every night of the week, the world’s highest sky rises make-like-a-Berlin-trance-club Christmas tree, zig zagging and flashing in sync, all in the name of entertainment and bedazzlement. It is so over the top…and so very Hong Kong.
The wind caught a hold of one of her white wings.
“Oh shit!” she tottered and screamed, hopping off and clicking back toward the fire escape. A honey-yellow light spilled from the doorway onto her shoulders. It was borderline offensive but kinda like Marc Jacob’s sexy-bleached light campaign, it worked.
I told her to stop … and to start dancing.
So she danced. She danced to the rhythm of whatever song she had last played in her apartment which, I’m guessing, was Notorious B.I.G. She is predictably partial to old school hip hop. My shutter rhythm followed her, a coiling of arms, legs and mess of hair. Imaginary men sat behind me, kicking backwards on their chairs waving brown bills and elbowing one another in the ribs.
It was pure art: ridiculous, unplanned, cold, moody, slightly embarrassing in the moment and resulting in the realm of imperfectly perfect.
I was a girl going through her photography-phase of life and like Sophia Copola so poignantly once wrote, it is a time when we, “take pictures of our feet.” It’s as though we have never seen them before and are enamoured by our own toenail polish.
I still take pictures of my feet and I still am and forever will be a girl who takes pictures of her feet.
Like most of my obsessions, I somehow made an exhibit of it. In Hong Kong you can get away with anything somewhat avant-garde and people will not only show up, but they will pay obscene amounts of money for it. Tanya, along with twenty other teachers-turned-models, were my muses for a year and their photos are probably now sitting in the storage bins and mantles of random Hong Kong students and former stalkers.
The shoot ended when my battery died and I walked home at two in the morning, downloading around two thousand photos of TB and her dancing limbs.
Tanya arrived in 2006 after visiting as an assistant with Ana Forrest. Our group of expat teachers were instantly enamoured with her. She was, quite simply, one of us. During one of Ana’s angry-growl-like-a-cougar-and cry classes, she nudged her knee into my foot and adjusted my hip. The ceiling lights framed her smile and a bead of her sweat fell off her nose and onto my cheek. We made eye contact as it slowly rolled onto my cheek, past my eyeball and into my ear. It was kind of gross. We burst into laughter and were instant friends.
Tanya has teacher’s blood. You either have it or you don’t. It courses through her veins and shines in her work as an amazing mentor. I’d catch her on many occasions sitting on the Tsim Sha Tsui staffroom couch quietly consoling the toils of a new teacher on staff. I was always inspired by this trait of hers and decided to consciously teach with her “way” in my mind, to listen to whomever decided to stumble my way as a student and to care beyond the borders of my own ego. Before Pure, she worked as a high school teacher in some of L.A’s toughest neighbourhoods and it had taken its toll. She stepped away from intense inner city L.A and joined us a few months later.
The sun shone a bright grey beneath a low pressure of heavy polluted clouds. The day dripped with a typical Hong Kong humidity while TB and I met up for a footie in Soho at Pervy Pete’s. It’s actually not called Pervy Pete’s but we call it that because he has a tendency to get a bit too close to our private parts when he gives a full body massage. However, I think it’s borderline enough that it’s a harmless acupressure technique. All that matters, and is far more paramount than a potential groping charge, is that he rubs the arches of our feet in a way that no man has ever rubbed the arches of our feet.
Together Tanya and I reclined and chatted. Her dad passed recently away. She told me that she listened to his last breaths. I think she said she counted five of them. Five breaths. It had me thinking that maybe that’s the countdown for us all? Five breaths. Whether we know the countdown is on or not. I wonder how we will spend them. Will we be smiling? In repose or panic? Will they be biomechanical or learned with the innocence like when we took our first five steps towards the clapping hands of our parents? Or will they be five supra-conscious? The kind that opens the sky, unbuttons the clouds and does what we may have always been doing: being breathed by a magician in the sky. Maybe there are lungs in the clouds that can only spare so much for each lifetime.
I’m not sure, neither is T.
I’m counting five right now and tonight I’ll do the same. Five for her dad, five for Tanya and five for all angels on rooftops who hang out in their underwear.