Hong Kong + Just James = News for You (Previously the "JustJames" Blog.)

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Chapter Seven: The Ghost of Gao Jin's Flat

Cimg0734The building recedes back from the street quite inconspicuously. The front gate has rusted. It's a wonder that a digital keypad even exists to let someone in, it just doesn't fit. Relative to the buildings in front of it and beside it, this six storey building is quite humble. It also belongs to the era of old Wan Chai. Wan Chai is a district in Hong Kong Island, and is probably one of the last bastions of old Hong Kong... the kind of Hong Kong that Mr. Wong Kar Wai would take great pains to resurrect through cinematography and digital detail. As of the last few years, the government has taken a very proactive urban renewal position... it wants to force Wan Chai into the present, whether it means forcing out residents, bulldozing existing buildings, and transforming the scale of its maze-like neighborhoods... the Wan Chai that exists in the present, as how it existed in the past, will soon disappear in the sea of new development.

My building may or may not exist in ten years time, but something tells me that the flat I've moved into was here from the get go, and was a character of Wan Chai's creation. I expected to pay about $800 to $900 US in rent fees a month, this centrally located flat popped up when a friend from work found it just walking around. A sign for $650 US a month is a steal relative to Hong Kong Island's rising real estate market rates. (Let's think of Hong Kong Island as Manhattan... and let's think of Wan Chai as the Lower East Side, or Alphabet City...) The price of my centrally located apartment is rare and I just had to grab it. Plus, it's next to work... so I wouldn't have to commute everyday (as much as I love taking the Subway.)



It was a cold and rainy Thursday night. With my suitcase in tow, I finally leave my serviced apartment and move into my first flat ever. This place is the first place (outside of school) that I can call truly mine. After an exhaustive rise to the third floor with my belongings, I finally made it to my place. This is officially Gao Jin’s (my Chinese name… it means Strong and Tall) flat. No matter whom it once belonged to in its very old, and I’m sure telling, history, this place is now, officially MY place… or is it?

This building lacks an elevator. Check. This building is dark most of the time. Check. The first floor flat at the top of the stairs as one walks in is boarded up and sealed. Check. The second floor flat is overflowing with more Filipino immigrants than a 400 sf foot flat should and could handle. Check. The dog in the flat above mine always barks at the slightest noise… including me. Check. And I’ve finally moved into my apartment and I haven’t heard from my own parents in what feels like weeks… check.

But my flat… at least my flat is new. At least my flat is beautiful and I think it’s perfect… and it’s spacious. New paint, new tiles, new accessories, and a great floor plan. What’s the catch?

The day I signed my contract, about two weeks ago, I had a strange dream. I dreamed about a new place I was moving into, that was strangely being flooded by some weird and thick yellowish liquid that oozed out of its floorboards. My mother was waiting for me outside and I just couldn’t and wouldn’t allow her inside until I knew for sure what was causing the ooze to occur… and more specifically, how to stop it. But I couldn’t stop it. It kept on flowing out and flowing out with no end in sight. It smelled like urine, and felt like acid. And then I woke up. Had I made a mistake? Did I move into this too fast… way too soon?

With all my stuff all over the floor and my bed ready made… I finally called it a day and treated myself to a late first shower. The water was warm in the way that calmed me. The day was difficult, and my project was tiring and exhausting… I was glad to be home.

As I moved into my room, I turned on the AC unit. For some reason the air was so thick in there you can slice it with a knife. And then I sank into bed but for some reason I couldn’t sleep. I tried listening to my iPod, I tried reading the Ikea catalog for the umpteenth time, and I tossed and turned. Something was wrong. I was feeling dizzy and tired, and heavy… but still I couldn’t sleep.

The next day I rushed to work, exhausted from the night before. I dressed quickly and left the flat without turning back. Something was wrong and I didn’t know what it was. On the way to work I saw a Buddhist temple, and realized that the building had so much history. All of a sudden, thoughts were bombarding my mind… why did the agent lower the price of the apartment so quickly? Why were they eager to rent it? Why was the flat completely remodeled? And most importantly, what lies beneath the new polished tiles?

All these thoughts filled my mind, and for some unknown reason, I have yet to receive a text message from my own mother. I wanted to talk to her. I wanted to let her know that I’ve moved in, that I was “fine”. But I also wanted to know if there was something I should be doing to bring in the good spirits. Was my flat haunted?

After a grueling conference call, I finally let my team members at work know about my flat “issues”. I told them about the fact that I wasn’t able to sleep… and that something wasn’t right. All these thoughts were in my mind and I was asking people where I could get a priest to bless the house. I was even thinking about Asian horror movies like “The Grudge” where an American family moves into a seemingly perfect home, but all end up dying horrible deaths in less than a day… or even “The Eye”, when a woman who gets her eyesight back, realizes that the people she sees within her building are not alive. Was I in an Asian horror flick?

A clairvoyant friend told me that when a space has been empty for a long time, that certain spirits tend to move in. It was up to me to get rid of it in one of three ways… either by throwing a big party, buying goldfish, or getting a cuckoo clock. (Well I knew for sure that the cuckoo clock could be me and she was just trying to send me a message.) In any rate I decided to stop freaking out, and after work, I gave it a second chance.


After work I decided to buy a couch and moved it in that night. With my nice modernist couch in the space, the flat seemed almost accommodating in the way that it wasn’t the night before. I placed a floor lamp beside the couch and arranged all my things… and I waited. Nothing came. The weird energies and vibe I felt the night before didn’t exist in my second night. I took another shower and decided to pop in a DVD. Everything seems fine. And then I went to sleep… and rather quickly.

What happened between the night before and the next day? What happened to the ghost? What happened to the spirits? The air was alright, and everything seemed quite… okay. Today I moved in a TV and got my stuff laundered across the street. I’ve finally settled at home.

There are no ghosts and no evil sprits. The only thing that was haunting that apartment was my stress and my anxieties moving into my first apartment. Of course being in my first place… in a different country obviously brought on the stress and the anxiety I didn’t know I was feeling and it channeled itself into something completely silly. I did question my decisions and my choices… and it’s easy to fear that the whole thing was a big mistake… the housing contract, the job, the whole move. But moving into this flat made my life a bit more permanent than ever before… like “housing contract permanent”. So what of the dream? What did it mean? Well who knows what dreams really tell us… but for sure I was worried about my first contract. I just want my place to be nice and comfortable especially for the next couple of years. The only thing that is haunted in that place is my thoughts, and my fears, and my worries. I have to remind myself that I deserve this apartment, I deserve this new life, and I deserve the renovations, the new paint, the new polished tiles, the furniture, the bed.

Then what is the catch? Why is it all seemingly perfect?

Maybe, just maybe, because it is… perfect. (Bat maybe the catch is… is that it doesn’t have an elevator… but that I can certainly deal with.)


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