Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Chinese girls can wear green far better than redheads. On an auburn-haired woman, green looks like a cliché – "welcome to the Saint Paddy’s Day Booze Orgy, boyo" – but on a slim Cantonese person, the effect is totally classy.
Especially if it’s a skirt or a sweater. Or, hypothetically, even shoes. Ballet flats. Sensible and comfortable, yet elegant.

That was the thought that popped into my head the other day as I walked by Portsmouth Square, on the side where 檳城美食邨 (Penang Garden) and Buddha's Universal Church are located. Washington Street.


A remarkable thought, given that the only people visible, while indeed Chinese, were by no means girls. Elderly chess-players, and grannies listening to opera. But when I'm smoking a nice strong flake in my pipe, strange figments come to mind. It's the effect of nicotine.
I always light up a pipe after weekend lunches in Chinatown, carefully calibrating the load to last me until mere moments before I get to the office building. A pleasant stroll, the long way around, gets me in the mood for a few hours of plonking at the computer.


Think of a dark green skirt, white blouse, neat little shoes, a cardigan, and raven-dark hair.
Now imagine a warm smile, discrete lipstick, and pearls.
Nice, no?
In the very best of taste.
Exactly like you would have seen in some of those Mandarin movies from the fifties, or period serials from Hong Kong made during the eighties and nineties. The straightforward and intelligent young woman who is the heroine of the piece. She has refinement, gallantry, good breeding, and courage. Her role is not just decorative, but inspires the viewer. At some point she'll grab a pistol and kill several Japanese soldiers, for the very best of reasons, of course. Or she'll save her bookish fiancé the newspaper publisher by demurely blowing the brains out of the corrupt police chief, with steely girlish resolve.
Salutory cinema. Delightful and enchanting.

The net result is that everyone who leaves the movie theatre that night will wish that they too knew someone like her, or if they are women, that they actually were her.
Or, if they are very flexible, both of those eventualities.

The elderly chess-players do not know what goes through my mind when I pass. They are wrapped up in their game, and probably imagining a battle during the three kingdoms era, if they dream at all while strategizing.
A host of elderly men stands around the two adversaries, observing pensively, silently sharing in the delicious tension.
A cannon is moved across the board, a halberd-wielder feints and scowls.
General Kwan salutes his liege, Lau Bei, then moves to block the enemy forces at the Ging ford. Whisps of smoke from several cigarettes mingle in the cold winter air.......
A solitary pipe smoker passes by, and pressed Virginia mixes briefly with the air-cured leaf.

It takes about twenty minutes from the sidewalk outside whichever small restaurant where lunch was had to the front door of the office building.
By the time I've made it to Montgomery and Pine, the pipe is almost done.
The mental image of the young lady wearing a pleated skirt has dissipated by then - momentary sweetness fades to matters perfectly mundane.

It was a good lunch, and I got to listen in on other people talking.

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Happy Holidays said...

Merry Nittle-Shopping-Mess!

The back of the hill said...

Thank you!

Truth be told, I cannot wait till the whole ghastly season is over.

I do not do holidays particularly well. Nor parties.

Just give me food, Scotch, and a corner where I can stay out of the noise, and don't bother me with elvish mayhem.

querulously amphibious said...

I was on Walter Lum Place this morning. Did not see any alluring Chinese ladies wearing green. Where did I go wrong?

The back of the hill said...

I wish I knew. Believe me, I really wish I knew.

Zack Ly said...

They do not have to be wearing green. They do not have to be wearing anything.

Patrick O'Riley said...

Elvish mayhem? Sounds DIVINE! Are the elves dressed in green too?

lexicologically amphibious said...

Elvish mayhem are acts of misbehavior perpetrated by malefactors who bear a slight resemblance to Elvis Presley.

Anonymous said...

I always knew Elvis was a stunted little fuck.

The back of the hill said...

Please, no maledicta!

Let us always remain careful of the sensitivities of little children and rabbis who read this blog. And thank you.

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