A pedestrian on Hiram’s Highway at an inhospitable hour
and with the voluminous sun licking its glint off empty satellite dishes,
I left 西貢 Sai Kung at midday,
disgusted by the cramped tanks of fish crabs cuttlefish
stacked as exhibits outside cavernous seafood restaurants
and took off in search of the temple of 天后 Tin Hau
to doctor the black rainbow. The day was radiant through acres of sky
clear as the scent from plots vacant with flowering ginger
and ignoring the brash signage pointing out the turn-off
to the Pak Kong Treatment Works with its never-ending filter beds
marked so deceptively sea-blue blue in the grid of my fold-up map,
I wandered instead past a village of junk —
humming a skeleton tune picked up half-learnt from nowhere —
where aerial vines launched themselves into space from out-house roofs
as taps dripped their heart-rate on moss-panelled concrete
into the Earth God’s earth.
Noon’s thick-skinned heat
shivered to the whish of thin jagged water
sluiced in creeks down the sharp-angled slopes
of 馬鞍山 Ma On Shan, green saddle-mountain ridge ridden by winds,
while further along the deserted meander of 北港路 Pak Kong Road [North Harbour],
home without walls to dry estates of insects,
I rolled up my T-shirt over my belly
and invited tall grasses touched only by rain
to tickle sensation back into office-white skin.
Beckoned by a hill-side track fainter than poppy-seed dust,
than the crackle of air through the shell of a derelict spider,
I paid my respects to two well-tended graves:
the impeccable photos on their thoughtful white headstones
gazed straight out to sea and were retouched through cloud-banks each dawn.
At a pumping station, where the road finally halted,
I asked a man washing a sports car with a rag and a red bucket for directions —
he broke into a smile at my broken Cantonese
and pointed to a dot on the map I hadn’t even noticed,
as I burned with memories of 鹹田 Ham Tin’s needle-hot sands
where small lumps of beach-tar stick to the feet in surf
and where the gaunt twin islands of 大洲 Tai Chau and 尖洲 Tsim Chau
loom like door-gods, one squat one sharp,
at an entrance to elsewhere the blood alone visits
when the head is postponed in the shaft of a sun-baking torpor.
On my slow way back, unable to resist the lure of dotted-line short-cuts,
I wound up in a clearing at 狐狸頭 Wu Lei Tau [Fox Head],
where dozing workers sprawled on dark sheets of shade
ignored the intrusion of this wrong-headed pilgrim.
Another short short-cut through low-stone-walled gardens
surrounding neat emerald, vegetable Edens,
doubled-crossed all promise of initial adventure:
行唔通! [“You can’t get through there”]
said a back with its voice turned squarely against me.
When I made it to Pak Kong a second time,
a woman in a car park assured me in English I was close.
Two minutes later, past new close-set houses
patrolled by dogs barbed-wired with fangs,
I found 天后 Tin Hau’s “temple”, shoved into the backdrop
by swank Spanish villas chilly with anti-climax:
it was no more than a cell of bright-tiled cement
shut behind chest-high fencing
(its flimsy string-curtain a curious echo
of the dense fringe that hangs over 天后 Tin Hau’s face).
Mosquito-repellent incense burned distractedly in that blank atmosphere,
smoke circling like a finger that waits for the mind
to recover words it was ready to say,
but lost in a detour beyond reach of the ablest syllables —
pilgrimage of another kind, to the root of the tongue . . . And then?
Needless to say, I found no trace of 天后 Tin Hau, apart from her name.
I suspect, however, that sometime earlier —
immersed in the rich information of the unfolding landscape
like pallid newts in the pools of 大埔滘 Tai Po Kau
poised in their spacewalk through shatter-proof crystal
but inwardly still to the tics and semantics of current —
I’d sensed an aura of her presence in the sight of a jet-black butterfly
perched in self-delight on a glistening dog-turd,
doubling the sun with the iridescent sheen on its wings,
and quivering to music I once heard myself near 狗肚山 Kau To Shan [Dog Belly Hill],
music that plays from depths in the listener’s nerves
so much more than it does in the ears of “the outside world”,
indelible — auditory — phosphor.