As I left work the other night shortly after 21:00, the air was more humid than usual and I had to skirt puddles on the way to the bus stop. Sometime during the last few hours, a downpour had occurred, a short but intense rush of rain. I haven’t been in Hong Kong long, but the gentle, drizzly, undecided showers of northern Michigan do not seem to exist in this city. It’s all or nothing here, in more ways than one.
Robin red breast
At the bus stop, I put my headphones on and let music banish the last of the day’s lesson plans. I had been sitting for most of the day and I wanted to run home, stretch my legs like a bird her wings after enclosure, sing loudly and off-key to the song in my head, splash recklessly in a puddle. Instead I settled back on my heels to wait for the bus. A serpentine movement in the gutter drew my attention.
After a rain in Michigan, robins dot the front yard, wings tucked against their bodies as they hop along on fragile reddish feet, intently focused on one thing: the worms brought up by rain. These birds mean home to me: their warm orange breasts, cheerful song, and the authoritarian way they move across the ground in search of a meal are as familiar to me as breathing. To the worms, however, even a robin’s shadow is a harbinger of death. Michigan worms are thin, writhing, mottled brown things that even a very young or sickly robin could pull from the earth and gulp down its gullet in one jerky movement. I am certain that a robin would take flight at the sight of one of Hong Kong’s worms.
Pack of gum for size comparison
Hong Kong’s worms are upwards of 30cm. They’re bigger around than my index finger and the same dark, liquid brown as coffee. If a robin did manage to wrestle one of those beasts into her nest, she’d do well to keep it away from her chicks. In the gutter on that particular evening, one of those worms was unfurling its considerable length in a bid to cross the street. The worm was heading directly into traffic. A road is a long distance for a worm to traverse, even one of this size, and the asphalt offered no potential escape into the earth. Behind me was a short stone wall behind which dark soil and vegetation were barely contained. I debated rescuing the worm, picking it up—as no doubt children all over southern China do—and flinging it into the soil behind me. But I could not contemplate this without a shudder. I knew I’d pick it up, feel the undulating, living length of slime, and immediately, instinctively, throw it away again, thereby causing more bodily harm than good to the already doomed creature. My bus pulled up then—leaving the worm unharmed for now in the space between the tires—and I boarded, fully betraying the worm to its fate.
Everything is bigger or more in Hong Kong: the sky-high skyline, the convoluted MTR system, working hours, shopping centers, the enormity of choice: everything except living space and the presence of the natural world. I find nature here in parks, where the scenery is manicured and contained, or on the shore looking out to sea, where nature is unattainable, or by hearsay on the hiking trails along the mountains or the coast, which I have yet to experience. So when this worm, larger than life, alien in its grotesqueness, pops up on the sidewalk after a torrential downpour, it strikes me as invasive, ungovernable, impudent in the way it encroaches on the world of humankind. It’s not going to make it, this worm—it will die—but its presence is irrefutable, its being unassailable, it belongs here, this thing, more than I do.
View from my window on a clear day
Work’s going well. I’m getting into the groove of teaching again and have had a few great lessons. More excitingly (to me), I’m becoming more involved in the magazine–the first issue is to be published in December–and I sat in on my first ever publishing department meeting yesterday. Currently I’m on the couch in my little studio apartment listening to the wind rattle the sea-facing windows with an unnerving intensity. There’s a Typhoon 8 warning signal in place today, which means, if I’m very lucky, I’ll get the day off work, but more likely, we’ll have a delay and I’ll go in a couple hours later than usual, soaked to the bone and bewildered by the facts of sky and rain and clammy human skin.
I’m well and happy and missing and loving you all very much.