Usually on Sundays I watch and write about movies – but this time, let me write about a book I read recently. It’s not my usual cup of tea, but as it is about Hong Kong, I figured I’ll give it a try.
The book is called “Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland” and that is exactly what it is about. It is a real story, written by Chris Thrall about his experience in Hong Kong in 1995-6.
He moved to Hong Kong to take on a job in sales – but when the business fails and he takes more and more drugs, Chris ends up working for one of Hong Kong’s most notorious crime syndicates as a nightclub doorman in Wan Chai. The whole book is about the cheerful and optimistic guy is caught in a spiral of bad things – he meets the wrong people and gets himself in trouble over and over again. He ends up homeless, living from friend to friend or on the street… until his dad pays for his flight out of Hong Kong before Chris ends up killing himself.
One the one hand it is a very sad book – it is scary to read how Chris slowly goes mental by taking too many drugs. But what fascinates me is the description about Hong Kong in the years before the handover. In the short time frame that Chris stays in Hong Kong, he tries to learn as much about the local culture as possible – even speaking some basic Cantonese (definitely more than I managed in my first year here!).
He describes the back streets and alleys of Wan Chai and Mong Kok, talks about his different jobs and the characters he met along the way – and even in the simple way the book is written (that’s the weakness of the book: Chris is a likeable character but not a great writer), I can see myself walking along the streets with him.
It is an eery description of some of the places that are just around the corner of our flat – but luckily things have changed quite a bit since the book was written and Wan Chai has become a different place – much more hip, modernised and most importantly: safe.