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Image by Drew Beamer


David, the streaks of light touched up in that painting bring out your features, your countenance, your outfits—and your presence.  In my memories, your presence, so purposely played down, was so often forgotten in the corner of the Press Club.


But your presence was felt at once as I heard you in an ironic exchange.


“A mobile phone would be a neat thing to have.” “But David, you must be mobile to need one!”  It was novelty in the 90s. Just the thought of getting a call as you “stepped out to check out the chicks on the Main Street” would make it a happy trail!


Snap! You cast me biking to catch a ferry, with a bag on my shoulder, one hand gripping a hand bar, the other holding my mobile phone. That image captured my twisted countenance – I could hear my caustic voice pitching across as the email bearing that photo was open.


Through the David’s Lens, your photos freeze the presence of your subjects seen; thanks for those black and white images you took at Le Bistro on La Montagne in Montreal during the 70s.  Your lavish film roll-out saved also the evidences of your presence.  


There are also photos stored in my legacy computers and in the bags of yours I packed away: 


Snappy Greek houses on Lamma – façades of dirty white blocks, arranged, seemingly to rival the Greek island’s artistic elegance: bayed by the sea, raised by the hills, canopied by the sometimes-unpolluted blue sky – and possibly showered by bird singing, but not accompanied with mandolin music. 


Joel, Di, Susie and others in sleep (not together) – did they slapped your face for having such unapproved desire to photo people in their sleep?  I bet you were scoring the scenes of their dreams!  Being silent, you could capture quiet things no one noticed.


Your presence was also reminded to me when your stories were told.  


You could be an icon for Hong Kong expats’ career in the 80s: I cannot remember how many job switches you had between The Post and The Standard.  But your final day with The Standard at one turn was remembered.  Having two inches of a column to be filled after subbing down a few redundant lines, just as losing thef last ferry to Lamma became a threat.  Your contrivance: “And the last word: sub editor David K saluted his last day duty at The Standard.  ‘David’s contributions to the paper for the past five months will not be remembered. He will though be painfully missed.’ Said the art man retrieving from the queue the bromides to paste up the last page before printing.” 


Friends of yours, like me, each own a few streaks of lasting memories of you, like those streaks of light that touch up your presence in that painting.  We sealed it in a niche in the columbarium high up on Lamma.  


There! All for your camera, David! 


Summer 1977, HONG KONG – Money at work in a multi-tenant apartment (Part of the Money Talk Series)

“Laaaaaaaaaao shuuuuuuuu!” A screeching cry reached my ears, interrupting my Sunday afternoon nap.   That was “rat” in Mandarin, our mother tongue.  My brother Zhong was shocked , but I was  familiar with the creatures manoeuvring  along the piping and scaffolding installed against the courtyard walls, rising up 19 floors, facing our windows.  Hundreds of windows shared such life scenes, collectively made up by the compound’s occupants and the cockroaches speeding among assorted objects cast in the well – rotting food, soiled ladies pads, abandoned beds, sofas, TV sets…


My parents’ careers back then awarded us residence in an apartment in one of these long building blocks. We paid 300 dollars to rent a 70 square feet room from mom’s cousin, Auntie King, who sublet the rooms of the 600sq ft apartment. Two smaller rooms were each taken by Mom’s sister Lixia and two scaffolders who worked for Auntie King’s husband, Ah Lee, a contractor.  Compared to the ground floor housing attached to an engineer’s occupation in Bangbu, Anhui Province during China’s Cultural Revolution, we considered this an elevated lifestyle.


Papa was hired as a draftsman in the engineering department of Qualidux in the summer of 1977, our third year in Hong Kong. Qualidux’s Apollo mahjong table  TV commercials aired all the time. Mom was a warehouse supervisor earning 850 dollars monthly, with Papa, whose salary was 600, as the brain behind her job keeping. He knew he lacked Mom’s boldness, a quality commonly found among the immigrants during the ‘70s and ‘80s. Those were days bursting with opportunities, and we simply grabbed jobs with rewards and yet more rewards.


Our apartment shared the dimly lit corridor, where I struggled to see the end of it, lined with rusty iron gates shut tight from each unit.  I did not socialise with our neighbours. Living in a concrete compound, I was even discouraged to share the lift with male strangers.


At nights, we could hear the scaffolders’ snoring from behind their door. Zhong and I slept on the sofas in the living room, also our after-school playroom, which was reclaimed by the adults after they returned from work.  The room was then filled with the languages of different regions of the Mainland; conversations in Taishanese, Hakanese, Mandarin, and Cantonese.


“Today, lok-sek-see?” was Papa’s daily greeting to Ah Lee, the Hakanese contractor, to ask him if topping concrete into the forms was his task at his building site.  In those days we saw blocks and blocks of housing piling up to keep up with the immigration flow.


Then if it was Wednesday or Saturday, Papa would enquire “You-sim-sui-mo?”, which was to ask Ah Lee if he had any idea of the day’s racing.   


The racing papers marked with the “sim-sui” – win and place picks – were the subjects in common language between Mom and Ah Lee.  By then Mom had graduated from the weekly 2-dollar Mark Six lottery to horse race betting, often netting some hundreds of dollars over a meeting, either way.  One Saturday, Mom’s excitement was exhibited to the maximum as her favourite jockey Gary Moore, was charging Super Win for the Directors’ Cup.  For the last two seconds, Gary, Super Win and Mom were all at a gallop nosing towards the finish line. 


“There!” Mom proposed a date with Papa for the evening – a pattern, I soon discovered, each time when Mom got lucky with her bets. 

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