Resurgence

By Phillip Y. Kim

We are made for the night, you and I. You shine in it, I can hide. It is our time. You seem at home past midnight here in the middle of the ocean. I gaze at you reclining in the speedboat, head tipped back and lit by a hazy moon. Your eyes are closed as if lost in thought, and you look happy. Your still silence evokes your name – Serena - but it is something new. You are normally so full of life. Now, there is peace. It gives me a chance to look again at the fine curves of your face and paleness of your skin in the low light. The combination is immaculate. I notice for the first time that you have your mother’s nose, slender and delicately sloping very Shanghainese. It pairs beautifully with your high and round forehead and a jawline that curves gently through the tight tuck of your chin. I’ve always admired how the edges of your eyelids bend like swallow’s wings. They cover hazel-brown eyes, impish and large. They are your best features, gifts from the Romanian father you never met.
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I already know your loveliness now will be a lasting memory. She never looked more beautiful or more seductively draped in mystery than after dark when we roamed the racy edges of the city. Hand in hand, we raised hell and carried on like we didn't care what consequences the morning would bring. We were much younger then, mid-twenties – so why not? Those were the finest times of my life. It was my first wave of wealth and her first of freedom. We rode its tide as if it would always be under our feet, propelling us forward. Newly liberated from the confines of our upbringings, we were filled with invincible laughter. She had the space to stretch her legs outside a tiny Kowloon flat shared with her single mother and widowed aunt. I was unshackled from the strict morality of my cadre parents in Beijing. All of Hong Kong - and the world beyond it - were ours. More than ever before, we felt the gushing pride of being Asian. We had amazing powers of recovery. I never thought twice about how we were able to pass weekend nights hopping from club to club until the small hours, subsisting on little more than vodka shots, smokes and lines of coke until we rolled into Wan Chai for a proper six a.m. English fry-up. And yet, I was able to function properly on Monday mornings in front of my computer screens executing bond trades and hedge positions. We loved evenings like the Bella Vista Ball in Macau for their exuberant celebrations of privilege and beauty. No one paid much heed to my boyish mainland look of unruly straight hair that rose in spikes like a crown of black thorns, and the mid-section paunch of a buffet-line Buddha. All eyes were on her floating among the
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tuxes and gowns, a vision of sleek, cat-like loveliness that purred with a well-constructed Oxford accent. Everything she said, even her oftexclaimed "for fuck sake," had an edgeless poetry. She was all the things a Hong Kong society girl could hope to be. Despite her modest past, she exuded class, something that I knew that she worked hard to achieve. Her exoticism - a curse for her when she was a young local schoolgirl - turned out to be something that other girls found unassailable, certainly in my eyes. No amount of their designer trappings could match it. She was the prize that I had won for a life boldly lived. I was her ticket into a life with wider boundaries, or none at all. I’ve always been afflicted with rages so blizzard white that all else seemed to freeze. At first, she forgave those episodes, saying that, so long as I provided the highs, she would tolerate the lows. Taking that cue, I made up for shattering her grandmother's porcelain ballerina figurine by adorning her wrist with a diamond tennis bracelet prior to a private dinner with Hong Kong's prima ballerina, a family friend. Another time, I struck her and knocked her down for showing up drunk at my flat after drinking with the shipping tycoon’s son and inadvertently calling me by his name. The following week, I cloistered her onto a luxury yacht laden with Cristal Brut and lobsters and sailed us to the Philippines. Afterwards, she told me that she caught hell from her boss for skipping out for four days prior to the annual trade show, but she kissed my cheek and said the mischief of seeing him so frantically outraged made the yelling almost entertaining.

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I light a cigar, your favourite. I would offer you one now, but you’d ignore it. I know that you don’t mind if I take a few puffs. The effect is so calming, and it clears my head. You used to like it for the buzz it gave you. Out here in this sensory-deprived moment, where there is so little to see and with you so quiet, the cigar’s presence reigns supreme. Its embers glow red like a furnace. The aroma is woodsy and replete with dark chocolate. Thank you for appreciating why it’s such a special thing to me. Then the merriment stopped. The Asian debt crisis of 1997 was rough on investors who were over-exposed to the Thai baht and the Indonesian rupiah. Like many others, I saw it looming, with the ballooned current account deficits and high debt ratios. But I was too caught up in the giddiness of Hong Kong's handover back to the Motherland to think that the entire region could collapse in a heap directly afterwards. The crash hit me hard. I didn't have the cover of a large bank, which would have dampened the blow of losing so much money with its huge, diversified balance sheet. They would have simply handed me a severance check and walked me to the door. Instead, it was my own company - and my money - that was lost. There was no such cushion. Bleak days followed. I lost my flat, since I couldn’t pay my mortgage. My friends showed me pity, which shamed me even more. Some of them stopped calling me out to dinner, not sure whether I could afford to eat in the hotel restaurants that they had in mind. They were fearful of my mood swings, which admittedly lurched from

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detached despair to flighty effervescence without warning. Stripped of face, I didn’t care. And I lost her. She never said it, but I could see in her eyes that the joy waned quickly, and with it, my charm. It angered me to think of her as someone hitching along just for the ride. I had hoped that she would have stuck by me, that the jam jars of good memories would have sustained us through those lean times. But it didn’t. The decline started with small things – a vacant stare, a casual tardiness, a shrug of her shoulder when I went to kiss her neck. Then her absences grew longer, and her excuses more frequent. Weeks of her cresting indifference finally drove me to strike her again, in public. Her mother and friend were witnesses. But all they saw was my reaction. They weren’t there for the humiliation I suffered when she abruptly left me alone at the restaurant with a freshly decanted bottle of Bordeaux to pay for. After that, her absence became permanent. She turned her back on me and her life in Asia. My loss became the UK’s gain. Or so she told others. I bend forward towards you. A sea breeze is blowing, and I brush away the hair drifting across your face. I talk to you, recalling memories of when you were fully mine – we gutted and redecorated an old carriage house, combining contemporary European with Chinese antiques; you surprised me on my birthday by staging a qipao-dressed can-can line with your girlfriends at the China Club. I say that I’ve always loved the way your eyes wrinkle at the corners when you burst into your throaty laugh. I ask you whether you still compulsively keep mementos of every foreign country that you visited neatly filed
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away in your old wooden cabinet with the dancing butterfly block prints. I wonder aloud if you still think those places hold so much more allure for you than home, here in China. I lament that things could have been different between us had we had a bit more patience. You lie silently against the inside of the boat, not caring if I say anything at all. With healthy applications of my gumption and wits, financial loss was not permanent. In the years following the Asian debt crisis, I turned my back on Southeast Asia and focused back home, on the mainland. At first, I helped government cadres invest their money in Hong Kong and overseas. Then, as it became clear that China’s economy was growing at racehorse pace compared to the rest of the world, I helped foreigners invest in Chinese companies. I did especially well with the Chinese internet start-ups. Whether I was lucky or smart was immaterial. I became a force again. My being Chinese gave me great advantage. Over ten years, thousands grew into millions, which then multiplied several ten-fold. I came to manage billions as head of one of Asia’s largest home-grown investment managers. I fielded calls from senior financiers from places as far flung as Abu Dhabi, Shanghai, Brazil, Toronto and Moscow. Though a man with a non-famous name, I had fingers on the pulse of coal mines in Australia, domestic e-commerce, rare earth mineral deposits, and even arms re-exports. With this second, profoundly larger wave of wealth, my most prized possession became my Chinese identity. It was the source of my power and most intense satisfaction.

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But thoughts of her were never far from my mind. I never found the same connection with another person. Part of it was trust. I couldn’t figure out with anyone else whether they wanted me for who I was, or what I was. But that wasn’t all. I found that, as possessions accumulated, possessions were no longer what I wanted. That was how other Chinese girls presented to me - as pretty, but clamorous, complaining things. They called me “big brother.” They nuzzled up against me, pouting, like poodles angling for a platinum bone. What I craved was partnership. I wanted someone at my eye level who could stand by my side or against me toe-to-toe, who could make me howl in pleasure or frustration in equal measures. So I reached out to her often, even after I was disappointed to learn that she became Serena Chou-Wilkinson, proper wife of an English barrister. I heard that she had two children, the second with cerebral palsy. I offered assistance through one of my charitable foundations benefitting childhood illnesses. All of my overtures were rejected. Worse, they were ignored. Then, it became her choice to respond. She did so by poking me on Facebook, slipping into my day with a tiny pixel of life. I guess that the constant stream of news of my recaptured success, and that of Asia, had become irresistible to her, particularly compared to the dreariness of her daily life in London. Asia’s vibrancy and its insatiable appetite for all things resplendent and expensive must have renewed itself for her as a constant tug, a homeward beckoning. I kiss your lips. They feel familiar, wispy but firm. They are cool against the summer night air. I reach down to check your
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blanketed body to make sure that you are properly covered. It’s odd that I should care about such a thing given your condition. Still, seeing that you are properly bundled brings me peace of mind. I reach into my backpack and pull out a roll of silk brocade fabric, lilac with a wisteria-mint-bamboo pattern. It reminds me of a night gown that I bought you many years ago, one that was meant solely for my eyes. Then I look back at your face. I still find it mesmerising. Nevertheless, it is time to say farewell. Telling her husband that she had family matters to manage in Hong Kong, she flew out here. She said that she didn’t tell anyone about our intention to meet, since she didn’t want to deal with the suspicions or questions of motive. It was considerate of her to think of others’ concerns; it was for the best, all around. We met for dinner at the molecular cooking joint near Johnston Road. She marvelled at the creativity of the dishes – Chinese food deconstructed and then reassembled in surprising combinations. She said that it was an apt culinary expression of the transformation that Hong Kong itself was undergoing. I remember those words clearly. I still don’t quite know what she meant, but I thought it was a nice way to begin our re-acquaintance. The dinner gave me hope that things would progress from there. I was wrong. I brought her to my house along Plantation Road, on the Peak. I tried to rekindle elements of our past. But she didn’t want me to touch her, at least not in the way that I used to do so freely. I asked her why she had bothered coming all this way, then. Curiosity,
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she responded in that occasionally aloof manner that tended to irritate me to no end. “I wanted to see with my very eyes what had become of you,” she continued. “Very impressive.” I sensed that flattery was an attempt to appease me, but all it did was pique my appetite for her. I asked her to come back to me, to dump her boring barrister of a husband, and take up her rightful place at my side. “Europe is dead,” I exclaimed. She shook her head, saying that’s not what this was about. I used the word “love”, and tried to kiss her to push my point. She pushed me away. I think that she meant to do it gently, but it might as well have been with the working end of a broom. Continuing to plead, I brought up the word “partner”. She laughed and said that she would never connect that word to me. She characterised me as a man of possessions more than partnerships. That made me angry. I said fine, I can show you what I am entitled to do with my possessions. Then I hit her on the side of the head with the half-empty bottle of wine that I held to offer her a re-fill. She fell over to the side, knocking her head against the floor. When she came to, I gave her a glass of water and apologized. I told her I would drive her back to her hotel. Looking suspicious but helpless to refuse, she accepted my offer. As I drove her down the hill, I watched her become woozy. Then I saw her head pitch forward against the front of her blouse. “Rohypnol,” I mumbled. “A single man’s best friend.” I unfurl the silk fabric and begin to wrap it around your head. The speedboat barely rocks as I lift your shoulders in order to get the cloth under you. You are stiffer and lighter than you once were, so it doesn’t take much effort. I watch your face disappear
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in sections from brow to chin as I cover what remains of you. Though I am sad that I will never again be able to look at you so close to me, I no longer feel sentimental. It is as if I had said goodbye to you many years ago, in a different life. This feels more like the end of an epilogue, rather than the story itself. I tied her up and locked her away in a backroom of an Ap Lei Chau warehouse. At first, she seemed terrified. She screamed at the top of her lungs, even though I told her that it wouldn’t do any good. She called me nasty and unholy names, including “paranoid, bi-polar monster.” The words sounded vile, even with her melodious voice. So I left her alone for a day and a half. When I came back to check on her, she was softer in her approach. Making someone sit in a light-starved room in her own excrement while hungry and thirsty has a way of wearing anyone down. So I showed her mercy. I brought in a pail of water, splashed it against her and the cement floor, then left it within her reach so that she could use it to relieve herself in the future. Then I gave her a bottle of water and a char siu bow. Two days later, we had an actual conversation. It was almost pleasant. She chuckled at one point, which gave me hope. And then she let me touch her softly. She didn’t resist as I ran my hand down her tightly drawn body. Encouraged, I leaned in to kiss her cheek. She didn’t smell very fresh, but I found her surrendered mustiness exciting in its own way. I cupped her head in my hands and tried to turn her face to meet mine squarely. Suddenly, her eyes opened wide, she bared her teeth and lunged forward. She caught my ear with her incisors, sending a ringing pain shooting across my head. I recoiled back,
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gripping my bitten ear and parrying the spray of invectives that she sent my way. I told her to shut up. She started to spit at me. So I wordlessly shut the door. She then begged me not to go. I didn’t respond. It was the cruelest thing that I could imagine doing to her. It was another two days - earlier this afternoon - before I returned. She was crumpled to the floor, depleted and helpless. I gave her a drink of water from a bottle. She gulped it ravenously, coughing half of it up. “Let me show you my yacht,” I said. “I named it Resurgence.” Then I waited for the Rohypnol in the water to take effect. This evening, I carried her on board in a zippered nylon sack over my shoulder. Her weight was very manageable, so I didn’t labour too much. The boat hands came over to assist me, but I waved them away. They were used to seeing me bring heavy sacks of provisions on board. Inside the stateroom, I stripped her of her soiled clothes and wiped her with a fresh towel. The fineness of her starved body and fragile translucence stirred something in me. I lay on top of her prone figure on the bed. She barely moved but evidenced enough life to set me off without too much effort or time expended. Being inside her was always electrically blissful. Satisfied, I dressed. Then, I reached down, took a pillow from the headboard, held it with both hands, and slowly began to press it down against her face. Pulling up the nylon bag’s sides from under you, I tug on the long zipper. I then tie the four Olympic dumbbell weights to the ropes that I have knotted into the bag’s handles. I reposition myself along the side of the speedboat. Looking down at your
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covered form one more time, I ask myself how I feel. Before any thoughts gel, my reverie is interrupted by the blasting horn of a faraway passing vessel. I look around, but see nothing. Without further hesitation, I drop the dumbbells over the side, one at a time, like eggs into boiling water. As each one sinks, it pulls the trailing rope taut. The final weight disappears, and it rolls your body towards the side of the boat. With minimal assistance from me, your body lifts up and over the edge, and tumbles in. I watch the dark water splash up. Some of it reaches my face, as if extra payment given for the received goods. I watch as you are pulled away into the depths. I return to the driver’s seat and turn the key. The outboard motor fires up, shaking the stillness of the night with its rumbling. I engage the transmission, and the boat lurches forward. I point it towards the faint lights bobbing in the distance – those belonging to Resurgence. As I gather speed, the wind roars into my hair and past my ears. I am awake and alert. I feel the need to communicate, to yell out that I am strong and happy to be who I am at this point in history. I feel a swell of renewal for my family and my country. Still holding the steering wheel, I rise to a standing position as the boat skips along the waves. "Arise! Millions of hearts with one mind!" I loudly sing in Mandarin to an open ocean, confident that in places far off, people are listening.

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