Fight to Love.

Fight to Live.

Fight to Win.


a novel

Chapter One

It’s a minute past midnight just west of the City View Hotel in Yau Mei Tei, Kowloon, when riot police breach our umbrella line, and chase us down an odorous, narrow side-street called ironically in Cantonese, “Fragrant Lane.” 

We don’t get very far, only 100 feet before we pile into one another, and shouts of “Dead end, dead end!” fill the air. We turn around and hurry and re-form another front line, grabbing whatever is handy for a quick, makeshift barricade. We run to the left, we run to the right hunting bricks, wooden pallets, crates, orange traffic cones, metal signage, bamboo scaffolding, dumpsters, trashcans, trashcan lids, sticks, twigs anything.

 Some of us still have umbrellas. Those with working canopies rush to the forefront and kneel ready for the streams of pepper spray. Those with broken umbrellas look to find plastic wrap or cloth to wrap the busted ribs together, bestowing a second life as spear or dueling sword.

I find a strip of blue police tape stuck to a chain link fence, and bandage the crooked umbrella someone handed me. I tie it tourniquet tight and after adjusting my disposable surgical mask and Fallen skateboard beanie, run towards the nascent frontline again. I’m acutely aware of every student around me and they of me, even though most of us are strangers. The peril of death and a common enemy create a kind of brotherhood—a battle-hood, among us all.

We just prepare in time when the waves of cops arrive. They batter us like Neanderthals on crack playing a game of Whack A Mole at the mall. Every head they can reach, they pummel with batons. 

More of us rush up from behind, launching bottles, sticks, wrapped umbrellas like javelins.

One particularly maniacal cop in a sloppy uniform and ill-fitting helmet panting hard from exertion and excitement, his mouth blowing bubbles of spittle like an incensed crab, sees me and raises his baton high into the air in hopes of flattening my skull.

The crush of bodies surges forward, I get slammed into a taller student in front of me, and in turn shove him straight into the baton’s downward arc.

The crown of his head intercepts the baton with a loud, sickening crack. An unearthly groan and he folds. 

I catch him under the arms and buoy him in the fast moving undertow of students.

I don’t know his name, but I know we go to the same school, City University of Hong Kong. I’m new. The Fall semester is new. This student strike is new. I’ve seen this guy between classes chatting up coeds in the Student Union.

 Other CityU students are scattered throughout this crowd of several hundred here too— sixty-three others, each unique face belonging to an unknown name, to an unknown person whom I’ve never met before, but may have glimpsed for a moment on campus somewhere--in a hallway, stairwell, bookstore checkout line, or lecture hall row. Oh come on! How can anyone keep straight sixty-three different people on only having glimpsed them for a quarter of second in his whole life?

 Well I can.

You see, I was born with a true Eidetic Memory commonly called photographic memory—I never forget any image I see. Just one time and the image is locked away in my brain forever just as pristine as the moment I first saw it and it never fades with age or time.

Many people confuse my kind of memory with a superior IQ, but the two aren’t related in the least. I don’t feel über intelligent, not tonight, not ever, not once in eighteen years of life. How rote, parrot-like recall, no matter how lightning fast or crystal clear, equates with intellect is beyond me. Boy, this dude is diesel heavy! My adrenaline is spent. His black Polo shirt is soaking wet—the evening’s humidity no doubt—it certainly is oppressive out tonight, pun pun, and from fear. Hong Kong’s own special brand these days dubbed White Terror. I can’t let this dude in my arms fall--if he goes, he’ll pull me down with him, and together we’ll get clubbed and stomped to death in the advancing phalanx of cudgels and jack boots. The cops shout obscenities and call us “Cockroaches.” 

“Got Zot, Got Zot,” they jeer, storming us, grinning, laughing as they smash in skulls. I struggle to interlock my fingers across my schoolmate’s chest in time. These sadists can’t be Hong Kong cops I tell myself for the hundredth time. They must be Mainland imports. No wonder their hasty uniforms display no Warrant cards—police department ID cards. I have only seconds. Finally, finally, my fingers lock tight. Students close ranks around us, I scuttle backwards deeper into Fragrant Lane dragging my unconscious schoolmate into a street that I know dead ends, but I have no choice. None of us have. The stench of urine and excrement assault my nostrils and grows fouler with every step. Are people soiling themselves? No, impossible! I try to fathom the smell, but failing, dismiss it. 

* * *

We arrive at end of the lane. A mountain of cardboard boxes, and an evolving skyscraper, covered with bamboo scaffolding and tattered netting, rise against Hong Kong’s picturesque night sky and block the way to the next street over, to the main artery of lower Kowloon, Nathan Road. Chain link fences protect construction areas on either side of us. Protesters scale the links and disappear into the mazes of parked cement mixers, forklifts, Honey Buckets, tools cabinets, and stacks of rebar.

Loud pops in the air now, along with the shattering of glass.

We destroy lamp post lights with barrages of bricks, but the jury rigged darkness we create won’t help me escape, not unless I drop my schoolmate to the ground and run, leaving him for the cops like how a pursued gecko drops a bit of its tail as decoy. He’ll get arrested for sure, and sent God knows where.

The government has classified these protests as riots. The sentence for rioting ten years. In a Mainland Chinese prison for ten years! Imagine! In a system that mandates no prisoner can be sentenced for a crime unless they make a full confession first—which means torture is Standard Operating Procedure.

 Arrest, torture, extracted confession, sentencing, imprisonment, forced factory labor making cellphones or picking cotton, or if lucky, a quick bullet in the back of the head. A bullet your family gets a bill for when they come to pick up your body.

No wonder Hongkongers are protesting—a proposed Extradition Bill in the rubber stamp legislature would allow any Hongkonger to be sent right up the Pearl River into the CCP China justice system to face any criminal accusation Beijing dreams up—bypassing the British Due Process legal system Hong Kong’s been using since 1841, and once they got you, you’re never coming back.

 I’m not a local, so I might fair better. I’m from Ashbury Park, New Jersey, freshman at University Michigan, here on an exchange program for Chinese linguistics. I have surfer blond hair and blue eyes— perhaps I’d just get deported. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe I’d be made to beg for forgiveness on CCTV--China’s version of CNN, for hurting the feelings of the Chinese people like that Swiss lawyer who donated time and expertise to human rights lawyers in China. How bogus! What kind of human beings would be hurt if you advocated more human rights for them? There are no people on Earth more desirous and deserving of human rights than the 1.4 billion in China.

 Or maybe they’d charge me with spying, and torture me till I “confess,” and toss what’s left of my ass into a prison cell, saving me for future jollies when they beat me into a deadly coma like how their protégés, the North Koreans, did to that graduate student Otto Warmbier.

 Dammit. Why did I come out here tonight? Why didn’t I just stay in the dorm and play Hearthstone? Why wasn’t I smarter? See I told you, photographic memory has nothing to do with intelligence.

A loud firecracker pop, a high pitched bottle rocket screech, and a streak of white smoke snakes out of the night sky and crashes into the street a yard behind me. Tear gas! The canister skips and rolls, spewing billows of stinging smoke. Throat seizing up, tears flooding, I hold my breath and dampen my blurring eyes into slits. I discern a clear patch of air by the chain link fence and haul ass in that direction.

The tear gas canister is surrounded immediately by students, one has an orange traffic cone, the other a bottled water, they smother the canister under the cone, and pour water into the top. A spritz. A hiss. The cone stops fuming like a turned off volcano. Oh wow, they neutralized it! A second blast of ordinance, another canister arcs out of the sky. This one seems to have my name written on it. I stop, mesmerized by its arcane beauty as it corkscrews through the heavens right at me. It seems part Lampton Worm, part Smaug the Dragon. 

I get shoulder checked, and topple into the street, my schoolmate along with me. I look up into the kerchiefed face of a kid not much older than myself. He must have been the sudden force that checked me, or…or did he knock me out of the way? Our glance lasts a millisecond, but within that moment I see no malevolence in his graceful angled eyes, only benevolence. In motion again, he pivots around into the ready position for a match point, I see the Prince Textreme tennis racket moving in his right hand. His perfect back swing just kisses the top of my hair. I watch the smoking canister approach through the squares of cat gut, then twang! The canister is hit back to where it once came. It lands behind the phalanx’s front line, in a nest of cops not wearing much protective gear. We roar, we cheer. Tennis Guy acknowledges us with a Worker’s Salute. 

He pulls me up, and dusts me off, and says “Ga Yow,” the popular phrase entreating someone to “Add Fuel—” a way of saying buck up, hang in there, charge, let’s do this!

My hair and face are covered, but my turquoise blue eyes stand out like the Bermudian Ocean on a bright summer day. Didn’t he notice I was a foreigner? How did he know that I’d understand his Cantonese?

An image flashes in mind’s eye, of the common room in my dorm, of the drinking fountain, the boiling water spigot, and a person in profile adding water to an Instant Noodles cup. The person turns and carries the steaming noodles down the hall to room Number 108. It’s him. It’s the Tennis Guy. Despite his kerchief covering most of his face I know it’s him. Including me now that makes sixty-six of us here tonight. CityU represents!

 Another ordinance report, another tear gas canister peels out of the sky. Tennis Guy launches himself into the air, but the shot is way long and passes over his racket. The smoking canister slams into the mountainous pile of cardboard boxes at the end of the street and disappears inside. There’s something odd about the boxes’ arrangement —more like a planned structure rather than a random pile. An eerie orangey glow emanates from inside the cardboard now. Hissing, crackling sounds. Threads of flames. Ignition. Smoke geysers upward. The intermittent breeze that had been waxing and waning all evening seems stuck now on waxing. More flames. Hotter flames. Higher flames. The whole pile of cardboard, bone dry from the weeks of drought common to this time of year goes Four Alarm. 

The dead end of Fragrant Lane, an inferno now lights the night like a magnificent sunrise. The new impetus makes me forget cops and batons for the moment and I try again and figure out how I can scale the chain link fence. After a few seconds I realize the task is still impossible-- the fence is eight, nine feet high if an inch. I can get myself over, but my incapacitated schoolmate? No way.

 Vans and Nikes, DC shoes, Sketchers fly pass me as more students scamper over the links and wend their way into the shadows. Can’t they see we need help? Probably not, probably they don’t even notice we’re not in motion with them. I don’t see Tennis Guy anywhere. I wish I knew more Cantonese, I’d ask for help. I’m afraid if I use my better Mandarin, the protesters will think I’m a Mainland undercover cop making an arrest or something.

My subconscious tells me to look. Shit, the cops have locked on to me. In the bright orange light, the lighter skin of my arms and neck and the areas of my face not covered by my mask must stand out. My beanie feels uncertain on my head. I wonder if my blond hair might be showing somehow? It’s too late for adjustments now anyway, the Popo see me, Popo—that’s student slang for the police.The Popo point their batons and middle fingers at me, barking obscenities, some plainclothes behind the line hold cell phones horizontally and turn me into MP4’s. The last student disappears over the fence, the last in a fleeing herd of gazelles.

 It’s just me now, and the Popo, and the smell of burning shit and cardboard.

I glance down at my schoolmate. “I don’t even know your name!” His eyes don’t open in response, he doesn’t stir, and now that I think about it, he hasn’t really moved an arm or leg in a while. In the orange pall I can’t tell if his face is gray, if he’s dead. Have I been holding up a corpse all evening? The cult movie Weekend at Bernie’s flashes through my mind—all 139,680 frames— each image, perfectly individual, perfectly clear plays on the drive-in movie screen in my head. Even soundless, it’s hilarious still, and I can’t help but grin to myself.

 A little bit of humor is a powerful thing, and it trounces the White Terror out of my veins. Alive, dead, comatose, whatever, I can’t, I will not leave my CityU schoolmate or anyone behind for these jackals. 

 The cops move in on me. A crazy thought-- why not muster up the best Peking accent I can, and bluff my way out of this? “Ni men ben dan! Ni zai kan shen ma shi-er ya? Kuai ba zhege zhanglang zhua qi lai, jiao ji cheng che lai…” Idiots! What are you standing around for! Cuff this cockroach, and call me a taxi. He’s my special prisoner.

Or something like that, but oh…do I dare? This kind of shit will get me some serious torture for sure. 

The decision takes but a moment. I’m going to do it. Yeah, just Do It Nike swish. Guess Stallone and the Expendables will have to get me out.

I assume the most imperious body language I can, ready my er’s and retroflex “chrr’s, shrr’s and jrr’s, and go for it-- “Ni men ben—”


Wild yells come from behind me. The advancing Popo stop dead and point at the blazing cardboard. I turn and look too. Is something alive in there? A dog? A cat? Though such volume indicates a size far more gigantic. The burning boxes undulate and fly into the air. The puzzled cops retreat back as boxes pelt them like fireballs from outer space. 

A Yeti like shape emerges from the fire, mammoth hair, beard, tattered clothes alive with flames. Oh so this is no cardboard depot, but a cardboard mansion—a street person lives here.

Just when I thought the evening couldn’t get any more insane, it does. The flaming street man tackles three cops, setting their uniforms ablaze. A fireman summoned from behind the plainclothes officers comes running up and douses the burning cops with a fire extinguisher. Another stream of powder puts out the street man. The phalanx rushes him and beats his smoldering body down to the ground with batons and knees, fists and boots.

Here’s my chance. I glance back to the fence, but the distance to the top hasn’t change. Shame I don’t have Tom Holland’s Spidey strength.

A storm of Cantonese from the other side of the fence. Students swarm the construction site. A few seconds and they arrive, shouting through the links at me. I see their Cantonese words in the air like a news crawl. A girl whom I immediately recognize as our student council president has a bolt cutter and begins snipping the links apart. Two students flanking her sail to the top rail and drop over like ninjas. They pull up our schoolmate and shoulder him on either side. Sixty-seven, sixty-eight, sixty-nine of us now. They ask in Cantonese if I’m all right? 

 I stare at them in disbelief. They pull me through the jagged opening to freedom.

Chapter Two

The next morning my six-thirty alarm goes off. Half alive I drag myself into the dorm showers. I just had laid down on my bed at six. A whole day of classes on thirty minutes sleep? Sure why not? Piece of Cake. Or maybe Pound of Flesh.

 I towel myself dry, jump into my Levis and Vans, don a favorite Adidas soccer shirt and head for the kitchen down the hall for a bowl of granola. Though most CityU students are out on strike, a few of us, especially us international exchange students still attend our classes. I haven’t met one exchange student interested in the issues behind the protests or concerned over the brutal treatment of students by police. 

At a table by the window, I crunch on my granola while the morning sun splashes over the syllabus for my 8 a.m. class, Introductory Chinese Linguistics, Professor Tang Poon Wu. Lecture topic for today, Week Two, Monday September 9-- From Subjectivity to Intersubjectivity, the Epistemic Marker-- Wo Juede. Wo juede is the verb phrase “I feel.” 

Well, wo juede I’d rather get beaten with a police baton than go to this lecture. Wonder if those guys who rescued me last night are still in their dorm room, or did they go to that noodle restaurant yet like I heard them plan? I pick up my bowl and drink the rest of my granola like soup. I head for the dorms in B Block…


Fiction, 220 pages.

E-novel $3.95  



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