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Cantonese Love Stories: 'A Bathing Ape'

Translated by Bonnie S. McDougall and Anders Hansson, and published in Cantonese Love Stories (Penguin, 2017)

Read in Chinese

Translators' note: Lee Lai Shan and Sam Wong are two well-known windsurfers who are married to each other. Lee is an Olympic gold medallist. She was born on Cheung Chau. ‘A Bathing Ape’ is a Japanese clothing brand, now owned by Hong Kong interests, with international distribution. Its trademark is the head of a big ape.

The day Yuen Hong Kwong arrived on Cheung Chau, he bought a bunch of bananas at a fruit stall across from the pier, walked to the shop at Tung Wan Beach, pulled open the roll-up door and placed his things on the table. He then stepped inside to unpack and tidy up. When he came out again, he discovered that one banana was missing. He looked up and saw a skinny little girl walking slowly on the beach, peeling a banana.

‘You stupid little bitch,’ he yelled, chasing after her. ‘Stealing other people’s bananas!’

Unfazed, the girl stared at him with wide-open eyes and pointed her half-peeled banana at the image of an apeman on the front of his T-shirt. ‘You’re a fake,’ she giggled.

In the afternoon the next day, Yuen Hong Kwong saw the girl walking back and forth along the beach, pushing her toes into the sand and pulling them out again. Summer vacation had just come to an end, leaving only a few people playing on the beach, along with the girl’s silhouette.

As the girl passed the shop front, Yuen Hong Kwong took out a can of Coke from the fridge. ‘Have a drink?’ he offered gruffly.

The girl stretched her hand out for the can. ‘Why have you come here?’ she asked.

‘Lost my job,’ he answered. ‘Used to work in a restaurant. The economy’s no good, everyone’s down to eating shit. There’s no one to help, so I couldn’t pay my bills – a grown man, thirty-five years old, and I can’t get a job. My aunt’s husband had this shop, but he went back to the mainland for medical treatment, so I came here to take care of the business. It’s just a temporary job.’

It wasn’t clear if the girl was listening or not. She sipped some Coke. ‘You’ve got a lousy temper,’ she remarked.

Yuen Hong Kwong gave her a ferocious look. ‘Sure, my classmates used to call me King Kong.’

The girl was called Siu Yuen. She lived on the island and went to the island’s middle school. Her skin was deeply tanned, the whites of her eyes and her teeth were both very white, and her hair was as soft as a newborn baby’s. She spent every afternoon by herself on the beach in shorts and a loose white T-shirt, but no one ever saw her getting into the water. The shop wasn’t doing any business, and Yuen Hong Kwong was getting bored stiff. His line of vision took in the beach, and when he caught sight of Siu Yuen’s delicate body, he was seized by a violent emotion for no apparent reason; it was as if youth itself was a crime. Siu Yuen said her little brother suffered from premature ageing; after turning ten, he was like an old man. Their mother didn’t want him to mix with people, so they had moved to the Outlying Islands and had been living both on Peng Chau and Lantau. ‘All along we’ve been waiting for him to die,’ Siu Yuen said.

Yuen Hong Kwong hadn’t seen her mother or brother. He knew she lived at Tung Tai and had walked over there to take a look, but all he saw was that the light in the second-floor window went out quite early at night.

Later on, Yuen Hong Kwong took the ferry to town to see his girlfriend, and along the way he bought an original ‘A Bathing Ape’ T-shirt. Wearing it on his return to Cheung Chau, he grabbed a bunch of bananas and ran to the beach to show off to Siu Yuen. He squatted down next to her and peered at the windsurfers out at sea.

‘I just used to play around,’ he muttered to himself. ‘If I’d gone on training, maybe I could have competed against Sam Wong.’

‘Why not with Lee Lai Shan?’ asked Siu Yuen.

‘Lee Lai Shan is a woman.’

‘Why don’t you apply to be a policeman?’ Siu Yuen asked again.

‘I’m too old,’ he said.

‘Then how about joining the triads?’

‘Don’t know how to get in with them.’

‘So you’re trading in fake goods?’

He exploded with anger. ‘This one’s the real thing!’ he shouted. ‘It cost over a thousand dollars!’

Siu Yuen stood up and wiped the sand off her legs. ‘You don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. The apemen will soon make an attack on Earth. They’re going to land on this beach. The Earth people haven’t got much time left. When the time comes, they’ll take me with them.’ She turned around, grabbed the bunch of bananas and walked away.

Siu Yuen didn’t talk to Yuen Hong Kwong over the next few days. Turning his back on the shop, Yuen Hong Kwong for his part spent his days immersed in the water, swimming. He got so tanned his skin turned coal-black. When he noticed Siu Yuen on the beach, he’d become more vigorous, pummelling the water. One day his girlfriend came to Cheung Chau to look for him. Wearing a white skirt, she sat in front of the shop with no customers, watching him for a long time until he came out of the water.

‘You still haven’t been able to find a proper job, so we won’t see each other again,’ she said.

After she’d left, Yuen Hong Kwong went to a food stall by the ferry pier for a beer and continued drinking until evening. Then, his eyes burning, he staggered over to the house where Siu Yuen was living. He climbed up a big tree next to the building and jumped in through a window. Inside it was pitch-black and he couldn’t see Siu Yuen’s mother or the spooky old-man brother; there was only a glimmer of light and the sound of splashing water from the crack between the bathroom door and the doorframe. Yuen Hong Kwong kicked open the door and entered. He saw mouldy banana peel all over the floor and Siu Yuen lying in a tub filled with water the colour of red wine, her bleeding hand holding a half- peeled banana. Weak but still alive, she smiled at him.

‘Are you a fake? Or have you come to take me away from Earth?’