18. Back home after the earthquake, dream, escape to Hong Kong, Cage-Houses

Moments when Fukushima Nuclear plants explode shown on television
Die schwere Leidenszeit beginnt nun abermals
HANS ERICH NOSSACK, Der Untergang

I saw the first passenger buses near Hanzomon at dusk. I had already walked over three hours. The buses were packed, mainly with elder people. I walked some more taking the wrong road more than once. At around eight, the gates of Kudanshita station, near the Imperial Palace, opened. The station filled in a matter of seconds. People were saying that Ginza, Hibiya, and Mita lines were taking passengers again. Jimbocho station was closed. I tried my luck once more in Hakusan, around one hour later. The insides of the underground building looked as if the Third Great War had started and the station had been chosen as a shelter. Hundreds of people were waiting with their backs against the walls, sitting and lying on the floor. After a long wait in which every person respected his or her turn, I was finally standing in front of the tracks. Each new pregnant wagon stopped, let go of a few individuals and took in some new ones in exchange in a very slow procession. I waited for eight or nine of those until I could get on board. The crammed machine advanced at a lethargic pace through the tunnels until it slowed down even more when in Sugamo. The driver, through the microphones in the wagons, called for the attention of the passengers, apologized for the inconvenience caused, announced that it would be the last stop, and asked everyone to get off the train with unbelievable gentleness. To walk from Sugamo to Itabashi, a route I often did by bicycle, took me less than an hour. It was almost eleven when I arrived home. Yukiko and Mio were scared but safe. I watched the news until I felt asleep and dreamed I was in a big event, a luxurious cocktail and banquet, surrounded by Japanese bodies and faces. Everyone was naked. The smell of sweat and warm sexes was strongly present. The copious dinner consisted of seven dishes, fresh vegetables, sliced raw fish, vinegar-soaked roots, cubes of silken tofu, horse meat, broiled fish, live shrimps and octopi that the patrons hurriedly devoured one after the other washing it all down with warm and clear alcohol. A tall man, who seemed to be the host of the event, systematically raped, one by one, sometimes two at a time, but never three, the girls and women present. The women didn’t cry nor smile, they remained, one could say, unmoved. One of the men, a short Japanese of around fifty was filming the whole event. We drank, and then some more, until I found myself on my knees giving oral sex to one of the pale female guests. I am sick she told me, her eyes closed, while she caressed my head. And it is contagious. I moved away from her unshaven throbbing sex and took her hands in mine. Hers were the strong hands of a black man. It was already Saturday when the news about the nuclear disaster started. Fukushima this, Fukushima that in every single channel. We found places in the first bullet train headed to Osaka on Sunday morning. Between Saturday and Monday there were hydrogen explosions and nuclear meltdowns in three of the six reactors. Many of my colleagues went back to work from Tuesday. We arrived in Hong Kong one week after the incident. We queued for half an hour and went up Victoria Peak on Saturday morning. Some of the locals, for the most part women over fifty, kept smiling and touching Mio’s cheeks, feet and hands. We ordered a bucket of fried shrimp and fried onions at Bubba Gump and watched the gray sky and licked our shiny fingers without saying much.

View from the Peak at night

I watched the rows of unaesthetic skyscrapers that seemed like concrete spikes sprouting from the crammed ground. Over seven million souls living inside a thousand kilometers out of which only between seven and eight percent is developed for housing. And not everyone is doing well. There is immense wealth in Hong Kong. One sees billboards and signs advertising luxury brands on every building, every street, and every corner. There are hundreds if not thousands of luxury restaurants, luxury boutiques, and luxury hotels. Prostitutes from every corner of the world. Sumptuous cars are of course omnipresent. There is also, albeit not as obvious, appalling poverty. The same year of the Incident, Channel NewsAsia devoted half an hour to introduce to the public what they called the Infamous Cubicle Homes of Hong Kong. Seeing an opportunity in the combination of overpopulation and scarcity of public flats and homes, greedy apartment owners decided to split their units into three or four rooms, each one the size of a three or four queen-size beds, and rent each division at an elevated price. The reporter went from end to end of one of the apartments, where a Mr Cheung Chiu Yuen, a single parent, lives with his seven or eight year old daughter, Elaine, in five steps. The reporter then shows a seven hundred square feet apartment, approximately sixty five square meters, which the landlord divided into thirteen units, including what seems to be a cage embedded in the roof which the landlord has rented, says the reporter, to an old man. A miss Yeung Pui Yan, introduced to the viewer as a community organizer, a social worker, explain that even though the partition housings are illegal, as well as the water, electricity, and gas supplies in many of them, the government does not penalize landlords nor tenants simply because it has no solution in hand. And it gets worse. Much worse. A factory floor divided into thirty windowless cubicles, each barely bigger than a single bed, tells us the male narrator in a British accent. A middle-age man introduced as Mr Yu Wai Chan, whose wife and daughter are said to live in Shenzhen, mainland China, tells the reporter that he does not get a lot of rest, that the walls are thin, that his routine consists in getting home, drinking some alcohol until he is slightly drunk, going to sleep, and waking up to work the following morning. AFP (Agence France-Presse), AP (Associated Press) and CNN (Cable News Network) all covered in a couple of minutes the Cage Homes, mesh cages where the poorest and elder live, one step after cubicle apartments and windowless cubicle rooms and just before homelessness.

Cage-Homes in Hong Kong, photo in the public domain

It was precisely on the elder of the city that Al Jazeera focused its attention on its special, Hong Kong: Aged and Abandoned, elder men and women, gray-haired, wrinkled, hunchbacked, who survive recycling cardboards, reselling old paraphernalia, going through bins of refuse, queuing at night for food prepared and offered by volunteers. Let the buildings rise and rise and graze the dusty sky.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Basteph’s story.