Wednesday, July 19, 2006

An Introduction

After two emails, James agreed to meet with me to discuss my proposition. This was good news for me. It told me that he was at least considering my request.

We met at one of the more obscure Starbucks in Central, the one in the Exchange Square building, up a few escalators so you won't find it on accident. I arrived first and waited for James to arrive. He called my mobile when he got there and I met him at the entrance. After he had gotten a cup of coffee he came and sat across from me near the window.

"I don't want to waste your time. I'll get right to the point. I like what you've got going here, but I don't like the direction you've taken. I'd like to do something different with it. But you've built up a lot of goodwill and that's important to me. I want you to let me continue what you've started." James didn't reply right away. He took deep breaths and looked out the window.

"What are you going to do differently?" He asked eventually. "You've lost your focus. Sometimes you're you, sometimes you write through the mind of an imagined character that's inspired by someone you see, sometimes you're a blueberry danish. It doesn't make sense! All of these posts are really about you anyway. Why not just be straight about it? If you give this to me, I'm going to tell my own stories, my own experiences. " I shouldn't have been so critical because criticism has never gotten me anywhere. But it was too late to take it back.

"You're serious? You really want to do this? You could start your own site, but instead you're initiating a takeover?"

"No, not a takeover. A changing of the guard. You haven't done anything for three months! I don't think it's important to you anymore. It's important to me. Let me take care of it."

James eventually relented and, under certain terms that cannot be disclosed, agreed to pass exclusive access and control of the site to me.

My name is Benny. These are my stories

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


My will to fight had been spent. I walked back with them the way we had run through the streets just moments before. Surprising to me, but probably not to them, there were no people on the streets. I thought for sure my jailbreak run would've drawn some attention but it didn't seem to do very much except put everyone a little more on edge. This time, they had bound my hands behind my back with a cable tie. Number one pulled me by my left arm, the tie cutting into my wrists with each tug. There'd be no more heroic acts on my part.

We entered an old building that was not much different from any of the surrounding buildings. Old enough so that there wasn't a lift, we walked up to the sixth floor of the building, no easy task with my arms tied behind my back. At the sixth floor, we walked through a short hallway with rolling corrugated metal doors along both sides. We stopped as number two pulled out a key and undid the padlock near the floor. I felt no fear now, just resolve to accept the mess I'd gotten myself into. If I was lucky, I'd get myself out of it also.

The door rolled up to reveal a small room full of folding tables with space to walk between them. They were covered with watches. "Watches?"

Number two cut the cable tie from my hands. "Five-hundred each. You'll buy ten."

If I was back home, I'd think for sure I was being "punk'd", but I was in Hong Kong and these guys were serious. "Ok. Ok." This was a lot of money for even a high quality fake, but I didn't think I was in any position to bargain. I picked watches quickly and put them into the bag I'd been given. I gave them the money, which I would've given just to be let go.

As we left the building I kept hoping that this was the end of it. We got in the car and they covered my head with a dirty towel so I couldn't see. After only minutes, they let me out on a busy street corner. The driver made some threats about what would happen if I tried to find them. It was the last thing on my mind. As they sped off, I walked the opposite way and pitched the watches into the first trash can I saw.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Chase

The streets were long, several running parallel to each other and connected by main throughways, a design I'd seen very little of in Hong Kong. I still wasn't quite sure where I was.

They were talking amongst themselves, mostly in Chinese, turning to look at me every couple of seconds. We parked on one of the parallel arms and walked further away from the main crossroad. The thought of running came into my mind again. And I did.

Slowly at first, because I wasn't really a hundred percent sold on this idea, and then after ten or twenty paces, I realized that there was no turning back and began to put my heart into it. I heard one of them yell out behind me. They were quick to come after me. I heard a car door close and the engine start; I'd soon be run down by a Hong Kong taxi. More flashbacks to Bruce Willis movies came but they were not what I needed. The hero always won because they were operating within the constraints of Hollywood, where heros always win. Here, I didn't have much hope that this was the kind of place where lonely guys who rode in taxis with strangers to strange places would finish on top.

I turned left down the throughway, slightly downhill, and ran near the edge of the street: harder to run me down with a taxi here at the edge, I thought. I heard the squeal of tires as the taxi rounded the corner. I was running fast, but this wasn't going to work. I just wasn't fast enough and I was running blind without any kind of map or plan except "run next to the building so you don't get killed." None of this was encouraging.

I saw a small alley across the street just ahead. I crossed to it and committed myself to a plan. But this wasn't going to work, either. The alley was closed in by buildings at the end. No gates or fences to jump, just solid concrete walls. The taxi closed in on me with John and Jane trailing behind on foot. I stood there, panting and out of breath, against the back wall. Ready for a fight, I took three steps forward to give myself room to move.

"Are you stupid? Where are you going to go?"

"Look, just let me go, alright? Just tell me what you want? I think this is all just a misunderstanding."

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Bait

Just ride this out awhile, is what I thought to myself as I walked with Yvonne, or whoever she was, to meet her friend at the side door. I knew that I would be looking for a quiet, subtle way out of this situation. Until I found it, I would just keep playing along.

Mystery man number one opened the door for me to get in. Mystery man number two got in the front seat next to the driver. A taxi. I thought I had it made at this point. I could get the driver's attention and ask for help. I could make a fall out of the door at low speed when nobody was expecting it. Both of these options disappeared as quickly as they came to life.

"What took you so long?"

"Traffic." The driver wasn't just a driver; he was a friend. Yvonne got in on the other side and sandwiched me between herself and number one. I began to panic as we abruptly moved down Wellington Road, the way all Hong Kong taxi drivers jerk and go, using the gas like a binary switch. I could overpower Yvonne; could I get away from them both if I made a dash for it? I worked through hypothetical outcomes in my mind the entire ride. I glanced at my watch every two minutes as I parsed through my options.

We drove out onto the highway through Sheung Wan. From there, we headed out to the Eastern part of the Island that, though a nice area, I'd been to very few times. We clearly weren't heading to the nice part of town, however. The buildings were old, older than the average old Hong Kong building, many of them government housing no doubt. We stopped in front of a building that wasn't too tall; no more than six or seven floors. I could possibly find the building again if had a good driver and a couple of hours, but I'm not interested in revisiting the scene, for revenge or justice or any reason at all. I blame myself for pursuing Yvonne on-line. I blame myself for leaving the coffee house. I blame myself for getting into the taxi. I added this experience to my long run of messes that I had nobody to blame for except myself.

We all got out of the taxi and I thought about running then; nobody was too close to me. I had a flashback to a Bruce Willis movie and thought to myself, "since I'm still alive, they're not going to kill me now." I struggled to make myself believe it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Setup

I had gotten a final email telling me to wait here at three o'clock; she would recognize me from my picture and initiate contact. Though, I didn't know what she looked like and wasn't sure what to expect. After two double espressos and thirty minutes, I was losing hope and ready to acknowledge defeat and another blow to my ego.

Blind dates have never been my style. I never found any need for them, really, and could usually rely on my friends of friends when I needed to meet a new face. Even as I sat there waiting for the mystery woman I wondered what was different about this time. Maybe all of the on-line dating success stories had finally convinced me. Maybe I thought that the girls on myspace were more legit, unlike the average girl that I'd met in the foreigner bars in the Wan Chai district, and not just interested in me out of desperation.

Just as I was getting up to leave, I noticed a girl and guy enter as a pair, the girl motioning the guy to wait as she stare and approached me. "Hi Stewart. I'm Yvonne. What do you say we get out of here?"

I felt my pulse begin racing, and not from the girl, though she was beautiful in a haunting way. The guy made me nervous. He just stood there watching us, watching for my next move. I turned and looked at the other entrance and saw another similarly attired guy standing at the door with no apparent reason. I felt my options diminish at that moment. Looking back at it, I know I should've decided differently - make a scene, run out the door, scream for help - but I was too proud for any of those things.

"Sure. You lead the way."

Saturday, February 11, 2006


Adrienne cried quiet tears into her black coffee as she waited for the bank upstairs to confirm the wire transfer from her father. After she had some money, she would go about doing the things that had to be done; check into her hotel, cancel her credit cards, contact the consulate and see about getting a new passport. She sat at the narrow, island bar surrounded with round bar stools as she looked out over the silk flowers at the double decker buses stopping abruptly, then just as abruptly rushing away. The silk flowers that filled the island were a deep purple and brilliant yellow; they reminded her of the wild flowers of a Texas spring that she had left to come here. She started to question herself. What was she doing here? How long would she be stuck in Hong Kong? Soon, she was questioning everything that had happened in the past two weeks.

Everything had happened so quickly. Brent had left her for a younger girl that worked in his office just after she had lost her job. The girl was a stranger to her but a former classmate of her younger sister, pretty from what she heard. Her roommate was moving out, leaving her with a rent she could no longer pay. Her best friend had just finished an English teaching job and asked her to meet her in Asia. An adventure, at the time, seemed to be exactly what she needed. Brent had warned her that she didn't know what she was getting into, but it was that kind of overbearing protectiveness, even after they'd broken up, that Adrienne had always hated. Now, it seemed that he was right. She was in the country exactly 37 minutes before her bag was stolen from the complimentary luggage push cart that she used to wheel her luggage into the main terminal. From that moment, she'd been relying on the kindness of strangers; the bus ride to the city, the phone call to her father, even this cup of coffee was compliments of the bank teller who saw that Adrienne felt alone in one of the most crowded cities in the world and just wasn't going to make it without a little help.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

McDonald's II

On a bustling commercial street, the city's main Starbucks was strategically located across from McDonald's, a narrow, two-story space sandwiched between a myriad of other nondescript businesses by comparison. The double doors were framed by two sets of table and chairs, one on each side. Despite the cold, a number of Western tourists sat and sipped a combination of iced and frozen drinks outside.

Apple crumble caramel muffin. Sausage and mashed potato danish.

The outward facing wall held the standard coffee counter that has become a familiar throughout the world. Inside, a pair of tables mirrored the outside pair. A path along the counter was cordoned off with thick, velvet rope segments hanging between a series of black waist-high stands. People channeled through efficiently sterilizing the comfort that usually comes from the chaos of crowds jockeying for position closer to the counter.

French tuna sandwich. Fruit and vegetable cup.

The main seating area was on the second floor, at the top of a wide, concrete staircase that spiraled squarely through a semi-circle. The room was crowded. And hot. Twenty-six Celsius, eighty Fahrenheit, according to the thermometer that hung suspended on a brass hook over the trash banister. A pair of clerks stood by surveying the area, spending most of their energy continuing their conversation to avoid the work of collecting cups and cleaning tables.

Carrot walnut pound cake. Smoked beef tenderloin sandwich.

The chairs and furniture had a familiar look, fashioned of light maple and Starbucks mahogany finish. Though, certain details were reminders of the location within a developing country. Thin, plain white paper napkins with no logo. The mermaid shapes covering the tables were misshapen and deformed, missing part of an arm or half of a tail. The logo on the sugar packets seemed unusually large and off center. The track lighting illuminated the room almost too well, making these imperfections more evident.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


The blackboard behind the register, in festive, multicolored chalk, read: "may you be full of beans for the new year."

Anonymous expat number one approached the register in a black suit, white shirt, and crimson red tie. The tie was covered in a grid of blue and white specks.

Anonymous expat number two had on charcoal grey dress pants accessorized with a black leather belt with chrome buckle. His cornflower blue, taffeta shirt was tucked in, the sleeves buttoned at his wrists.

Anonymous expat number three picked up the key from the counter and proceeded to the restroom door in a camel colored cotton sport coat. He was more casual than the rest, wearing navy denim pants and a light blue polo shirt. His leather-soled shoes tapped the floor in fading syncopation as walked away from the register.

Anonymous expat number four wore a confused ensemble of black. Black polyester dress pants clashed with his black, cotton, short-sleeved button front shirt. His socks were casual dress, dots of purple surrounding red extending in a diamond grid. He wore Puma tennis shoes made of synthetic leather with black rubber soles that rounded onto the sides of the shoe in select areas. The red Puma stripe stood out against the white background.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

McDonald's I

The Shenzhen airport had only two commercial establishments, Starbucks and McDonald's. McDonald's was directly in front of you as you departed the airport. Starbucks was to the left, a large, rectangular hole-in-the-wall, the entire length of the rectangle forming the entrance to the shop. Five waist high, steel-framed glass partitions with wooden banister tops were spaced along the length of the store front leaving two gaps to allow entrance and egress. The most noticeable detail about this particular Starbucks coffee shop, especially in contrast with the regular turmoil at McDonald's across the way, was that is was empty most of the time.

Malcolm entered the shop at 10:31 pm from the left walkway gap. He paused, noticing that, as far as he could tell, he was the only one there, not counting beside the two barristas in green aprons. He thought they may have been closed and resigned himself to settling for a burger and fries instead of coffee he was in dire need of to continue on the remaining leg of his journey. "Welcome to Starbucks!" Malcolm thought that the barrista's English was good, possibly the best he'd heard in four days. As an afterthought, he realized that this one particular phrase is probably taught and drilled during the Starbucks training, maybe even included in the worker's manual. Malcolm noticed an oddly placed partition diagonally standing in the right, rear corner of the store. It was a vertical wave that reminded Malcolm of the slides at the water park where he went with his sister during the hot, summer days in South Carolina. The partition was six feet wide, at least, five feet tall, six inches thick, and made from many small panels of white birch. It stood just off the ground on five evenly spaced steel rods screwed into the floor.

Malcolm approached the partition to take a closer look. As he rounding the partition to the left, he was startled by the unexpected presence of a tall man curled over a laptop computer, staring intently through the screen.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Just before the morning rush

hopping out of bed and thinking about the one thing
that will make the morning sun a little brighter
that will make the birds sing a little more
enthusiastically that will make the crisp air seem
a little crisper and that will make my day before
the day even really starts

(from the back wall, author unknown)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Breakfast at

Blueberry donut, blueberry scone, pepper ham scone, chocolate scone, ginger apple muffin, blueberry muffin, mandarin muffin, banana walnut muffin. Strawberry blueberry danish, cinnamon danish, coffee twist, rex milano croissant, tuna hard roll, chelsea bun, fruit bun. Apple turnover, vegetable bruschetta, turkey and red pepper bruschetta, tuna melt pocket, mushroom and cheese pocket, sausage roll. Muesli with strawberry yogurt, tiramisu, coffee concord slice, mandarin slice, mango cheesecake (whole cake). Turkey cucumber sandwich, wheat toast, ham and mozzarella sandwich, cinnamon toast, bacon and tomato multigrain sandwich, ham and cheese turkish bread sandwich, waffle, finger sandwich (chicken tikka and egg mayonnaise). Mini chocolate lamington, mini lemon lamington, chocolate peanut eclair, blueberry cheesecake, blueberry swirl cheesecake, chocolate marquise.

"Would you like your muffin heated?"

"Yes, please. Thank you."

Monday, January 23, 2006


At times, I find Starbucks to be full of expatriates and foreigners from all over, thought mostly from Australia, the UK, and the States. Could-be Soccer moms gather with their strollers and kids for morning coffee and croissants. Some of them bring their live-in housekeepers along so they're free to devote their full attention more weighty things than their own children. Plenty of people bring their laptop computers to take advantage of the free wi-fi connection.

Other times, Starbucks appears to be full of people who look Chinese in ethnicity but not in actuality. At those times, when Starbucks looks more like the small, hole-in-the-wall noodle shop that you find less than a mile outside of the business district, it sounds and feels like something else entirely.

Appearances can be deceiving, especially at the Starbucks in Central, Hong Kong. To my left, three Chinese women, young, no older than 75 together, speaking English, sounding English. To my right, two men, one Chinese, one Caucasian, both sound like Aussies.

I wonder what brings all of us together. Did we all develop our taste for Starbucks in other countries where Starbucks is more ubiquitous or did we develop it here? I look around and hear the language that I grew up with. I can't help but think that we all come here looking for like-minded people, not for the overpriced coffee that really isn't that good. Maybe we're drawn to the things in Starbucks that always look the same - the green logo, the green aprons, the Starbucks siren, the Venti size drinks. Maybe, sometimes, appearances are all we need.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Demographics II

Saturday, 10:42 am. Starbucks was sparsely populated with only 45 people in attendance, 19 of them non-Chinese, 4 of them non-Chinese children under 10 years of age. Over the course of twelve minutes, an additional 7 Chinese men and women entered compared with 12 non-Chinese.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Demographics I

Friday, 5:45 pm. Chinese customers outnumbered non-Chinese customer at 79 to 17. Over the course of twelve minutes, an additional 16 Chinese men and women joined the crowd compared with 7 non-Chinese. Only eleven tables had a combination of Chinese and non-Chinese people drinking together.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


They were friends, clearly, because neither of them was trying to impress other. Both sat slumped in their seats with reproachable posture that reflected their present states of mind. They sat at right angles to each other, him in the cushioned chair, her at one end of the couch in front of the coffee table. They drank juice, not coffee, him orange, her kiwi. They talked little, but not because they had nothing to say. The day had been long and trying and each sought repose in the other's company.

Couple number two sat side by side at a table near the friends, both looking out at the passersby. He was selling her something. She wasn't yet sure what it was by she wasn't buying. He drank coffee, she drank tea, both from paper cups. Coconut crumbs were left on the plate that moments earlier carried the lamingtons that they'd shared. He out-dressed her by several degrees.

Couple number three sat head to head, sitting across from each other at a round table just inside the threshold. The woman's confidence could been seen in how she aggressively launched large bites at her blueberry danish, intermittently washing them down with gulps of frothed milk that left white residue in the corners of her mouth. Unabashed, she leaned in toward her opponent as he sat back trying to create space between them. Her hair was long for her age, reaching her lower back when tied up high on back of her head. Her large purse sat in the chair beside her. His brick of a wallet sat in clear sight on the table by his left hand, this symbol of his worth fighting a battle of its own.

The friends got up and stood gingerly as if they'd been sitting there for hours. They glanced around, delaying further, before walking out and leaving the pursued and the pursuers to continue their affairs.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


The place had only been open for three days and renovations were still in progress. Jack and Howarth were putting up the last panel of wall covering, thick vinyl of brown with pink polkadots that grew in size from left to right. Half inch-square bathroom tile and half hardwood floors, the room had a feeling of unease. The tiles covered more than half the venue, a mosaic of taupe, green, brown, red, and baby blue. The counter lined one entire wall, complete with pastry display case, drink cooler, and walkway to the back kitchen. The centerpiece of the room was a light fixture hanging over the twin LaMarzocco espresso machines. It was as long as a man is tall, suspended horizontally. Two bulbs were surrounded by an oblong, skeleton of light pine that evoked the idea of an overgrown crocodile. The hue of the wood matched the shade of the hardwood floors. The back wall was a backlit red screen behind a wooden terrace of more matching wood.

Jack and Howarth dressed casually, more like artists than contractors. Jack wore blue, faded jeans with a black jean vest and burnt orange long-sleeve shirt. Howarth had on a light grey hooded sweatshirt. Three girls who could've been sisters worked the place, though little work was required during these first few days of business. Mostly, they stood idle or carried supplies past Jack and Howarth from the back room.

The place was replete with newness, from the hired help to the pristine chairs and appliances. With the newness came hope; the hope, for some, that the place would soon become worn in and comfortable, and for others, that the place would soon be profitable. Soon, the scent of hope would give way to achievement or loss. Such is the nature of new beginnings.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


I remember nothing before regaining consciousness. I was sitting there for some time before anything eventful happened. Which was good, because it gave me time to take in my surroundings. Where was I? What was I doing there? Why was I there?

It was loud and busy, full of people. It took me some time to adjust to the noise. It seemed like an eternity, because everything was new, but probably only minutes had past. He picked me up from where I was sitting, with a firm grasp, and moved me to an aluminum platform. Then, a sound, loud and furious, followed by heat, intense heat, rising within me.

I never believed in an afterlife, or reincarnation, or God, or heaven, or anything, really, after death. Now, I was forced to believe. I was far from understanding, but I was in the middle of accepting my new life as a coffee cup. I didn't know how long it would last. I feared the monotony that my new position in the world brought with it. I regretted ever thinking that my life, before, was lacking in possibilities. I often thought that no life could be more pointless and mundane than a cat's. Now, I realized I was wrong.

A non-fat latte; that's what I was holding. I only know because this order was shouted out after my transit from the aluminum platform to a wooden platform just next to my previous location. A large, Caucasian looking woman lifted me, using the handle, and carried me across the room. Two sugars later and I was traveling again.

She sat down, alone, and opened a newspaper that draped over me loosely. It became dark, and I remembered the darkness of my fate. Carried, banged, washed, filled, sucked, and carried again. How long could I endure such an existence? I thought about self-determination and the great power that I had had before. Existence, then, was elective, though such an election was frowned upon. I realized now what an immense power this was.

She moved abruptly, turning a page, turning around, I'm unsure. I found myself moving laterally, quickly, then downward, rushing, accelerating. A crash. Then, a familiar feeling - I lost my sense of self. I was in pieces. I was losing my consciousness, my awareness. There was no light, like the last time, only a slow fade to darkness. My last thought, I remember, was how short life was as a coffee cup.

I can only tell you this today because I have lived many lives since then and often long for these brief moments from this life.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Meeting

I imagined the meeting in my mind. I would arrive early and wait for her. I'd sit at a table near the entrance where I could see her approaching. I would have my usual drink, a non-fat, short, double latte. I hadn't yet decided if I would get myself a drink first or wait for her to arrive before offering to get drinks for both of us.

My cell phone rang at 6:45 pm. I was late. "I'm on my way down. I'll be right there." My meeting was not going according to plan. I'd been thrown off my game. I was nervous. I was worried. I was scared.

I couldn't find her, and I thought I was looking everywhere. I was certain that I'd recognize her when I saw her. We met at a conference for professionals in our field just over two months ago. We had lunch at the same table and spoke briefly during one of the many coffee breaks. I wouldn't forget her face. Eventually, she saw me from the table she was sitting at behind the pillar.

She looked exactly like I had remembered her. She had just sat down at a table full of used plates and paper cups. Among the clutter sat her large starbucks, made-in-china coffee mug with two earl grey teabags. "I'm sorry I'm late. I actually was on my way but I realized I forgot your cell number so I ran back to get it."

"Don't worry about it." I excused myself to get a drink. "I'll be right back!"

When I returned, the table had been cleared. I saw her returning from the counter with the trash can in it as I came back to the table. I was moved by her effort, especially in Hong Kong where clearing your own table isn't even something that's done in a fast food restaurant. I saw it as her clearing the way for our meeting of the minds.

A conversation ensued like one that you'd expect between two people who barely know each other. Present geographic location; present geographic location of your employer; brief work history; family history; education history; marital status; people we shared a connection to. Eventually, we connected over how the uncertainty of life seemingly coexists with the surety of job dissatisfaction, both of us, in the same field, wondering how and when to get out.

"It was nice to see you!"

"It was nice to see you," she replied as we parted, both of us wondering if we'd meet again.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Today's quote is by Garrison Keillor. "It's a shallow life that doesn't give a person a few scars." Every place has a blackboard near the entrance. I don't know if the quote is the same citywide or if every coffeehouse can have a different quote. I don't like the idea. These days, I would take a few less scars for a little less depth. I'd rather not have someone tell me what I should value in life. Just sell me a cup a coffee. This is easier said than done.

"A small latte and. . . ."

"A soy latte. . ."

" No, a small latte."

"Yes, a soy latte."

"Are you saying 'soy'? Because I just want a small latte. With regular milk." Fung comes over from the machine to save the day. "Just a small size latte, right?" Yeah. Right. Some days are easier than others. This isn't one of them.

Fannie works the register and takes the orders. I can't help but think that she may have been misplaced. She is short, the shortest of the four. Her shoulders barely clear the counter. Each of them dresses distinctively to preserve some sense of identity behind their black aprons. Fannie in black, Fung, the tallest of the four with a Pokemon haircut, in red, and Vien in a white, long-sleeve button-front. Fung makes the drinks when they need to be made and Vien does the rounds, collecting plates and cups.

Fannie stands behind the register and writes intently on a yellow pad. When she finishes with her important scribbling, she waits patiently for the next customer, staring blankly ahead. After minutes pass, a fake blonde walks up and asks for the key to the bathroom. After she leaves the side door, Fannie returns to her waiting.

More minutes pass and a family of three approaches Fannie. No one has coffee but the boy, no older than four, stands on tip toe and pushes a cookie onto the counter. Fannie bends down and slows her deliberate speech to attempt to talk to the boy, but he loses interests and turns to look for other distractions. I am reassured as Fannie has additional communication difficulties even when she's trying her hardest. I hope that Fannie isn't scarred by the experience.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

First Day

Lana makes an entrance with two friends in tow. The coffee house has an L shape, the door being at the end of the short leg of the L, which means that almost everyone makes an entrance when they turn the corner and head to one of the two cashiers.

"Lana! It's been a long time!" Three others are shouting various greetings in the background in both English and Cantonese. Lana is well known by the local barristas. She is tall, Chinese, and has long hair that stirs lightly on her navy blue blazer. Embarrassed by the many turns of heads, she holds a finger up to her pursed lips and waves their attention away with quick flutters of her other hand. She walks up to the counter and leans over the espresso machine to be heard over the sounds of steaming milk. One of the barristas nods in understanding and begins busying himself with filters and tamps. Lana leaves the counter and joins her friends at a table just behind the cream and sugar counter.

The room is dark despite the plethora of track lighting throughout. Two cashiers border each side of the cake display counter, making customers strategically chose their position. The distance is such that they must commit. The left or the right. Stand near to the cheesecake or the sandwiches. They can't have them both. Most people appear to be lazy, stopping at the nearest cashier, ignoring request to come to the cashier without customers. The first cashier is closer to the espresso machine. The coffee order must come faster from there.

Three minutes later, the barrista brings Lana and her two friends three cups of various brews. "Latte? cappuccino?" They already have their accoutrements at the table - two types of sugar and green stirrers. They efficiently begin popping their lids and stirring. They replace the lids on the paper cups and sip in synchronicity.

Lana sees a manager enter the room from the back. She stands and excuses herself from the table. They approach each other and hug when they meet. The embrace is brief but firm and close. Smiles and smalltalk prevail. Lana nods and backs away. The manager does the same. Lana returns to the table, still smiling.