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Friday, Apr. 10, 2009 - 12:20 a.m.

The trouble with him is that he sometimes cannot differentiate between film and real life. That time in Hongkong, when he was supposed to go to Kennedy Town to meet an old junior college classmate. His back was to the breakwater, the black waves sloshing unseen against the stones. The smell of dirty water reached him occasionally, depending on the direction of the night breeze. A pair of old men next to him had their rods set, invisible lines seeking invisible fish. The men lean against the breakwater, smoking, chatting in the sing-song Cantonese that he was still not used to.

In front of him was her apartment block, separated from him by a two lane road, not crowded for this time of night. A small beige public bus, and a taxi (they are all painted red here) with its rectangular block of light on its roof lit, pass by. She steps out from the lobby all dressed in black (as usual), expecting to see him (he had called saying he was downstairs). There is a look of puzzlement on her face, which on her, is more of a look of concentration. He has known her for ten years and that is the first time he sees that. She looks up the pedestrian walkway. Perhaps he's waiting at the wrong apartment block. Then she looks the other way.

But he is directly in front of her, across the road. He is recording this entire scene quietly - how many lumens the orange streetlamps flanking her apartment block provides, the background noises from tugboats blowing their horns in the distance, the mother and son walking past her into the apartment lobby. He moves his head ever so slightly to change where she stands in the frame. He likes watching people like this. They do not know they are being watched so they are at their most natural, at their most unaffected - almost truthful.

She puts one hand into her jacket's right pocket and pulls out her handphone. She presses a button and looks at the handphone screen, its pale blue light now illuminating her face (but he is not sure if he should zoom in here, or make her face appear more delicate than it actually is). In this scene, she paces up and down with the handphone in her hand, and her mind can be thinking of many different things.

He is more of a cameraman than a director or an editor, and only occasionally a member of the audience. The focal length in his eye flits between the different distances to the action on screen. Only rarely does he fill in the character's mental dialogue, or contextualize the scene.

This is a scene of a woman waiting for someone.

Mostly he just frames and captures. He enjoys the aesthetic of the composition. And he does not have to be literally watching the scene unfold from his actual point of view. For example, two days later, he meets another old classmate (this one from primary school). They climb up the stairs to the third floor of an old apartment block in Causeway bay, to arrive at a hidden and quaint cafe which has been renovated to look like a classroom. The menu is a brown exercise book whose pages are filled with faint blue grid lines.

They sit by the window, and reminisce, like the time when he handed in a highly-praised essay on flush toilets. Although he is talking to her face-to-face, he sees the scene from outside the window, with a slow zoom. Through the light-blue rectangular glass, a man and a woman are talking and laughing, though there is no sound and one cannot make out what they are saying.

Now, a shot from inside the cafe. They are seated at brown wooden desks (the kind where one can lift up the slanted surface to reveal a hidden space). They take up equal halves of the scene with the desks between them. Pink neon light from a sign outside the window flashes in periodically.

The woman lifts open the desk cover, as if looking for an answer, but there is only a half-used eraser inside. The desk cover shields the woman's face. Only her fingers curl around the edge of the wood. He almost expects the primary-school version of her to appear when she gently puts the cover back down. The woman in the scene is inexplicably, feeling increasingly sad. Perhaps it is the resonance of having actually sat next to each other twenty years ago, at similar school desks. That is the way the scene appears on film.

Cut back to Kennedy Town, where two old men are waiting for fish, and a woman is just waiting. She has the handphone to her ear, and his phone starts vibrating. A closer view of her face. Her shadow falls across the road. Another public bus passes by, erasing her momentarily (so that we do not see her covering her mouth from the bus exhaust). When it leaves the scene, she turns, and finally sees him across the road. Immediately, she hangs up and raises her other hand in a cutting motion. You idiot.

He smiles and walks across the road, into her unknowing embrace.


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