Return To Kowloon, Part 5: The Pilgrimage of Saint Teresa

PREVIOUS POST: Return To Kowloon, Part 4: Finally Returning to Kowloon

As my mother pointed out when we arrived for the first time at this hospital, Saint Teresa is the patron saint of headache sufferers and writers.

Holy Kowloon, I couldn’t have picked a better hospital!

So it made sense to go back.  They saved my life, they treated me well, they had really good fried rice, and they cut a few grand off the final bill so I didn’t have any hiccups with my insurance.  Overall, a five star hospital in my book of hospital ratings (which only includes 2 hospitals, both of which have 5 stars.)

So as I walked up Argyle avenue, for the first time in two years I could see her standing above me– exactly as I had remembered her:

ST TERESA OUTSIDE

Those are little bits of brain tumor she’s scattering down from the wall…

And as soon as I got inside, she was right there to greet me!  Even holding a pink rose for me– one of my favorites.  I’ll you, that St. Terry really knows how to make a guy feel welcome.

St Terry

 

So we chatted for a few minutes, talked about the new season of Downton Abbey, and I thanked her for watching over me all this time.  She chastised me for not blogging enough, but she’s really psyched about the movie project I’m working on.  She said she wants “that chick from Avatar” to play her.  And I couldn’t disagree.

But anyway, she had to get back to work so I ran upstairs to the 8th floor with a lump in my throat, and there I saw it!

HK hospital hallway

My Home Away From Home!

This is where I lived for a couple of weeks, where I would try my best to sneak past the nurses station in running sneakers and shorts and if caught try to convince them I was just going down to Starbucks for a cup of tea.  (Saint Teresa has her own Starbucks.)

And guess what?!  Many of them were there!  MY nurses!  The absolutely wonderfully caring and compassionate and professional women who made me feel at every instant in this place that I was being cared for.  That all the very best things were being done for me.   Although they didn’t allow me to sneak beers in.  OK wait one time they did.

AND THEY REMEMBERED ME!  AND I REMEMBERED THEM!  And I even got to see one of my favorites, who was so shy she wouldn’t let me take a picture of her.  (But I got one anyway.  That’s her on the right with the red hair.)

IMG_9077

And here are two of the other wonderful women who kept my head in one piece way back when, and who i owe for even being able to think about a Return to Kowloon…

NUrses 2

So now, after all that walking, I found myself  conveniently hungry.  Fried rice!
So I bolted to the cantine. (Somebody was occupying my room, so I couldn’t eat in bed like the old days, unfortunately.)

3:08pm – St Teresa’s Cantine

At the cantine, just ate some delicious rice with pork that is almost as good, but they don’t have the friend rice ready until 5pm.   Good news is I don’t have a brain tumor.   And I’m allowed to leave here whenever I want.  And if I don’t get the fried rice this time… I can always come back!  I love this place– all they do is treat me nice and save my life.

not mushroom fried rice, but not too shabby!

Not mushroom fried rice, but too shabby.

And right there, from the widow in the cantine, I could see that mountain out the window… that one I always wanted to climb, every single day I lay in my hospital bed.

Lion Rock - it's the highest bump on the right side

Lion Rock – it’s the highest bump on the right side.

I already have my sneakers on…
and I bought those cheap shorts and  backpack…
all I need is a bottle of water and maybe a cold beer and…

I think I’m gonna go climb up that mountain right now.

Because I am HERE.
And I am ALIVE.
And I CAN.

lion rock distance

Here I go. Up to THERE.

5:56pm – Several Hours Later — Lion Rock Park

After about a 4-5 mile run/walk/hike through the city from St Teresa’s, you reach a Buddhist monastery at the edge of the park.  Just walk up this last excruciatingly steep block, and make a left on that cement staircase up there at the end…

buddhist monastery

And from there, you hit jungle.
Like real, dense jungle.  On a 70 degree incline.
But it’s beautiful.  And quiet.
Suddenly the city of 7 million people below disappears into a faint whisper.

Just follow the fuschia ribbons…  (Every time you think “Am I really doing this?” or “Am I going the right way?” you’ll see another one.)

ribbon 1

And once I was about halfway up the mountain, at least 1,000 feet above Saint Teresa’s, I saw another sign:

dont go sign

Little did that sign know, those are the same sneakers I used to run a solo marathon in Newfoundland.  (Did I really run a solo marathon in Newfoundland?)  This hike wasn’t a marathon, but with the hills and the views and the emotional subtext it kind of felt like one.  So there was no way me and those sneakers were gonna get stopped by a sign.

So we looked for the next ribbon (there it is! right up there!) and up we went!  (“We” being me, my sneakers, and my t-shirt.  And Dutch the Dog, in spirit.)

up to there!

Up to THERE!

And when we got there, this is what it looked like:

The TOP

Which was pretty great.  So I drank a beer.

mountain beer

And four bottles of green tea.  (I was thirsty.)

Look mom!  You can see Saint Teresa’s from here!

Look Mom!

And that is why I came back here.

I came back  to go to a place I’d never been to before.

And now that I am here, on top of Lion Rock Mountain, standing on the very place I had stared up at every day those two years ago–  what do I do now?

I scream at the top of my lungs.  To that guy down there with the bandages on his head.  To tell him that he can get up here one day, if he just tries.  Really hard.  If he doesn’t give up.  And if he keeps up doing all the things that feel like they’re important, no matter what stands in his way (clouds, nausea, diminished cognitive capabilities, deep daily existential crises, etc.).

I told him he could– he WOULD– get up here on this mountain.  All he has to do is keep going.  Because here we are.

And then, we decided (me and that guy, 2 years ago, looking up at me) that we should leave something behind.  Something for us to mark the fact that we made it back.  On our terms.
And it was beautiful, and sun shiney, and it felt fucking great.

shirt1

So I pulled off my (very sweaty) I FLEW TO HONG KONG AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY BRAIN TUMOR t-shirt (which I actually designed in that hospital bed that I can see from here).  And I tied it up with a fuschia ribbon, and I buried it.
On the top of Lion Rock Mountain.

I flew all the way back to Hong Kong, and all I left behind was my lousy brain tumor t-shirt.

shirt ribbon

It’s still there, under this rock, in case you ever want to find it.

And that is why I came back here.

I came back here to leave something behind.

 

NEXT POST: “Escape From Hong Kong 2: Leaving Things Behind.”

Return To Kowloon, Part 4: Finally Returning to Kowloon

PREVIOUS POST: Return To Kowloon, Part 3: Return to Hong Kong

Monday, April 28th, 11AM
On the Star Ferry to Kowloon

Crossing the harbor to Kowloon… to go find Saint Teresa.

Being on this ferry feels like being in Atlantic City.  
Old timey English maritime style with life savers, diesel engines, and painted over painted over paint.  
Feels like home.  
View’s a lot different though.

Star Ferry, the best and slowest way to Kowloon

Star Ferry, the best and slowest way to Kowloon

12pm: Tsim Sha Tsui

Short walk from the Ferry Terminal, through Tsim Sha Tsui, to the metro.
I notice I’m taking my time getting to where I’m going.  I could’ve just taken a cab from the hotel.
But with the walking, and the boat, I find I’m turning it into a pilgrimage, without even realizing it.
Until I just realized it.

This is why I am here.

This is a pilgrimage.

It’s a long way to come for fried rice, but nobody does it like Saint Teresa’s.

12:15pm: Fa Yuen Street Market

Neat place, that I hadn’t seen before.
Clothing stalls and junk stalls and no cars to run you over when you don’t look the right way.

HK street market

God it’s so nice just to be here.
Just to be.   Here.

Just looking around
just like a tourist
without even a headache,
with nothing to worry about except
what to
eat for lunch
and if 
I should buy
a cheap pair of shorts
just in case
maybe I’ll go
for a hike later.

I am cured right now.

This is why I’m here.

This is fun!

And that’s it.  Fun.  That’s all it is.
And man is that a big fucking relief.

And then, I saw another sign.
A sign, above a clothing stand, that said “CP FASHION.”  My initials.
And even more amazingly, they were selling a knock off version of my “I FLEW TO HONG KONG AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY BRAIN TUMOR” t-shirt!  For only $59HK!

IMG_9035
Who the hell else is going to buy that?

[Note: I may have secretly snuck that shirt onto the rack.  But that lady really checked it out for a minute.  Who knows, maybe she flew all the way to Hong Kong and got a brain tumor.  At least now she can get a lousy T-shirt too.]

12:43pm: Outdoor Flower Market

I bought a cheap pair of shorts!  And an even cheaper backpack!
God is this so much fun!
And that is ALL that it is… just a nice fun day in a nice new place.
Fun smells and sounds and signs, like it was supposed to be when I came here 2 years ago.  

And it was that for a little bit, but it mostly a lot of a Very Big Something Else.

Outdoor Flower Market

Walking the Outdoor Flower Market

I’ve been on this street before.  Two years ago.  With my parents.
And we were walking the opposite direction, and things felt a lot differently than they do right now.

I think I’ll go sit down on that bench and write.
We didn’t sit on those benches.
They look nice.

And so I sat.  And I could see a mountain in the distance.

sitting in flower park

That’s the mountain that I stared at for weeks from my hospital bed.  Wishing every day I could be up on top of it, and knowing there was very little chance that was ever going to happen.

When I just looked at that mountain, I breathed a sigh of relief that felt so deep and calm and relaxed and NORMAL  that it made me cry.

And this is why I am here:
To experience this place on my own terms.
Only with wonder, and discovery.
As I meant to the first time I came.

Some cloud has just lifted from my head that will never come back.

It is gone forever.

I am alive.

And this is why I came here.  

To be alive.

 

1:24pm: Yuen Po Street Bird Garden

A mosquito bit my ankle back in the flower park.  I almost hope it gave me dengue fever,  the irony would be too sweet.

But here I am in the bird market now.
A Peacock in a bird market.
Staring at a parrot.

"I remember you! You're the peacock with the brain tumor!"

“I remember you! You’re the peacock with the brain tumor!”

He’s much older than I am.  I’m jealous of that.
He just winked at me after I wrote that.  Twice.
I think I may have seen him the last time I was here,
with my parents…

They were so worried.
We were walking the opposite way.  

We had walked from the hospital.  
My head was bandaged,
not more than a few days
from having it cracked open.

It felt a lot different this time.

That old parrot just took a drink, and a poop.  
Puffed up his cheeks and showed me his tail.  
He remembers me.

And so with a wink and a nod to the parrot, I continue around the corner, a few steps further, and…

I have officially returned to Kowloon.

Welcome Back, Peacock!

Welcome Back, Peacock!

Thanks, it feels great to be back.

The End?

But this isn’t the end…
Just between those trees…
I think I recognize something in the distance…
A nice old lady’s place I crashed at for three weeks about two years ago.
Lots of nuns.  And angels.  Nurses.
They saved my life.
And they made really good friend rice, with these black mushrooms that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.

 I can see my old home from here.

Next Post: Return To Kowloon, Part 5:  The Pilgrimage of Saint Teresa

Return To Kowloon, Part 3: Return to Hong Kong

PREVIOUS POST: Return To Kowloon, Part 2: Prelude, Thanks, and a Possible Seizure

So here we go with the “real time” notes & pics from my  few days in Hong Kong…

Saturday April 26th, 1:39PM
Hotel Room, Hong Kong Island.
“It feels really fucking cool to be HERE, thinking about the movie and working on the movie.  The movie that started here and contains so many places and faces and feelings and ideas from here, that I’ve been thinking about so much for two years and now I’m actually HERE. It  feels so right.

IMG_8860

It feels like I’m being led somewhere… From Hong Kong to Hong Kong.  Let’s see where we’re headed.  So whatever you do, DO NOT STOP!

 

Sunday April 27th, 7PM
Long Fu Shan Country Park

Convinced my friend to climb up to the top of the closest mountain to where we are staying– the same mountain where the picture at the top of the BrainChancery website was taken.  Last time I was here I had a tumor in my head, and it hurt.  This time, not so much.   Both times, had to do a little convincing to get my friends (Erik, the 1st, Ludo, the 2nd) to follow me up to the top.

Here’s the picture we got this time.  A little darker, but at least I had a new clever t-shirt to wear.

Top of the Mountain 2

Top of the Mountain 2

NEXT POST: Return To Kowloon, Part 4: Finally Returning to Kowloon

Return To Kowloon, Part 2: a Spoiler, a Thank You, and a Possible Seizure

PREVIOUS POST: Return To Kowloon, Part 1: Guess What I Just Did?

The Spoiler:
I am no longer in Hong Kong, or in Kowloon.  Because I am home.
I flew to Hong Kong… and back!  And I didn’t even get a lousy brain tumor.
And for the next few posts, I’d like to share some excerpts from my journal, things that I wrote while on my trip these last few days, and the photos I took while I was writing them.   A real-time travelogue kind of thing, if “real-time” means  “a few days ago.”  Let’s just pretend it’s happening right now as you’re reading it.  Hong Kong’s in the future anyway, right?

The Thanks
But before I begin, I’d like to first repeat my humble and deeply felt thanks to the generous and loving friends who helped me get back to Hong Kong.  I couldn’t have done it without you.  And now that I know how important this trip was for me, I can’t tell you how glad I am that I did.  And I can’t thank you enough for getting me there.  So thank you again, friends.  I made it.

The Smoothie
SHIT.  Just as I was typing the last few sentences, I suddenly felt a smoothie (seizure aura) coming on.  (More on smoothies here and here). I’d rather finish writing this post than have a seizure right now, so just to be safe, I swallow a few Ativan (anti-seizure drugs), alert a friend or two to check on me, then I sit myself safely down on the couch and try to keep typing while ignoring the weird hallucinatory swirling soundsin my ears.  But the Ativan should kick in soon…

1o MINUTES LATER:

…and it does.
Whew.  Feeling far less smoothy, and far more groovy now.  No seizure coming.  I’ll be fine.

And if you’re reading this post, that means I managed to stay awake and unseized long enough to keep writing this post, and to post it.

To be clear: I am including this whole smoothie episode as it plays out in real time –really in real time this time– not to gin-up suspense for my Return to Kowloon (it’s coming,  I promise), but rather just to share the experience of someone living with brain cancer.   This happens sometimes.  It’s one of the things you have to get used to.

But I’m happy to report–and this is an important point– that the smoothies popping up for me every once in awhile are now far more likely related to having had 2 brain surgeries, as opposed to having a new brain tumor.  In other words, these potential seizures are probably not “new cancer” related.   While they are still really worrying (and really inconvenient at times) my last few scans seem to show that the cancer isn’t having anything to do with them.

So here we go: on to the next post… Return To Kowloon, Part 3: Return to Hong Kong