The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

On Trams and “Total Eclipse of the Heart”

A friend from work asked me and the two other American teachers if we wanted to go to a tram party. We’d be gliding through the streets of Hong Kong at night in a convertible trolley. Oh and there was going to be home-cooked food, he told me. Combining my favorite things in the world—light-rail, food, and adventure—I was going to be living a mass-transit fantasy I never knew I had.

Without air-conditioning or window panes, even the new trams belong to a different era, and priced at only two Hong Kong dollars, the fare also seems old-fashioned. Unlike the other trams, this old one, painted deep green with gold trim, had an open air top.

We were among the first people to arrive and the only people to have brought any alcohol. Linda, the hostess, greeted us warmly in perfect English, and we sat at the back at the back of tram, struggling in a futile effort to open a bottle of Australian shiraz with a faulty screw top. We could twist it in a full circle, but the seal would not break. It was the only thing that went wrong.

Linda announced something to the party to great applause. Of course, we couldn’t understand a word. A moment later, Eric, our colleague, introduced us to the crowd in Cantonese, again to cheers. People seemed genuinely interested in us. This takes some getting used to.

We left our nook at the back and mingled with the crowd. Linda handed us a sheet of paper and a colored pencil. She explained to us that we had to introduce ourselves to everyone on the tram, and after a conversation, we had to write a first impression about the person on their piece of paper. On my sheet, someone compared me to Jude Law. No, seriously.

As long as we were moving, a light wind kept us cool on the hot, muggy night. We moved smoothly underneath neon signs: some in English, some in characters, and some with cartoons of chickens. We slid by jealous businessmen in Central and gawking tourists in Causeway Bay. As we passed a tram going in the opposite direction, we were inches from workers taking public transportation home. We’d look at them, smile, and wave. Someone would always wave back.

After our two hour tram trip finished, we headed to a karaoke bar. I was a little apprehensive about singing. I mean if the Chinese government heard my crooning, it’d be banned as offensive. Hell, I’m probably already banned from karaoke in Singapore. But all it took was a cantopop cover of “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” and I was hooked. In that great ballad, the imitable Bonnie Tyler sang, “Together we can take it to the end of the line.” On that night, we already had, and it turns out “the universe” could really be as “magical and wondrous” as she had hoped.

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3 Responses

  1. chezshay says:

    Your last photograph makes me feel the weight of HK’s crowds. Your last words make me want to explore it with you

  2. Mere says:

    Ha! The power of karaoke will seize us all one day! Glad to see you’ve turned to the dark side. It could sweep the world! I miss you, Christopher!

  3. Adam Bacher says:

    Chris, you went west and I went east. I’m in Kigali and want to invite you to my now active blog:

    I don’t have your email – please send it to me. I hope I can give you as much vicarious pleasure from Rwanda as you have given me from Hong Kong. -Adam

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