Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Eurasian -- second installment

Here is the second installment of The Eurasian, my novel in progress:

Chapter 3

Hong Kong was the ideal place from which to start such a long trip. It was the one port still open to non Chinese nationals of the buffer states, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, India and Singapore. Occasionally, visitors from the Islamic republics, and even from the Western Block, were allowed into Hong Kong. Any excursions into other parts of China required special visas. Singapore was really a part of China, but being that it was an island wedged between the great Indochina Islamic Republic and the rebellious states (claimed by China) and rogue sultanates; Singaporeans entered the rest of China through that port for security reasons. Likewise, all outgoing travel Eastward originated from Hong Kong.

While the entire journey could have easily have been completed in one day, the plan was to spend the night in Hong Kong to make sure everyone made it. Seymour Williams, Lucy Kanda and Albert Fong arrived from Singapore the morning after the group from Bangkok, as did Saw U Ta Gladstone from Chiengmai. The five from Bangkok, and their counterparts from Northern China had spent the night in bed sized cubicles close to the terminal.

Fourteen were present in the VIP lounge. Lo Peng, Martin Woo and Miss Nerender Singh were absent. No reason was given, but Mickey suspected it was for the same that the rest of the group were acting as though they were presenting themselves for the first time in the nude.

At least it seemed as though Lucy Tan would have preferred to appear as Marilyn Monroe in the nude than to show her physical body fully clothed. Besides a little bit of acne, she really didn't look too bad. Jonny 'Astro Boy' Lim was tall and lanky to the point of being somewhat awkward, and Albert Fong, far from sporting a Jacky Chan physique, was short and fat.

The last to arrive looked like a recent university graduate, thin, with only the beginnings of a beard, and his uncut hair was tied in a ponytail. His Indian features threw everyone off.

'Who are you?'

'I know -- Philip Kumar!' said Albert Fong.

'Here already la!' shouted Philip.

'Then one of you is...'

'Class, class! Don't you know your dear professor when you see him?' said the newcomer.

'You kidding!'


'It's me, your own Mr. Singh, in person! Alright, everyone here?'

'All but Lo Peng, Martin and Nerender,' said Marisa.

'And Philip Kumar,' added Albert Fong.

'Hoi!' started Philip.

'I've been informed those three won't be joining us. Now, did everyone do as instructed, and pack only essential clothing and toiletries? No one has any reading material apart from the travel manual on your e-tablet?'

'No books, la!'

'No books.'

'All my naked girlie magazine, delete just now la,' said Albert Fong.


Mr Singh continued, 'As soon as we are ready, we can board our vessel.'


'What departure time?'

'There are no scheduled flights to North America,' replied Mr. Singh. 'Departures are on a need-to-go basis. We need to go -- so they've provided a flight. So, does anyone have any last minute business? There will be no going to the toilet on the flight.'

After some sorting out of bags and belongings, and trips to the toilet, they were off down the corridor towards the flight terminal.

'Have any of you ever been on one of these flights before?' asked Mr. Singh, as they stood on the conveyor belt.

'Flew aeroplane from Chiengmai,' said U Ta.

'I wouldn't call this an aeroplane. You'll feel the weight below you as you ascend to above the atmosphere, then you'll feel pressure from behind as the craft accelerates to a tremendous speed, followed by weightlessness as we descend. The entire flight will take two hours, during which time, no one is to leave their seat. In fact, your seatbelts will be locked, and the backs of your seats will adjust automatically so as to give maximum support for your body. Any questions?'

'Nice view, I bet,' said Lucy.

'I don't know,' replied Mr. Singh. 'Haven't actually been on one myself. They were developed a bit late to be used as commercial aircraft -- the way the world has been divided up.'

'Not true, la,' said Philip to Mickey. 'But because China consolidated all into one part of globe, for us only, not practical. But Western Block use them -- trips from Australia to North America to Germany. Islamic Block use them, from Europe to East Indies. Also Southern Free States, flights from South America to Africa.'

'How do you know so much?'

'Monterey Jack.'

'How will you try to meet him?'

'He hack, know we coming, know details.'

At the end of the conveyor belt, the group walked to the big door. For the first time since arriving in Hong Kong, the group stepped outdoors. Ahead of them was a massive platform, or was it a deck, mounted on the side of the metro-tower. In the middle was what was apparently the craft Mr. Singh had been describing. It looked like a sawed off version of the old space shuttles NASA used to send up.

Mickey and Philip were next to the guard rail, from which they caught a glimpse of the ground. From here, they could tell that the platform, on which they stood, was, in fact mounted on one of the three legs of the metro-tower. This leg was planted in the middle of Wan Chai on Victoria Island, and rose at an angle towards the main body of the tower. Perched on the leg in step formation were towers that blended in with the ancient skyscrapers that still stood on the ground. The tops of the highest of them were at eye-level. The other two legs were planted in Tsim Sha Sui and North Point. Below the belly of the metro-tower was the Hong Kong harbour. Mickey could see ships coming and going, and even a few old fashion junks.

Quite a lot of Hong Kong was high enough in elevation to not be so badly affected by the rising sea water. However, there were many house boat communities lining the edges of the land masses.

Mickey wanted to look some more, but Mr. Singh was calling them to the craft.

They ascended steps near the front of the craft. Once inside, they were directed into two separate compartments running along either side, separated by what Mickey guessed was the rocket motor.

Despite the size of the craft, there wasn't much space inside. The compartment Mickey and Philip entered had only twelve rows of two seats with the aisle on one side and the window on the other. Across the aisle was the inner wall. Even though Mickey couldn't remember seeing the windows from the outside, they were quite large, enough for both passengers seated together to see out. There was lots of room between each pair of seats, each had its own arm rests and lower leg support.

Again, Philip made sure he sat next to Mickey, and asked for the window seat. Mickey suspected it was just as much to stay away from Albert Fong as to chat with Mickey. Albert had been tormenting him all morning.

Everyone settled in, and fastened their seatbelts as requested. These consisted of two shoulder straps as well as one that went around the waist and between the legs. Once everyone had fastened themselves in, they heard an audible 'click' as they locked. Then, a safety bar came down in front of each passenger, and the back and lower leg support automatically adjusted.

The craft lifted off vertically. They saw portions of the metro-tower, and parts of Hong Kong and the rest of China to the window on their left. They kept going until they had cleared the tower. Then, the craft tilted upward, while the seats adjusted by tipping forward slightly, so that the passengers were no longer seated behind one another next to an aisle, but above and below each other, in semi-reclining position like a very tall bunk bed.

Then, the deafening roar, the G force, the speed. The cabin pressure automatically compensated for altitude, so there was no discomfort to the ears. That couldn't be said for the rest of the body, which felt like it had become a seat for an elephant.

As the world below began to look like a TV weather map, the craft slowly began to tilt forward again, and the seats, back. The pressure on their bodies lessened, but only for so long. Now; forward thrust, but that was more bearable, more like that of an ordinary take-off down a runway, though sustained for a much longer period of time.

Finally, they were at cruising speed.

'Cool!' said Philip.

'We're in outer space!'


'Wonder what America will be like?'

'Just like Hong Kong, I bet.'

'What does your friend say?' said Mickey.

'Who? Monterey Jack?'

'Yes la.'

'Not much. Just talk about what's behind it all. He say, "Everything fake", like everything The Matrix.'

'You mean everyone is, like, attached to wires and tubes, and they only think they're walking about?'

'No la. Not that bad,' replied Philip. 'Just everything not what it looks like. And that book you send me, about no more print books, and change history, he say, "Happened already".'

'No kidding!'

'That's what he say.'

'Whole Western Block?'

'Whole North America. Maybe not Australia, Ireland, Germany -- I think they buffer zone, just like China have Japan, Korea...'

'In all North America, no print books, only e-books?' asked Mickey.

'Yeah, I guess.'

'How do they change history?'


They sat in silence, gazing at the view below. The girls in the seat ahead of them had closed their window. They could hear Albert Fong a few seats beyond, chatting with Derek Hong.

'Albert Fong, he such a scumbag,' whispered Philip.

Then, they began their descent.

Chapter 4

They had a day in which to recover from jet lag before their adventures were to begin. As usual, Philip clung to Mickey's side to ensure they shared their suite.

Mickey knew such things existed, but had never expected to experience it: the bed automatically adjusted to the size and shape of the body lying in it, and something intuitively began massaging the body right where it need it. When Philip stepped out of the bathroom dripping wet from the jacuzzi, searching for a towel, something in the floor immediately began sucking the carpet dry. He had to wipe himself with his own shirt. When Philip tried the jacuzzi, he realised that the reason no towels were provided was because, at the press of a button, the the water quickly emptied out and a burst of warm air shot out form every direction, drying him almost immediately.

They spent the rest of the day watching TV on the wall sized 3D screen. Situation comedies followed info-mercials, followed again by action adventures, and weather, news and sports. The characters of the sitcoms all lived in sprawling suburban dwellings with interiors not unlike the suite Mickey and Philip were in. The difference was the view through the French doors: a patio leading off to a swimming pool, surrounded by luxuriant gardens. The sprawling estates seemed to be the norm.

There were very few advertisements. Instead, the characters were all either pictured dining at McDonalds or KFC, trying out the latest feature of their Microsoft Personal World, eating breakfast cereal with the brand name shown full face, using the latest gadget from whatever corporation, in every case making a comment on the said product, and how wonderful life was for all.

Only occasionally did they depict a character, usually a lazy, jobless addict or a misfit, living in a two room flat high up in a metro-tower. Even they seemed to have everything they needed to survive. Their poverty was defined by their lack of this or that from Microsoft, or having to eat generic food out of a can, or worse yet, growing their own food.

* * *

Mickey browsed the list of e-books under the heading of 'Public Domain'. He already had the ones by Charles Dickens at home, but he tapped on Oliver Twist anyway -- and Little Dorrit, and Tale of Two Cities. They downloaded immediately.

Other random selections: the Bible, a few plays by Shakespeare, a history of China.

Mickey's dad had read their copy of Little Dorrit. Mickey had tried, but found it heavy with old English terms and long descriptions. He had watched the old mini-series on their home theatre. Looking at this e-book version, he could see that it had been greatly simplified. He could probably read the whole thing in two days.

He started immediately.

* * *

Meals were in the hotel café, after which they'd wander about enjoying the gaming arcade, looking at items for sale in the boutiques, or sitting about the pool on a deck high above the San Francisco Straight. No one had told them they might need any swimming gear, so they just sat looking at the water, or enjoying the view below. Albert Fong suggested jumping in with nothing on, but the girls and Mr. Singh vetoed that notion. Nor did they have any local currency to buy anything apart from what was provided. That being the state of affairs, most of them, including Mickey and Philip, opted to return to their suits to see if anything else interesting was on TV, or whatever.

Mickey tried reading Little Dorrit, but that tended to put him to sleep. He wanted to force back his jet lag.

After managing to stay awake through the daylight hours, the two went off to sleep with dreams of what a perfect world they had found themselves in. The special features of their beds kept them asleep throughout the night, so by morning, they were over the worst of their jet lag.

* * *

The twelve sat at their usual three tables. Each table had room for six. The girls sat at one table, Mickey and Philip sat with U Ta, Riu and Seymour also suite mates, while the other two sets of suite mates sat together at theirs. Breakfast was scrambled egg and sausage, which they helped themselves to from the buffet.

Seymour's ancestors were South Indian, who had migrated to Malaysia in the old days of British colonialism. U Ta was Karen, a tribal group native to the borderland between Thailand and Myanmar. Back in the days when the two were independent states, one of U Ta's forbearer was an officer in the Karen National Union, trying to create a third.

Mr. Singh arrived after the students had started in. With him was a tall dark thin woman, long wavy black hair, tight clothes, athletic build, Hispanic features. She was wearing a silver band covering her eyes and ears -- obviously see-through. The moment she arrived, she slid it upward, revealing her eyes.

'Yorba Linda, allow me to introduce you to my class.' Then he raised his voice. 'Class, this is your hostess for the next two weeks. Say hello to Yorba Linda.'

'Hello, Yorba Linda.'

'Hi Yorba Linda.'

'Good morning Ms Linda.'

etc. etc.

'Join us for Breakfast, Yorba Linda?' invited Mr. Singh.

'No thank you. I just had mine at home.'

'A cup of tea then?'


The instructor and the tour guide sat at the girls' table. Everyone went on with their breakfast.

Mickey stole a glance at Yorba Linda at the next table and got a side view of her. Not bad looking.

* * *

The group entered the boardroom where the smiling gentleman in a business suit welcomed them.

Yorba Linda did the introduction. 'Mr. Jensen, the visitors from the Far East. Mr. Jensen is the CEO of San Francisco Metro-Tower.'

'Good morning,' Mr. Jensen returned. 'It's our privilege to welcome you to our city. Please take your seats around this table.' He was also wearing the silver band over his eyes and ears.

They took their seats.

'The first order of business is to distribute your ID bracelets. They serve, as electronic identification tags, and you can use them in electronic transactions. Each one as been credited with a small amount that you can use to purchase a few souvenirs during your trip to our sector. They scan in at any check out counter in retail stores as well as vending machines, and all entrances to important places and check points will automatically detect and scan your access code. You all have level-3 access, which will allow you to take the tour of our entire sector, including all public places. Ms Kirkson?'

A woman in a business suit came in with a box, which she placed on the table in front of her. She took a bracelet from the box, held it to a small electronic gadget, and said, 'Seymour Williams.'

Seymour raised his hand. She handed it to him.

'Marisa Srisomboon...' She continued until everyone had their bracelet. They consisted of a curved metallic strip, round, but leaving an opening just big enough to admit the wrist. The moment they put their hand in, the gap closed up and adjusted to the size of the wrist.

Mr. Jensen added, 'For your safety, the bracelets are designed to not come off unless removed with a special tool. Don't worry, they're water proof, so you can swim, take a bath, get dirty. Now, your VR sets.'

Ms Kirkson had just fetched a stack of boxes which she proceeded to hand out. The ornate packaging featured the headline My Own World, with a picture of a silver band, like Yorba Lind and Mr. Jensen wore. Inside each box was the band itself.

Mickey realised that this was a slightly different version of a VR headset that came with some gaming machines. His own family had one, which Robbie and Rosie always fought over.

'These are a small gift to you, from the City of San Francisco,' Mr. Jensen said. 'On your own time, you may run the demo program to explore all the features. For right now, if you put them on, we can get on with your geography lesson. We request that you keep these on during the duration of your visit. They will sync automatically with your ID bracelets.'

They put on their My Own World's, and soon found that the whole room had taken on an additional layer, a hologram map of the world shone behind him. Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, North America, Mexico and a few parts of Europe were highlighted.

'This, of course, is the Western Economic System, known to you as the "Western Block".

Mickey was puzzled by the inclusion of Japan, Taiwan and Philippines on their map.

The map enlarged so as to include only North America. The Southern half lit up.

'You are here,' a bright red spot appeared just off the West Coast, on the Northern tip of Baja California, 'on the Western coast of United States of America. In spite of the uniform regulations, enabling freedom to move, live and do business throughout the entire Western Economic System, each nation within the system, remains culturally distinct.'

Now, the map enlarged again so as to show only the United States.

'The United States, which you see on the map, has a history that is unlike that of Canada, to our North, or Mexico, to the South. As you travel, you'll find many interesting things to see and do. For instance, here...'

A large area, stretching from the coast of the mainland all the way to Texas, changed colour.

'You'll find typical American farming communities, cattle ranches complete with cowboys, and Native American tribal peoples living and working like their ancestors have for the last three hundred years.'

As he mentioned each aspect of American life, 3D animated holograms appeared in various parts of the room. This went on for about half an hour.

Later, when Mr. Jensen paused for questions and answers, Jimmy Khoo asked, 'When do we see cowboys and Indians?'

'That will be after your next stage of your journey, next week, when you arrive in Dallas.'

'Why you want to see Indians?' said Albert Fong in a low voice. 'Have enough right here, la, with Pipsqueak!'

'Ayo! Shut your mouth!' said Philip.

'Make me!'

'Tch tch!' chided Mr. Singh.

* * *

No tour of a metro-tower is complete without a trip to the very top to enjoy a view of the surrounding country. So began their tour of San Francisco. The group was just small enough to fill one lift, filling all the seats in the two concentric circles, with Philip reluctantly sitting on Marisa's lap. The G force reminded them of their ride in the semi-space ship.

'Which of you is Philip Kumar?' inquired Yorba Linda.

There was silence.

'How do you know about Philip?' asked Mickey.

'From someone who goes by the name, "Monterey Jack".'

Philip said, weakly, 'Er -- I'm Philip.'

Yorba Linda looked at him, and broke out in laughter.

Philip looked like he would start crying. Mickey put his hand on his shoulder.

'I'm sorry,' laughed Yorba Linda. 'Do you know the name, Monterey Jack?'

'Yes, la!'

'You know, he made me promise not to tell, but I'm going to tell you anyway. Do you know how old is?'


'Fourteen years old, and he's no bigger than you.'

'How do you know him?'

'He's my step brother!' Oh, he's a choice one! You never know what he's going to do next, who he going to hack...'

'When will we meet him?'

'His father won't let him out of his sight. Also -- believe it or not -- he was afraid of you seeing how old he really is!'


'But he did hack the system, and,' she sighed, 'he's the one responsible for me being your hostess.'

'"Monterey Jack" that's a kind of cheese, isnt it?' asked Marisa.

'A type of cheddar, popular with Mexican food,' said Yorba Linda, 'and it's white, like his skin. Because he tried so hard to act like a Hispanic, we gave him that nick-name. That was before his father married my mother.'

'He still do?'

'Hah! There's no telling what he'll be into next!'

The lift slowed as they reached the top -- time to admire the view.

* * *

In the café during their free time, some of the students ran the demos for their My Own World.

The first thing that happened: a brilliant blue circle appeared in the upper right corner of the parifery vision. A voice said, 'Touch that ring with your finger.' On doing so, a menu screen came up. That was the starting point for configuring their Own World.

As various features introduced themselves, Mickey realised it was much more than a gaming device. Like it did in the boardroom, it gave the environment a new dimension. If they were lost, all they had to do was ask, through the menu, how to get to a certain location, and an arrow would appear in the air, just like in a taxi driving game Mickey had played at home.

Another feature did for them what their virtual classroom did back at home. They could project their on-line image so that anyone else wearing a My Own World headset would see them that way. Had they been given these much earlier, they could have carried on their their on-line images while physically meeting one another instead of reverting to their real world looks.

Mickey tried another feature. Suddenly, the room about them appeared like a haunted house, and all his friends looked like zombies. All his friends were recognisable as themselves, but a zombies -- except for Seymour Williams, who looked like an Elvis Presley zombie. Seymour had already chosen an image to project.

Another setting and everyone looked like aliens, and the décor of the café changed accordingly. Seymour looked like an alien version of Elvis Presley, and now, Albert Fong looked like an alien Jackie Chan. Another setting, again, turned everyone into cowboys.

* * *

Mickey, Philip and Riu walked down the street to test their various settings in the public areas of the metro tower. The default setting, generated by the metro tower itself, made them think they were outside. The sky above was blue, with a few clouds, the houses were two and three stories high, made of various materials that Mickey didn't remember seeing without his head set.

He took it off momentarily to check, and sure enough, cold steel and plastic, like before. With the head set, the place looked like a variety of brick, stone, wood, marble, just like an old fashion city would have looked, or down town Chantaburi, or Hong Kong at ground level.

The cowboy setting turned all the buildings into old time San Francisco. The signs over each shop were hand painted on wood, the style of the windows, everything was Old West.

Another thing Mickey noticed when he took off his head set momentarily was how some people were dressed -- or not dressed. Some were wearing very stylish virtual clothing but very little otherwise. At least one person had only his underwear.

He hadn't noticed this before, probably because there weren't so many people out when they left their hotel that morning, and then they had sped through the city in the hover bus, and didn't see the people very closely.

Back inside, Mickey mentioned it to Yorba Linda.

'Ha ha!' she responded. 'I know some who like to go out stark naked.'

'Naked? Cool!' said Albert Fong.

'Like in The Emperor's New Clothes?' suggested Philip.

'Exactly,' said Yorba Linda. 'But, a word of warning: some people have their head sets tuned to ignore virtual personal imaging. A group of close friends I belong to consider it uncool to depend solely on projected clothing. In fact, I often just use mine as a head band and pull it down when I need information from the city network.'

'The street doesn't look as nice that way,' said Mickey. 'No blue sky above.'

'But at least it's real.'

* * *

Late evening, back in the suite, Mickey was puzzling over one of his downloads. His dad had said that the mini-series they watched was actually quite close to the book version, but Mickey was noticing some striking differences between that and the electronic version of Little Dorrit he was reading now. In fact, it was hard to believe that the book was set in the early 1700s.

Author Clennem had arrived from China, and was describing it to Mr. Meagles as a place most un-conducive to any sort of happiness. If Mickey wasn't mistaken, he seemed to be describing classical Marxist Communism.

Did that exist in Dicken's time?

Author had begun to have some serious misgivings while talking to his ailing father on his deathbed.

Okay, that was in the video.

This copy did read a lot more easily than the original. Mickey quickly learned that the Office of Circumlocution represented the fallacy of overall government bureaucracy, which invariably held up innovation, such as Daniel Doyce had to offer, with his grand contraption. Mickey couldn't help but feel that the text drove the point home a bit more forcefully than the video mini-series. Not only that, but it was quite clear that it was bureaucracy that kept the common people from the consumer goods that would enrich their lives.

In the midst of this, was the life of William Dorrit and his misplaced hope in his aristocratic roots, which aristocracy was responsible for reserving luxuries and life enhancing pleasures to themselves instead of releasing it to the consumers, the rightful recipients. Reinforcing the state of things, until his bubble broke, was Mr. Merdle's financial empire, and assisting him, the House of Clennem, and their unholy alliance with the Chinese -- until that house fell.

In the end, Arthur Clennem's marriage with Little Dorrit, both having been liberated from their respective family's bondages, and Arthur's partnership with Daniel Doyce and his multinational company, represented the rise of global consumerism.

Funny! All that didn't seem to come across in the mini-series.

* * *

The neighbourhood reminded Mickey of an old film he had seen, Back to the Future II. Several of the houses looked exactly like the settings of one or two of the sitcoms they had watched in their hotel room. They were single storey, but took up a lot of space, and had broad lawns lined with verdant shrubbery. Robotic gardeners roamed about silently cutting grass or trimming hedges. One was on its extended telescoping legs shaping a tall evergreen. Each house had its own swimming pool.

A boy sped by on a hoverboard, followed by a robotic dog. An elderly couple was lounging on the front yard nearby, drinking something with ice.

A couple of the houses were open for tours, and Yorba Linda led them into one. After watching so much TV in the hotel room, there was really nothing new to see.

Yorba Linda pointed out some of the fixtures and explained their use. She seemed to notice the lack of interest.

'In China, well, do they have these kinds of things?'

'Yeah, la,' said Geoffrey Wong.

'Our house have that,' said Lucy Kanda, pointing to the Mr. Butler robot.

'I know someone have chair like that,' said Derek.

'Local sports club, have carpet, self cleaning one, just like here,' said Albert Fong.

'Maybe not everyone has all these things in one house,' said Mickey, 'but we're happy.'

'Hmmm!' said Yorba Linda. 'That wasn't the impression I had.'

They stepped outside again.

Mickey was sure he recognised the house down the street, but not what was behind it. Instead of a snow capped mountain range, there was a giant blue fence running along the back of several properties, hiding everything behind it.

'Did they show that house on TV yesterday?' he asked Yorba Linda.

'Yes. That's our next stop, the set of a popular TV program, Janny and Joey.'

'Ah! I see that la!' said Jimmy Khoo. 'But that one have mountains!'

'That what blue tarp for, stupid!' said Albert. 'Make it anywhere you want!'

'I must say, I've heard some of the most colourful speech from your group,' commented Yorba Linda.

'Asia English,' said Albert. 'Only way to talk! Americans have lot to learn!'

'I keep hearing the word, "la".'

'From Chinese,' said Lucy.

Mickey added, 'English words, but spoken with Asian grammar structure and syntax.'

'Wow! What big words, you sat sat bo chia one man!' said Albert.

'Ha ha! Been around my grandpa too much!'

* * *

There were two people at work on the set when the group entered, one with a small camera, another apparently doing the acting. A small monitor show what the camera was catching.

The actor was drably dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, and was talking to an empty space. 'Look, Hon, we've been over this before! Do I have to tell you again?'

The disembodied voice of a woman answered, 'But that was before you brought that ludicrous -- what do you call it?'

The monitor showed something entirely different -- the same room, a leisurely dressed gentleman that looked nothing like the drably dressed actor, but going through exactly the same motions, talking to a scantily clad woman. Mickey recognised them from the TV show.

The man with the camera said, 'Great! Let's go with that. Next scene.'

The actor walked over to the window and looked out. Suddenly, the monitor showed, not the well dressed gentleman, but an old wrinkled man.

'If I had my way,' said the actor, 'I'd have done it long ago!'

The camera man answered, 'Well, if you had your way, we'd all be stuck in that rat-hole they call a rhinoceros hive!'

'Huh! A man can get no respect around here!'

'You'll get your respect when you deserve it!' said the camera man. 'Okay, good. Take the other part.'

The drably dressed actor walked over and occupied the air that he had been talking to as an old man. The old man reappeared on the monitor, this time, addressing the scantily dressed woman.

Then the disembodied voice of an old man sounded out, 'If I had my way, I'd have done it long ago!'

This time, the drably dressed actor answered, 'Well, if you had your way...'

* * *

The e-Bible only contained the New Testament. Mickey couldn't find any that included the Old Testament, apart from the Psalms, so Mickey read what he had.

The translation was refreshingly modern. It was in the same style as Little Dorrit.

Mickey's favourite part was the Christmas story, which was, conveniently, at the beginning.

It was certainly different, especially the passage, ...the mystics from the East arrived, saying, 'Where is the one born to be king of this land?'...

King of this land? That was different, to be sure. Mickey read on, intrigued by more choices of words.

After a while, he began to notice the absence of any reference to Jews. The entire narrative sounded like it could have been set in Chicago, or Norway, or Bangkok.

Well, I suppose that makes it up close and personal.

Then again, he remembered Oliver Twist. The version he skimmed neglected to mention that Fagin was a Jew. What about Shylock in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice?

So I'm a banker. But I have feelings, don't I? If you pinch me, I say, 'Ouch!'

At first, Mickey thought they were just being politically correct. Now that he couldn't find references to Jews in the New Testament, he was wondering.

He looked up 'Jews' in the on-line encyclopaedia. An adherent of Judaism, a family centred religion, dating thousands of years. Adherents attend worship services on Friday evening and Saturday morning, in a Synagogue, where they participate in prayers and chants in an ancient language called Hebrew, and readings from their holy books in the same language. Teachings include belief that a deity with a name too holy to pronounce made the universe, and issued commands (called 'Mitzvot') for adherents of Judaism to follow.

The entry on 'Christianity' read: A religion based on the belief in an afterlife, and that becoming a devotee of Jesus, the founder of Christianity, will ensure one will live in heaven after death. The teachings are found in their holy book, called the 'Bible'. Adherents attend worship services on Sunday morning.

For all his searching, Mickey could find no reference to any connection between the two religions.

* * *

Mickey wondered why the classroom was so bare, then he looked at it through his My Own World, and found it really wasn't. In fact, the room no longer had walls. Where one wall used to be, was the view of the Milky Way galaxy, with the various sectors labelled with floating signs. Another opened into a meadow where a group of 18th century farmers were fighting a regiment of red-coat Englishmen. Another showed various geometric shapes and angles. The fourth was a view of the earth similar to what they saw from the semi space ship, but with labels. The group of them, students who belonged to this classroom and those visiting, occupied the square space that appeared to be a portal between four worlds.

Mr. Singh introduced his students, and then the classroom instructor for the host class introduced his. Then, they divided them all into four groups, each with four or five of the visiting group with about six of the host students. Each group went to one of the four walls.

Mickey found himself with Jimmy Khoo, Albert Fong and U Ta Gladstone, with a number of the host students, standing by the wall that had the globe. At least he knew it was a wall, but its close proximity gave him vertigo. He kept a few feet away lest he trip and go hurtling into the earth's atmosphere -- which they were already doing.

Someone had adjusted the picture so that it was zooming in on a particular part of the earth's surface.

'What would you like to see?' asked a boy.

'Hong Kong!' suggested Jimmy Khoo.

They began to descend on the coast of China. As they got closer, Mickey could make out Victoria Island and Tsim Sha Tsui, and the other islands. But there was no metro tower.

'Very old picture,' said U Ta Gladstone.

'Old? How?' said one of the local girls. 'This is very recent!'

'Where's the metro tower?' said Jimmy Khoo. 'And the shore line -- it's from long time ago, before...'

'Metro tower? You have metro towers?'

'No way! Metro towers are an American technology!'

Now, they were coming down to street level. Motorcars on rubber tires were noisily plying Nathan Road, construction workers were fixing the façade of a 20 story building whilst perched on bamboo scaffolding, all the while a dragon dance was being performed across the street in front of an office complex.

'This is out of Jackie Chan!' said Jimmy Khoo.

'Yeah, all those cars, very old!' said Albert Fong.

'This is a satellite picture!' said another local.

'Satellite? But this is street level!' said Mickey. 'That's Hong Kong 100 years ago!'

'Our satellites can do that!'

'And the water level's way down, like before global warming,' added Jimmy.

'You're having us on!' said another local boy.

'They sent you here to spread Chinese propaganda, didn't they!'

'No way!' shouted Albert Fong. 'You brainwashed with propaganda!'

Things started to get out of hand until Mr. Singh and the local teacher came to restore order.

'They say that's modern Hongkong!' said Jimmy Khoo. 'They say it's from satellite!'

'It is,' said the local teacher.

'I think not,' said Mr. Singh. 'Right there is where one of the legs of our metro tower is planted. They had to removed that whole neighbourhood.'

'Metro tower? I didn't know you have ...'

Mickey walked over to another group. They were viewing the interior of America as they would probably be seeing it during the next leg of their journey -- to Dallas. It was a view as would be seen from a hover car, flying over lush farm land, Indian reservations, colourful wilderness, slowing down over towns so as to see the shopping centres and places of entertainment. Thus the scene swept across Arizona, New Mexico and into Texas.

Since they'd be viewing this from the hover bus anyway, Mickey wandered to another wall. Now, it looked like the two teachers were having an argument over the accuracy of their satellite image. Some of the students in the third group were drawn in -- all except for Philip, Seymour and a couple of the local students in their group. Mickey joined them.

They had gathered in a corner. One of the locals said, 'I don't care what it is. I just make my own world anyway. Here, I'll show you China in my world.'

A window opened up on the section of the wall just before them. A group of ancient warriors were engaged in fancy swordsmanship. Some had staves, which they were twirling about, others were floating through the air, performing advanced Kung Fu, and some had weapons that Mickey doubted had ever existed in China. The battle even joined by a dragon which proceeded to torch several enemy flanks.

'That's part of my report on the rise of the Mongol Dynasty,' said the student who had turned on the view.

'That's -- history?' queried Seymour.

'Yeah. That's Kublai Khan, riding on the back of the dragon.'

'Creative Writing, I think,' said Philip.

'Alternative history, maybe,' said Mickey.

'When I finish school, I'm gonna write a new history of China, and this will be in it.'

'How can it be history if it has dragons in it?' said Mickey.

'Same way everything else is. No one living today was there, right? So who's gonna say I'm wrong?'

'The other history books. The history experts,' said Seymour.

'Hah! They just spout out what they want you to hear anyway. Everyone knows that!'

'But, history is what really happened!' said Philip. 'How can that there really happen?'

'We just change it to what we want,' said one of them, 'just like we change "right now" to what we want by redoing the settings on our headsets.

Just then, Yorba Linda was getting everyone's attention. 'Everyone! It's time we went on to our next stop.'

The room quieted down. The visiting group said a rather subdued good bye, and left.

Mr. Singh didn't look happy at all.

'What do you think of all that?' he asked Yorba Linda.

She heaved a big sigh. Finally, she said, 'I can give you the official version right now. If you want my personal opinion, we might need to find some place quiet where people wouldn't hear us.'

* * *

The interior looked much the same as any church hall Mickey had seen back home. Free standing buildings on the ground would have an exterior as well as an interior, but they were mostly alike inside. This one was in the metro-tower, occupying a hexagon shaped maxi-compartment not far from their lodging.

It was evening, after a day of touring about. Mickey walked about the place, looking for any hint of an answer to his new found queries. Was the Jesus they worshipped here Jewish? Did they have the Old Testament? Where did they keep their books, anyway?

The place was empty, except for an old man who looked like he was asleep, seated in one of the pews.

He couldn't find a single book. No hymnal, no Bibles.

The meeting room had the same type of seats as those back home, all facing the front, where the pulpit and holograph screens were located.

'Is this your first time here?'

Mickey turned around and saw the pleasant faced gentleman.

'Yes. I'm with a tour group from China.'

The old man in the pew perked up.

'China! How interesting! We don't usually see many people from there. I'm Pastor Ned. And you?'

'Mickey O'Brien.'

'That doesn't sound Chinese. Nor do you look it for that matter,.'

'Both parents were half and half. On my father's side, they came from Ireland.'

'Welcome to North America, at any rate. Let me show you around.'

'I don't see any Bibles,' commented Mickey.

'They'd all be in electronic format. Do you have an e-book reader? I can let you download a copy.'

'I got an e-copy, but only the New Testament. Do you have Old?'

The old man had walked up. 'You know a lot for a Chinaman. They teach Comparitive Religions there or something?'

'Er -- we do have several copies of the whole Bible at my house.'

'Wow! I thought they didn't allow that in China!' said the Pastor.

'I'll say!' Said the old man. 'They're commies! Don't allow religion!'

Mickey responded, 'Some parts have strict rules about it, but they hardly enforce them. But your country ...'

'This is a free country, it is!' said the old man.

'...they wouldn't let us bring any books.'

''Cause we won't allow Communist propaganda. That's why!'

'I mean, my Bibles. Where can I find the Old Testiment?'****

'We only have the New Testament,' said the pastor. 'The Old Testament will soon be made available here. It's had to be thoroughly gone over and edited for the general reading public.'


'It's been a long time since I had the opportunity to study it myself. The original version had parts that were hard to understand like wrath and judgement. In fact, reading some sections, there are parts that would appear to condone genocide! Have you actually read it?'

'Yes la! All the time! That's why I'm looking for it. They wouldn't let us bring our own books here.'

'What do you make of it?'

'It shows God is holy! Lots of things we must take all together, and see the whole picture!'

'The New Testament does that for us. In it, are the basic truths of our salvation, how to be born again, and be assured of going to heaven...'

'What about the prophecies -- and God's demands for righteousness?'

'All that comes by faith in the New Testament. We'll have the Old Testament available to us in the near future. A team of scholars as been revising it to make it user friendly.'

'Like they did with the New Testament?'


'But the electronic copy doesn't even say Jesus was Jewish!'

'Don't you know how much evil was done in the name of the church over that very issue? The Inquisition! The Holocaust! By making the Bible and other books politically correct, it reduces public consciousness of ethnic groups such as the Jews, so we can guarantee there won't be any such incidents in the future.'

'I suppose copies of the Koran don't have anything about jihad?'

'Jihad? What's that?'

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