though, servants and maids are stationed at the front gates of homes,
dressed tidily in whites and blacks, garbage bags plump and neatly
tied at their feet. As the trucks pass by, they throw the garbage
in with a minimum of fuss, each waiting until the other has finished,
all the way down the line, enacting their own courtly dance.
As he arrives at the Wang residence, the sun is setting, and there
is just enough light to make out the behemoth outline of the garbage
truck tune as it turns off the street, its dainty little tune receding
with it. A single tree on the sidewalk (a rare treat, seeing trees
here) casts gargantuan shadows. Not too far away, someone is setting
off firecrackers, another custom for the first day of Ghost Month.
The sounds are more felt than heard, like pulses under the skin. On
the pavement before Mr. Wang's gate is the day's offerings to the
dead: a bowl of smoldering spirit money, joss sticks crumpled into
ingots, paper cut-
out representations of items that will likely prove useful to those
in the next life -- watches, televisions, cars, cell phones.
He is received at the front door of Mr. Wang's house by a blast of
air conditioning and the Filipino manservant -- every time he comes,
the man opens the door, his face obdurate in its refusal to show any
sign of emotion or helpfulness, and points to the plush little sofa
in the main hall where he is to wait for Mr. Wang. Now that C.J. thinks
about it, every Filipino doorman he has ever encountered wears the
same mask-like expression. What's the cultural history behind that
look, he wonders.
The clock in the hallway reads 6:30. Mentally, he is calculating traffic
and distances -- from here to the Chens' house, probably half an hour.
And he needs to fill up his scooter in case tailing is involved. Twenty
after eight at the