Category Archives: Author

The Jailbreak of Mouse

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The basement was as far away as the darkest corner of the universe. It was a world of nightmares, of prisoners, and hidden dangers. Little five-year old Sam had to take the elevator all the way from the eleventh floor to the second basement level. During the long ride down, he held on to the cold and sticky handrails inside the ancient, rattling contraption. Sam almost choked on layers of stale cigarette smoke. The air felt ever dustier and older, reeking of mildew and decay, as if an entire mountain of his grandma’s oldest shoes was stacked up somewhere behind a wall panel.

When the elevator finally stopped with a jolt, the doors opened into a cold, barely-illuminated space. A large corrugated iron door across the hallway loomed over Sam. It was covered in layer upon layer of scratches. Sam walked towards it. He pulled with all his might. The door was so heavy, his arms felt as if they were wrestling with a guardian of the underworld. Sam’s little biceps straining, he was able to open the door just enough to slip through.

Clang. The door shut behind him.

Next came darkness so complete, it seemed to breathe on its own. Deep, resounding breaths. Not like Darth Vader. More like a swamp thing from the ages. Brooding, foul, camouflaged, and ready to snatch him up in an instant.

Sam’s mind conjured up threats so frightful, he could feel his heartbeat vibrating all the way from his toes to the tingling hair on his scalp. He forced his trembling fingers to feel along the wall and, finally, just as he thought the creatures of his imagination will grab and devour him, he found the light switch. Darkness receded and revealed a seemingly endless corridor with hundreds of doors leading away from it. The walls were a dirty yellow. Some parts even greenish-brown with age. Water dripped from the ceiling, adding the stink of dampness and structural decay to the mix.

Sam’s legs started to shake uncontrollably. He didn’t want to go on. But he had to. He was on a mission. And without him, innocent lives would be lost.

He forced himself to take a first step. A second. A third… The lights went out. Sam lunged towards where he had seen the next light switch on the wall. Breathing hard from the sudden surge of adrenalin, he hit it on the first try.

He pushed on. Passing door after door, Sam kept his eyes everywhere at once. He turned around every few seconds lest giant spiders or slimy monsters sneak up on him. Whilst pirouetting along the corridor and hitting a switch every minute to keep the lights from going out again, Sam also managed to check the dark corners in turn-offs as well as behind open doors.

And he found them… the cages… one by one, just how he had heard the maintenance man describe them to his dad.

Thankfully, the first cage was empty. So was the second. Sam took them in his tiny hands and smashed them against the wall with all the strength he could muster, until they splintered into a thousand pieces. When he came upon the third cage, he saw movement inside. Scared and intrigued at the same time, Sam went closer and saw a ball of fur, the size of a golf ball. Dark eyes gazed at Sam with a glimmer of the same fear he felt. He lifted the cage up gently. The tiny, light brown body, on four delicate, pink legs scuttled as far away from him as the bars of the cage allowed. Whiskers quivered. Wide-open button eyes fixed him with an intense stare.

“Hello there,” Sam said to the little mouse. “I’ll take care of you. I’ll get you out of here. Don’t you worry.”

As Sam turned around towards the exit, the lights went off again, reminding him of where he was. Dragons of terror swooped into his heart. Sam barely managed to not race off in a blind panic. Again, his fingers searched for the nearest switch. He scraped his knuckles, banged his elbow, and almost fell over parts of the broken cages. But he soon felt a square of hard plastic on the wall, instead of a rough, plastered surface.

When the lights came back on, Sam hit the ground running. The hallway seemed to stretch and grow before him as if he was in a nightmare with the exit forever out of reach no matter how fast he ran. When he did reach the iron door after what felt like an eternity, Sam grabbed the door handle with one hand and held the cage tight to his chest with the other. Then, he put his shoulder into it, focusing all his strength.

The lights went out once more just as the door surrendered to Sam’s weight and creaked open. He leapt into the hallway. His heart hammered against the walls of his chest and the bars of the cage, which he still hung on to for dear life. The mouse now looked even more terrified.

The elevator seemed to take ages to get down to them. Sam kept turning around, half expecting to see that imagined giant spider come to life after all, to prevent the little rodent and him from leaving her dark lair. Thankfully, no monolithic arachnids appeared. The elevator arrived. Sam jumped in, pushed the button for the eleventh floor, and breathed out deeply for the first time since he had set out on his journey.

Arriving at his floor, sunshine flooding through large hallway windows, Sam let himself into his family’s apartment, his new friend and protégé still firmly secured under his arm.

They spent the whole afternoon together, during which Sam tried to convince the little mouse with cheese, tuna, salad, and even vanilla pudding, that he had the best intentions. After a while, he played Beethoven on the stereo. When that didn’t work either, he tried Rihanna. The mouse did seem to relax slightly when Sam played some tunes from the Backstreet Boys. Mostly though, it huddled in a corner of the cage. Frozen. Listening intently. His eyes never leaving Sam’s.

“What’ve you got there?” Sam’s dad asked when he got home from work.

“It’s my new friend, Dad. His name is Mouse. I saved him from that awful basement downstairs and we’re going to look out for each other from now on.”

Sam’s dad eyed the fear-stricken rodent. Then he came closer and sat down next to Sam on the floor. “So you went down there all on your own?”

“Yes, I did Dad. It was horrible.”

“Well, I’m not sure the maintenance guy is going to be happy when he finds out you interfered with his mouse project. We’ll try and keep it a secret. Don’t go down there again though, ok?”

“But Dad,” Sam said, “It’s not a project. He is putting mice in prison. Look how scared Mouse is.”

“That’s the thing though Sam. Have a look. Does Mouse look happy to you, huddled in the corner of his cage like that?”

“Not really.” Sam had to admit. “But he is going to be my best friend and I’m going to take good care of him.”

“I believe you will,” his dad said, “but he is a wild mouse, used to take care of himself. If you truly want to do something good for him, then we should release him somewhere nice. Think about it, ok? We can talk more in the morning.”

Sam’s dad left his son’s room. Sam watched him go, then focused his attention back on Mouse. Sam felt lost, unsure of what to do. He wanted to do the right thing like the heroes of his adventure stories. The Avengers would never have kept anyone with them against their will. Sam kept thinking. He brought Mouse ever more delicious presents. He even offered to share a late-night chocolate Mars bar with him. But Mouse never moved.

In the morning, Sam and his dad took Mouse for a ride. Passing by in their car, they looked at streets, meadows, farms, and woods, wondering where their little survivor would be most happy. Had Sam separated Mouse from his family? Had he divorced a cute Mrs. Mouse from her husband by uprooting him from the cellar? Or did Mouse have a boyfriend or even husband? Could mice be gay, too? Was Mouse even male? Sam had assigned him a name and gender, but who knew…

For a moment Sam and his dad had considered just letting Mouse out in the cellar. But they didn’t want him captured again. They wanted to give him the best possible chance to start over and roam free.

After an hour of scouring the neighborhood, they stopped in the fields surrounding their town. Sam gently placed the cage on the ground. Since he had found him, Mouse had never moved from his chosen corner. If not for his constant, slight quivering, he could have easily been mistaken for a toy or the world’s smallest statue. Sam opened the cage door. He quietly retreated a few feet, waiting for Mouse to make his move. Sam’s dad stood by silently.

Mouse remained rooted to the spot. What was going through his head? Did he fear they were luring him into a trap? Was the sudden promise of freedom just as terrifying as being captured had been? Or did he sniff for familiar scents and, finding none, wondered if they would bring him back to familiar grounds if he just waited long enough?

After a while, Sam could see Mouse stirring. It was almost imperceptible, a twitch of his hind legs, a slight swivel of his ears, a tremor rippling through the fur on his back. Seconds later, Mouse shot out of his cage like an Olympic sprinter on steroids. One moment he was there. The next he was gone. No stirring underbrush. No sound. Nothing. Just gone.

Sam hugged his dad’s left leg like a mini-octopus hanging on to a coral block for dear life to avoid getting lost in ripping current. Whilst hanging on, he cried a little.

Sam was sure Mouse’s adrenalin was pumping as he ran through dense jungles of grass. He was running towards the edge of the woods in the distance, with their promise of acorns and berries. Most likely, he was tearing through fallen leaves on the way, breaking the sound barrier as he went through them, scattering them in all directions, thus releasing the strong scents of fertile earth and decomposing leaves. Each leaf a memory from the tree it once belonged to. It was a good life Mouse was hurrying to. Or maybe it wasn’t. In the grander scheme of things, it didn’t matter. What was important was he was free again and able to make his own choices.

Photo by André Sananoon Unsplash

I Am Liam

Ever since writing this blog, I’ve noticed how I lose followers when, for a while, I don’t specifically write about being transgender. I guess some people are hoping for specific insights into a trans existence. But what is a trans existence? The truth is – and I can’t stress this often enough – we are all the sum of our experiences. That being said, no matter what I do and write, being trans (or being categorized as trans in our society) is undeniably part of who I am.

However, when you are trans it isn’t foremost on your mind every single day. It isn’t what you think and talk about all the time. It just is. I transitioned 25 years ago. Yes, I have faced and still face many challenges because of being trans. But, in essence, I am facing what everyone else does. Like every other human out there, I fight my battles, struggle, grow, love, hurt, long to belong, long to be loved, and aim to find a healthy balance between taking care of myself and taking care of others.

Over the years, what has become most important for me is to open my mind wide and see beyond the labels. If I am any sort of activist, then this is it: I fight for a world of compassion and mutual respect. A world in which labels become obsolete.

The more I experience life all over the globe, the more I realize that, rather than focusing on what makes us all different, it is so much better to focus on what connects us. The best I can do for myself and for everyone else out there is to be authentic, ignore the labels, and rather write about life in all its rawness. I want to observe the world around me with empathy. I want to understand those around me, no matter what their background, and write about the beauty and painfulness of our shared existence.

The longer I think about it, I even wonder, “What does transgender mean?” I was born as who I am. The gender assignation of the body I was born with did not match with my soul. But my soul was always human. I was just another splotch of color in our diverse universe. No matter what my physical shell looked like at any point in time, inside of it I was always beautiful, flawed, unique, struggling Liam. Society will classify me as a trans male. I classify myself as male. But in the end, does it even matter?
I am Liam. And I believe that is enough.

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Photo by Susanne Stauss

When Kung Fu Leads to Coffee

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Hon Kee Café – A Hidden Gem in Macau’s Coloane Village

Walk towards the ferry pier in Coloane Village, then turn right, and trek over the hill until you see a row of eerie, abandoned shipyards on your left. Keep walking until you reach a jumble of colorful, corrugated iron houses. This is Lai Chi Vun Village, where most of Coloane’s boat builders used to live. A little further ahead is Hon Kee Café… essentially a large open shed with just four wooden tables, ringed by tall trees, which provide additional shade and almost cause you to miss the unassuming place altogether.

I must have walked past this gem a hundred times, never giving it a second thought. Then, one day not too long ago, a local woman told me about Ah Hon, owner of Hon Kee Café. Both, man and café, turn out to be nothing less than local legends…

Many years ago, Ah Hon was one of the young boat builders working in the shipyards. In 1986, an accident with a rusty saw nearly severed his left arm just above the elbow. Two bones, muscles, and blood vessels were gone. Ah Hon almost lost his life that day due to severe blood loss. In the weeks that followed, his body fought against life-threatening infections. His doctors urged him to amputate the arm but, as our stubborn local hero let CNN know during an interview in 2013, “I told the surgeon I’d rather not live than live without my arm.”

Thankfully, Ah Hon’s body won the battle against the infections. However, many surgeries and experimental nerve transplants later, Ah Hon’s arm had shrunk to the circumference of a thin bamboo stick. It was clear, he would never be able to work as a boat builder again.

At a loss of how to earn a living and provide for his family, Ah Hon began thinking of transforming one of the abandoned buildings in his village into a café for the boat builders. His first application for a restaurant license was rejected by the government. Not willing to give up, Ah Hon wrote a letter to the Portuguese mayor of Macau, imploring him to interject on his behalf. The mayor did… and the government authorities relented.

Despite his weak left arm, or rather, as a self-made form of physiotherapy, Ah Hon began building his café all by himself. He fortified the structure of the abandoned shed. He built his own furniture. By the time he opened Hon Kee Café in 1991, Ah Hon’s mangled arm had regained a little of its functionality and strength. This was encouraging, but compared to its former brawniness, the arm still felt useless.

What else could Ah Hon do?

Kung Fu, a simple wood stove, and coffee provided the answer.

Ah Hon built himself a wooden dummy in a small alcove inside the café and began practicing Kung Fu on it. “I am no Kung Fu Master,” he says, “but practicing daily on the dummy certainly helped me regain my physical power.” To exercise even more, he bought the heaviest axe he could find and pushed himself to chop wood for his coffee stove on a daily basis.

During the café’s early days, a foreign couple stumbled upon it. They decided to escape the afternoon heat and have an iced coffee in the shade. Soon, they engaged in lively conversation with Ah Hon and suggested to him to hand-beat his coffee, to lend it a unique strong texture and taste. Ah Hon dismissed the idea at the time. Then, one day the famous Hong Kong actor Chow Yun Fat stopped by and ordered a coffee. Star struck and embarrassed to serve the great international movie star a regular cup, Ah Hon remembered what the couple had taught him and made his very first hand-beaten coffee.

He has been hand-beating his coffee ever since.

According to Ah Hon, he beats each cup 400 times. This, of course, also with his left hand, which, through the café owner’s many years of relentless exercising, is back to its former vigor. Ah Hon uses instant coffee powder for his one-of-a-kind brew. First, he stirs a spoonful of thick coffee mixture for a few hundred rounds at high speed until it thickens. The process takes a few minutes. When more hot water is added to the coffee, a thick layer of foam and cream rises to the top, creating an unusually viscous texture and an irresistibly aromatic scent.

As for food, Ah Hon’s is the simplest and most charming menu I have ever laid eyes on. You have your choice of either toast or instant noodles, with egg, pork, or canned sardines. To add additional spiciness, there is a small squeeze bottle of homemade chili sauce on each table, which I personally find irresistible.

Since 2005, all of Lai Chi Vun’s shipyards have been abandoned. However, even with his initial customer base gone, Ah Hon’s café keeps going strong. Local and international TV stations and newspapers still pay him the odd visit. Macanese as well as Mainland Chinese customers come for some instant noodles and the famous hand-beaten “Chow Yun Fat” coffee. Ah Hon’s story has inspired many. A visit to the humble and cozy Hon Kee Café reminds his customers that everything is possible if your heart is in the right place and you never give up.

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Hon Kee Café

Merendas de Lai Chi Vun Park, Coloane, Macau, +853 2888 2310

Open daily, except Wednesdays, from 7:00am to 6:00pm

 

De-limbo-ing Myself

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The wait continues… I’m really not a big fan of being in limbo. So, while looking for job opportunities, I keep doing my best to de-limbo myself by getting productive and continuing to write my 2nd book (as well as tackling smaller projects)… including passing out in between and recharging my batteries for whatever may come…

I Often Fondly Remember…

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I often fondly remember working as a diving instructor in the Maldives. Four years of living and working on a small island with individuals from all corners of the globe, in closest quarters, with hardly any privacy.
Teaching students who are sometimes terrified of the element they are about to enter.
Learning a whole new level of social competence, acceptance, and problem solving amongst my colleagues and friends.
Finding moments of peace within my daily responsibilities.

The odd cheese fondue in front of my room was a rare highlight of relaxation… enveloping my staff accommodation neighbours in wave after wave of strong Appenzeller and Gruyere scents.

Now, as a stage manager, I have exchanged the magical deep blue sea with the also magical deep black backstage.
In many ways, it’s just another island.
And, thankfully, learning and growth always continue…

Simple Pleasures

village summer day liam

As I get older, I remind myself to not forget the simple pleasures which made my heart beat faster when I was a kid. Sweet, sticky ice cream dissolving on my tongue and brain freeze on a hot summer’s day… Sitting in the shade of a tree, day dreaming and escaping the sizzling afternoon heat… Balancing on that wall along the water’s edge, gazing out over the blue, sparkling water surface towards the horizon… Simple pleasures, but oh so satisfying!