Sylvia The Chinese Dragon (Short Story: HONG KONG SAR)

Another tale of horror from the bottom of my rucksack, recently cleaned out and several stories written on the back of airline sick-bags salvaged and posted for your information and entertainment. It’s about 4 years old but I feel it’s my duty to caution all expats/travellers/tenants in share accommodation of the dangers one may encounter when searching for that rarest gem that is a good flatmate.

It was my first week in Hong Kong and I’d already found the most amazing flat in the world. It was on Fortune Road on the border of Happy Valley and Wan Chai, right near my favourite bars and shops. It was spacious and beautifully furnished. It had been used for a film set. It was old but beautifully renovated in a chic 60’s retro style. And it was mine…

Not all mine, exactly – I shared the flat with Sylvia. I don’t usually use people’s name in my stories but I feel that I should warn the world about this woman.I found her from a reputable Hong Kong real estate website which has not heeded my warnings of this freak as she is still allowed to advertise, so please be careful!

The flat belonged to Sylvia’s family. I had my own room and bathroom and most of the house to myself – it was enormous and in her huge bedrooom she had a pc, telly, phone, ensuite and a fridge. She didn’t cook and was out all the time so I never saw her. With an address such as Fortune Road, Happy Valley I was certain to have good luck, wasn’t I?

Sylvia Chang was about 5 feet tall. She wore trakkies and two jumpers in the middle of a steamy Hong Kong summer; she had grey teeth and grey skin; bags under the eyes, a vampirish air about her. She was very polite and told me that she was, in fact, a recent convert to Christianity – she and her friends attended the local Charismatic Christian church. I am always so thrilled for people when they find their bliss and so I congratulated her on the path she’d chosen.

Sylvia never spoke when she answered the phone because of “all the inappropriate callers” she had the misfortune of making contact with. I didn’t ask any questions but sympathised and assumed she had a disgruntled ex-vampire boyfriend harassing her or something.

Later that same evening I was watching telly when Sylvia thought she’s come by and tell me about the benevolence of The Lord, how lucky we are and how much we have to be grateful for. I told her that I thoroughly agreed with her, however Dr. Who was on and no need to preach to the converted, is there? I turned up the volume with the remote which was, by the way, covered in plastic. Should this have been a warning sign? Clearly I was blinded by the prospect staying forever in my amazing new digs.

The remote controls

The next day Sylvia knocked on my door for a serious chat. I turns out that she forgot to tell me to WIPE OUT the washer and the dryer when I was finished using them. No worries, I said. I’ll be sure to do that. Also, nothing with wire or zippers in the machine as it will break.

I just ignored this, it was such a great flat!

Sylvia was a “health freak” of sorts… in her own terms only. She wore heavy winter clothes all year round, she wouldn’t touch any fatty or “unhealthy” food but she did make her way through several packets of sodium and MSG-laden pot noodles.The only fresh produce in the house was the stuff that I bought, which was apparently unhealthy and offensive: spinach, organic tomatoes, chocolate, low fat cheese, jars of organic pesto – all “dangerous foods” you see.

Indeed.

I ate in silence in my room during my time in Happy Valley with that little grey person.

This woman decided to tell me tales of her former flatmates, like the one who said he didn’t smoke but she found cigarette butts on the top of the neighbours air conditioning vents directly below his window.He was asked to leave of course. Let’s not forget the girl who used her home as some kind of knocking shop.She had to go. Unfortunatley it was the Australians like me who were all bad flatmates. She’d been unlucky with a lot of people. There were many tales and instead of being suspicious I felt sorry for the poor old cow.

“By the way, you should tip that Diet Coke down the sink. It burns a whole in your stomach. I’ve seen it happen before.” I wondered who it was and how she’d managed to see it but again, and very out of character for me, I remained silent.

The only drink that Sylvia approved of was a juice called Xango – it was a miracle juice that had cured her arthritis and dust allergies.She ordered online and it was a passion that she shared with the congregation at her local church: they were all into this stuff. It’s some purple bilge water made from Mangosteens with some grape, apple and other additives. It cost something like $40USD per bottle.She recommended that I start on it today. I told her that I only eat fresh fruit or drink fruit made fresh with the hour as the vitamins evaporate so quickly leaving behind only a fibrous pulp. I asked why not have fresh mangosteens instead? She could get a food processor – it would be cheaper, anyway. I’d never heard of a doctor recommending packaged juice.

The marked bottle of Xango

Doctors know absolutely nothing about health you know.” Get a clean bill of health one day and the next day you could be DEAD” claimed the little vampire.

I had picked up on Sylvia’s eccentricity and found her stories mildly amusing, just listening with a smile and saying little or nothing was part of my daily routine with her.

For example, I didn’t mind that all the plants in the house were plastic because of Sylvia’s allergy to all flora and fauna in the entire universe but not the dust that accumulated on them….

The cute little geckos that seem to inhabit every bathroom in Hong Kong which bring such joy to me (especially one larger one, Mr. Lizard, who visited me every time I had a bath) scared the hell out of Sylvia. She told me not to “encourage” them so I picked them up carefully and put them outside the window so the mean vampire woman wouldn’t murder them. I never saw Mr. Lizard again.

She disappeared for a few days and stopped by to tell me that her Granny was ill and to keep her in my prayers. I promised to do so and wished her all the best.

Normally, being the good flatmate that I am, I would tidy up and make a shepherd’s pie or lasagna for Sylvia. Since we already had a cleaner and she only ate things that were freeze-dried or in a styrofoam box so I bought her some pink, long-stem roses – 8 of them as it’s a lucky number in China. I left them in the sink with a nice card. Roses are hypo-allergenic, aren’t they? I double checked online so she couldn’t complain about them… could she?

Of course she bloody could. She chucked the flowers in the bin and acted as if I’d brought a rabid dog into the building. Crazy dragon lady she was indeed. This was to be the last time I kept my cool around Sylvia.

One afternoon she really pushed my buttons. She knocked on my door and accused me of drinking a spoonful of the Xango without permission. There was definitely 20ml missing from the bottle because she measured it and marked the bottle. Apparently she owed her friend something like 125ml of juice and that is why she happened to mark the bottle and she knew that I had stolen some of her purple slushy elixir.

I could have pointed out that Sylvia probably tilted the bottle as she marked it, or that it may have evaporated but I was actually quite scared of her and her grey fangs and her skin the colour of the undead. I stuffed some money in my pocket and legged it to the pub. My friends were absent but I told my story to the sympathetic bar staff who told me that, in order to get back my enormous deposit that I’d given the crazy bitch in exchange for staying in the beautiful apartment, I should ask a triad boy out on a date and invite him around to have a drink of Xango in her kitchen.

Good idea but I opted to try and sort this out on my own, have a few stiff drinks and sleep the night at N’s place, bless her heart. She told me to get my stuff and come straight over as she was off on her honeymoon for 2 weeks the following day.

I went home and packed my things. As I went to get a Diet Coke from the fridge, Sylvia came towards me with a bottle of soy sauce and a large paper parcel- she was going to attack me and I panicked… I am about 7 inches taller than this little grey beast but Komodo Dragons aren’t very large either and I am sure they will chew off one of my legs before I get a chance to negotiate with them.

So I threw the glass bottle of  Diet Coke at her head. Self defense, isn’t it?

It turns out that she was just going to ask if I had used any of her soy sauce and she returned my deposit (wrapped in the paper parcel) because she thought that things “weren’t working out” and perhaps I should leave whenever it was most convenient for me.

I took the money and made a run for it.

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