Midnight, the Hotel Lisboa.
I’m $100 HKD up and feeling pretty good.
I buy a pack of Chinese Marlboros and smoke as I watch a parenthesis of Mainlanders gambling at a baccarat table. The slouching drunk man at the parenthesis’ center is flanked by two porcelain-skinned women in pearls and skin-tight mini-dresses.
They laugh when those around them laugh.
The gambler they’re monitoring so closely takes a long pensive drag of his cigarette as he slowly bends the edge of his two cards up and slowly, ever so slowly reveals them to himself and then shouts and slams them on the table.
The dealer emotionlessly rakes in the mangled cards and his $1000 HKD bet, and deals again.
I take a secret sip of the Tsing Tao I bought at the 7/11 across the road, trying to hide it from the eyes of the Nepali men working security, though I secretly feel they are some of the very few people in this casino who possess souls.
I walk through ping and siren and man bark towards a slot machine that seems to be calling my name.
I’ve decided not to gamble anymore and spend my meager winnings on a decent meal containing lots of nutritious vegetables but I find that my hand is reaching into my pocket seemingly of its own volition.
The hand feeds a bill to the machine.
What am I doing?
Just one pull.
Just one pull and win or lose I cash out.
The hands pulls.
The hand pulls again.
Five minutes later I’ve lost $50.
I put another $50 in the machine and lose it. I put in another $25 and lose it. Another $10. I lose that too.
Some pretty abrasive bass-heavy MC Hammer-like music begins to rumble from the tall speakers that frame the stage in the vast room’s center. The stage’s sparkling blue curtains part and three blonde probably Russian showgirls in thongs and sequined breast tassels caper onto stage.
Having been in India for months — where even a female’s knees can be taboo — the sight of so much flesh is mesmerizing.
The hundred or so Chinese men who’ve gravitated towards the performance seem to share this sentiment, though their dispassionate expressions reveal little more than aroused curiosity. In any case for me the entire casino recedes into the shadows and there is only these three Amazon women, a good foot taller than the black-haired admirers below, doing these high kicks and bends and rump-shakes and I light another Marlboro and inspect the faces of the crowd more closely and realize I have no idea where the hell I am.
What it this place? The Vegas of the East, they call it. You’ve got a replica Wynn, a replica MGM Grand, a replica Venetian and a replicated sense of Vegas depthlessness.
Sometimes you don’t know where you are, ever when you know where you are.
I bet another $10 and lose it. A shaky old lady passes by pushing a cart of complimentary herbal tea (?) and I lose another $7.
Back on stage two of the showgirls have vanished and the one remaining has exchanged her thong and breast tassels for a see-though leotard with bedazzled stars over the crotch and nipples. She’s climbing and wrapping herself up in the two long aerial silks attached to a hook above the stage.
Again, little enthusiasm on behalf of the crowd.
After a few minutes of sensual acrobatics she slides down, twirls and bows. A man begins clapping but quickly notices that nobody around him is clapping and stops clapping.
The performer catwalks to the back of stage and bows again. The curtains shut. The crowd disperses.
I lose another $5 before I wrestle myself downstairs, past the tiny Chinese prostitutes working the lobby, past their Russian rivals loitering just beyond the reached of the air-conditioned breath of the lobby’s open doors. I buy another Tsing Tao and drink it as I drift through the labyrinth of jewelry and Chinese medicine shops smoking, allowing the night to swallow me up like the strange drifting alien that I am.
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