There are many aspects in the Story of Lee book that seem to be autobiographical, or based on real experiences or real places. I thought I’d go into that for a bit. The first thing is that its not an autobiography. Matt is not me and Lee is not any girl I’ve dated. But there are aspects of my experiences and attitudes in them both.For example, the back text matter mentions ‘Page 83, Kens cafe, Chai wan road.’
That’s a real place that a real lady took me too several times. and the waiter was a real chap, called Peter I think, who was very nice to me each time i went in. Rather than just bringing me my food, he would make an effort to talk in some funny way. The scene on that page is true, he did say i looked like a film star, which I was pleased about of course( presuming that he didn’t mean i look like SHREK). In Japan where i live the people are famously polite and kind, but in a way that can appear stand-offish to a British person. So, there are cafe’s here that i have been going to for 3 or 4 years in which the very nice staff don’t make much effort to chat with me and rarely ask personal questions. They see it as invasive. But by contrast this Hong Kong man, starting from my very first visit to his cafe, always came over to my table 3 or 4 times to say or ask something. I was struck by the difference to Japan.
The setting of SOL is ‘Chai Wan’, on the east of Hong Kong island itself. An area that does not have many ‘westerners’, to use the imprecise and possibly ethnocentric label that is still common. I was also introduced to that by the same lady (who doesn’t want to be named here), and I thought it was an ideal place to situate the story. An ordinary unglamorous area, where the ‘real’ HK people live. Just the kind of place that can show you what people’s lives are like on an everyday level, and the kind of place that a young lady would want to escape from to an ideal place of her imaginary longing.
But as it goes it was very nearly my place of death! They have a huge amount of VERY tall buildings in HK, but not particularly in good condition. I was walking along, just off the main Chai wan road one hot afternoon when a slab of concrete fell with a frightening WHAAKK a short distance in front of me – right in the place I would have walked 2 or 3 seconds afterwards. I looked up at saw the gap that it had come from of an apartment on the 12th floor. At that height it probably would have killed me – Chilling stuff…