I was going through a long dark night, listening to James Brown and Aretha Franklin in the bowels of my study. My second bottle of Laphroig had reached the halfway mark and I was despoiling my cupboard in search of a third bottle when I heard the faint scritch-scritch of scrawling on a notepad.
"Who is there?" I called, turning halfway.
A transparent figure appeared, filling my study with the stink of cheap beer and testosterone. It looked up from his notepad, and tucked in its shirt. A bottle of San Miguel slid down its trouser leg, and rolled out onto the floor, spilling beer everywhere. It peered balefully but uncertainly at the enormous collection of Taiwan history books and articles in my library, obviously unfamiliar objects to it. Then its horrible haunted face turned to me.
"I am the ghost of international journalists long gone!" it moaned, its eyes afire as it glared at me. "Tonight you will be visited by three ghosts! Pay attention and learrrrn, or you are dooooommmmeed!"
Then it vanished in a haze of sulfurous smoke.
I shrugged, and sat, addressing the bottle of whiskey once more. The clock on the wall would have ticked, but it was digital, so I was sitting in silence undisturbed when suddenly they were there, a horde of ghosts crowding into my study. Dressed in colorful shirts with flowers, baggy pants, and cheap black shoes that were little more than slippers, they flooded into my living room, accompanied by the unmistakable smell of diesel fuel. Coins clanked in their pockets.
In an instant the room was full. I watched in horror as they scrawled their names on my paintings, urinated on my couch, defecated in my sink, and cut the leaves of my potted plants into the shape of the South China Sea. As they clustered around my chair, I realized they were trying to communicate with me. They made a eerily familiar noise, like someone trying to speak Chinese and swallow marbles at the same time. Finally, after loud argument and much gesticulation, they located a ghost who could speak English.
"Who are you!" I challenged.
"Weee are the ghoosts of Chinese Tour Groups paassssttt," the ghost hissed back.
"Why have you come to disturb my repose?" demanded I.
"To tell you of what has gone beforrre." He crooked a long-nailed pinky at me. "Tonight you will learn the errrrror of your wayssss, Obserrrrve the efffffect of our disssssappearance on your puny economy!"
Suddenly I was transported into a dark hallway. The pale shapes of bureaucrats wound their way past me in the halflight, knives sticking from their backs. Next to me the tour group ghosts pushed their way up to the front of the lines, their coins clanking loudly, moaning about the service. Statistics of monthly report of operations of tourist hotels flared before my eyes, from January of 2016:
|Taiwan Total||Scenic Areas|
|num of rooms occupied||553,869||45,977|
|avg room rate||3760||5087|
|F and B revenue||2,885,652,411||132,676,771|
"Remember! You will be visssssited by another beforrrre the clock sssstrikesss thirrrteeeeeen!!" The ghost warned as he faded. A final moan came from him... "Can't you give me a better deal on this statue of Chiang Kai-shek?" I heard him say.
I threw the empty bottle of whiskey at him as he disappeared.
I returned to my previous task, the ghosts already forgotten. The cupboard had just revealed itself to be bare of whiskey when I heard a giggling sound. I turned.
A girl half my age stood there, blinking in and out of existence. Short, she was dressed in the latest Japanese fashions, an American baseball cap turned backwards on her head, and a red Jack Wolfskin backpack slung over one shoulder. She grinned, revealing perfect white teeth, then strode over and punched me chummily on a bicep.
"Hello there! It's so great to be traveling in China's Taiwan!" she cried. "I am the ghost of Chinese individual travelers present!"
I searched my study for some means of escape, for I did not want to argue with a woman, but she was between me and the door. I noticed with alarm that she was growing visibly in front of me. Already she had reached my chin.
She punched me again, still grinning, and suddenly I found myself in Taipei Main Station. Travelers brushed past me, intent on catching a train. I looked up at the big brown board, and saw the statistics for Aug of 2016:
|Taiwan Total||Scenic Areas|
|num of rooms occupied||554,578||49,731|
|avg room rate||3875||6411|
|F and B revenue||1,853,805,182||138,810,765|
"See! she cried. "China has punished China's Taiwan province severely! Overall occupancy rates for tourist hotels have plummeted 0.45% in August!" A half a meter taller, she grinned down at me more broadly, continuing. "And in scenic areas occupancy rates have negatively declined compared to January, from 58.39% to 58.63%, with room rates negatively declining from $5087 NT to $6411 NT and revenues falling upward from $400 million to over $500 million!" Now a meter taller, she punched me again. "Can't you feel the pain?" she cried. I rubbed my shoulder, already swelling purple. I nodded, blinking back tears. I could indeed feel the pain.
Her head reached the ceiling, and she vanished. I rubbed the bruise again, then downed the last of the Laphroig, now righteously medicinal.
Suddenly I heard a faint jostling in the air.
"Who is there?" I mumbled.
Faint voices, echoing as if from a vast abyss. "Wee arre the ghosssts of Chinesssse tourrr groups in the futurrre..."
But they never appeared.
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