Hong Kong is currently a sea of tacky red trinkets, golden ornaments and brick-red globes. The locals are pushier than normal, the salespeople more helpful than usual. Everyone in the service sector is mustering a smile in anticipation of their upcoming “tip” or Chinese New Year appreciation gift.

Today, even the laziest doorman in my building opened the door for me when he saw me entering with flowers and several bags of produce. He managed a mangled grimace when I said thank you. Poor guy always looks like he’s passing a very hard turd when he tries to smile.

Tacky red traditions always remind me of the daruma doll in Japan. You see, the Japanese celebrate the new year by giving a hideous red doll a black eye. During the new year festivities, you buy the daruma at your local daruma vendor and color one of its ghostly-white, Little Orphan Annie eyes black. Then you place the one-eyed devil doll near the entrance of your home to collect dust for an entire year. If after twelve months, you can look back and say, “Gee, I’ve had a great year!” you then color the other eye black.

Stupid, right? What the hell are you going to do with the tiny red devil doll at the end of the year? It’s already time to buy a new doll and give it another black eye. But then my people like to stuff candy into colorful paper mache donkeys and watch as their blindfolded children then beat them to death.

I like to celebrate the traditions of my host country, so for our first full year in Tokyo, I bought a daruma doll. My partner came home to find the creepy little monster staring at him with the one eye.

“What’s this?” he asked from the foyer.

“What’s what?” I said from the living room playing a little game my partner loves to play called Catch Me if you Can.

“That red doll.”

“YOU don’t know about the daruma? It’s a Japanese tradition. I thought YOU would know.”

My partner started playing this passive-aggressive little game with me soon after we met. It’s a kind of oneupmanship in the how-clever-are-you department. I hate it, but I’m not one to lose a game.

Twelve months later, the joke was on both of us. That fucking little doll brought nothing but misery. Tears, profanity-laden tirades, anti-depressants and several broken dishes later, I chucked the damn thing down the garbage chute.

Tokyo was not New York. Tokyo was another planet. A place where passive-aggressive games were played for life and death. I kid you not. The losers are scraped off sidewalks and train tracks on a daily basis. I have since made my peace with The Land of the Rising Sun, but that year was one of the worst years of my life.

This morning, as I walked back home from my local fruit and vegetable market, sunflowers in hand, a smile on my face, I looked up at the tacky red globes and golden ornaments and thought, “I love Hong Kong.”

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