As some know I have been working on writing a full-length memoir of building PS Audio and its community. The book will be titled Confessions of an Audiophile (thanks to Ken Kessler for that title). It may someday be finished.
From time to time I’ll share a few passages with you.
Today’s story finds me on my first trip to China in the early 1990s. My travels began in a city I adore, Hong Kong, where I stayed in a 4-star hotel. Through circumstances beyond my control, I wound up for one night in Mainland China at the opposite end of the spectrum. This is a snippet of that night.
We pulled up in front of a dilapidated three-story cement block building with a stuttering neon sign covered in Chinese characters. Anxious moths circled its red and green blinking lights as I stepped out of the cab. The driver let me know through sign language—pointing at his watch, and then to the hotel front door—that he’d pick me up early. I entered the lone building and found myself in a darkened room with what looked like a front desk. This was clearly not the Marco Polo Hotel. A rattling sound from behind the counter attracted my attention. I leaned over the desk to find a short, plump, sleeping man, head down on folded arms.
“Ahem,” I cleared my throat loudly enough to awaken him.
His bloodshot eyes narrowed at me and he put his hand out asking for something. What? What did he want? I pulled a credit card from my wallet and he scowled, repeating the hand gesture. My passport? Indeed. He wrote something down, handed me a key and my passport, and laid his head back down onto his folded arms.
Fortunately, the key was labeled in English with the number 4. I traipsed up the dark stairs almost gagging on the vile smell of disinfectant permeating this rat trap and opened the door to number 4. A flickering yellow fluorescent bulb above the door lit the tiny eight by eight room. To the right was a single bed hard against the wall covered with a gray, dingy sheet. At its head was a striped pillow without a case, and a green blanket was folded on the bed’s foot. In the far corner of the room, a washstand and toilet waited without the benefit of enclosing walls. A curtain decorated what looked like a window but on inspection turned out to be covering the wall—a homey touch I was not feeling. I looked at my watch. 11 p.m. and tomorrow’s ferry was scheduled to sail at 6 a.m. I’d need to be there at 5 a.m. My son Sean had given me a foldup travel alarm clock which I set on the floor next to the bed for 4 a.m.
There wasn’t a chance in hell I was going to use the toilet facilities or crawl under that green blanket, even with my clothes on. I was afraid to rest my head on the pillow but the grimy sheet over the mattress didn’t look much better. As I lay in the cave-black room, the only source of light was the faint green from my alarm clock. I closed my eyes and tried to get some sleep, focusing on the tick-tock of the alarm until it was interrupted by a chorus of distant scratching noises coming from the far side of the room. Chh, chhh, chh. I sat bolt upright and flicked the light on. The noise stopped. Dead quiet save for the ticking clock. As darkness returned and the pace of my breathing slowed the noises returned. What the hell? The yellow of the flickering fluorescent again silenced the noise and I decided to try something different. This time I held the face of the little alarm clock close to the room light to recharge its phosphorous glow and set it at the far end of the tiny room.
I stared straight into the inky black until my eyes adjusted and the scratching came again. Quietly, I sat upright and peered in the direction of the clock’s green glow. Jesus. The clock’s faint light was broken by a moving caravan of dark objects dithering back and forth in front of it. I rolled my legs over the bed’s side, and on my knees, crawled closer to the light. The creeping entities had antenna. Cockroaches. Hundreds of them, crawling on the floor, moving towards me, procreating, eating, or whatever the hell cockroaches do in the dead of night.
Morning couldn’t come soon enough.