The Rolex Watch: a Parable

Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong, the early 80s.

A local man accosts a tourist as she walks by and says ‘You want Rolex Missy?’. The tourist is not surprised. Every visitor knows about Hong Kong’s trade in fake watches. But she is not interested because she is on her way from The Royal Garden hotel to an upmarket jewellery shop to buy the real thing for her husband. She isn’t the kind of tourist who is here to buy tat. It is a long walk to the shop but in the air-conditioned lobby of the hotel it hadn’t seemed long enough to merit a taxi. Now she’s not so sure. Still, she perseveres against the wall of humid, polluted air, weaving in and out of the thousands of people, buffeted by the sounds of construction sites and the smells of food sellers, shaken by the occasional roar of an airplane coming in to land at Kai Tak, almost low enough to touch. But she is determined: she wants the real thing for her beloved. Finally she arrives at the shop where she spends a good deal of time pouring over the different watches, wondering if she should go for the Oyster or the Submariner. Definitely not the Diamond Dial! But then she asks for the prices and is surprised to find they are no cheaper than they were at home. Jet-setting lawyer she may be, but even that is too steep for her budget. She decides the watch will have to wait for another year.

On the way back to The Royal Garden a voice suddenly greets her ‘Hello Casey, fancy seeing you here!’. It is Dirk, an old friend from her days working in New York. They step to the side out of the flow of bodies and duck into a doorway so they can hear each other. Dirk asks what she is doing in HK and she explains that she is there looking at the possibility of starting an office for her firm. But then she says that right now she has just been in pursuit of a Rolex for James, but that she has been disappointed by the prices at the Fine Watch Company. ‘What?’ Dirk exclaims over the sound of the blasting for the MTR far below them, ‘Why would you ever want to buy one there? Why not just pick up one for a few dollars from one of the hawkers?’ Surprised by the suggestion, Casey explains: ‘But it is a gift for James for his birthday so I want to get him the real thing.’ ‘Oh come on’, Dirk chides her, ‘Surely if you are serious about getting him a Rolex you need to get it now. Isn’t it urgent to get him something for his birthday? If you really love him you won’t make him wait.’ After a few more shouted sentences they part and Casey heads back to the hotel, puzzling over Dirk’s take on the watch, on her husband, even on love itself.