I am a Thief

Almost a kleptomaniac. But I don’t steal physical objects, so you don’t have to hold your purse close. No, I steal people’s history, their life’s stories, past events. So, be warned, next time you’re telling me your story, I’m picking your mental pockets.

Yesterday at a brunch party, I met John from Belfast, a hotel manager for a 5-star here in Taipei. What an interesting life, I said directly to him. I asked if he ever read John le Carré’s “The Night Manager”.  He said no. I asked if he watched that sexy British show Hotel Babylon. He said he knew the London hotel it was based on. I pushed John, who had worked in half a dozen countries,  for intimate details on interesting guests, but like a good manager, he resisted.

He did tell me about his time at a hotel in North Korea. North Korea! As an American, I shudder – an insane place. Perhaps his North Ireland passport is special, invisible to them. I have heard stories from a friend working in the South about bodies floating down rivers.  John the hotel manager was there when the North shot that tourist. The poor woman crossed the resort’s perimeter fence on the shoreline when it was getting dark. A soldier fired a warning shot. She turned and ran – making her guilty in their eyes. The soldier shot her dead. John the hotel manager said the South asked the North for safety assurances for tourists. The North was insulted, kicked everyone out. John stayed in the South a while, waiting for the North to reopen the border. Then, I can imagine, sitting in a Starbucks in one of those massive Korean malls, trains of shopping bags crossing his field of vision, he came to his senses. And he decided he didn’t want to return to that small oasis inside hell-on-earth.

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