BY Christopher Rice
April 08 2010 8:50 PM ET
I remember talking to him as a boy about the romantic idea of flying across the Pacific, surrounded by the luxurious trappings of a Singapore Airlines Boeing 747. (To this day, Singapore Airlines Flight 1 flies nonstop between San Francisco and Hong Kong, although the aircraft used on the route have been updated to newer, sleeker triple-7s.) When I was a kid, someone told me that Singapore Airlines had piano bars on the top decks of all of its 747s, a bogus claim it turned out, but an image that burned itself into my young mind nonetheless.
The opportunity to cavort in a playground of such vast but impeccably ordered wealth had to have been part of my father's love of Hong Kong — or at least the idea of such a Hong Kong, considering he never got around to visiting it, even though he had both the time and the means. This was what drew me to the city. It was also what drew me, even as a 10-year-old, into the miniseries that started my fixation on the place. On one level, Noble House was a chronicle of an extremely affluent city. But as with most works of popular entertainment about the extremely wealthy, right at the moment when the audience begins to resent the characters for deriving so much gratification from the pleasures afforded them by their status, those same wealthy characters are punished with fires, murders, and mudslides.
Years later, after I became a published novelist myself, it took me two tries to get to Hong Kong. Both trips were planned with the idea of setting a novel in a nearby Southeast Asian country, and since Hong Kong was right there, why not just stop off for a day or two? The first trip never happened at all. It was 2002, and when my father was first diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor about seven months before I was due to cross the Pacific, he insisted I continue with my plans. But the devastating Bali nightclub bombings killed 202 people on the island where I planned to set my third novel, and my father changed his mind out of concern for my safety. (I ended up abandoning that book entirely.)
In 2008, with the memories of that aborted trip and my father's death still fresh in my mind, I boarded a Singapore Airlines jet at LAX with the intention of setting my next novel, The Moonlit Earth, in Thailand. One of the central characters would be a wealthy, closeted Saudi teenager, looking to misbehave far outside the restrictive orbit of his family. Friends had suggested Thailand as a suitably permissive locale for such a lad, so I had scheduled a week in Bangkok and another week on the island of Phuket, because I knew my wealthy Saudi would have a yacht at his disposal. Then, almost as an afterthought, I scheduled three days in Hong Kong, so I could finally see the place.