as your ship moves past the headland

the harbor opens

crowded with junks, sampans

and impossible craft

made from trash, cast-off wood, metal cans

they move among the harbor ships

large and small

some crowded with guns or airplanes

some full of cargo or oil or passengers

eager to get ashore


the water is no longer blue and clear

it has become a murky soup

things float by as your ship moves to anchor

a few of them look vaguely human

the harbor is framed by steep green hills

jammed with buildings both ramshackle and stately

spilling down the slopes crowding the waterfront

and the newer buildings of the city

you begin to see that there are two cities

one built on the roof tops of the other

you are told not to go there

on the rooftops bad things happen


when you do get ashore

you enter a world where people live

cook, eat and sleep jammed onto the sidewalks

and in the alleys

the children are practiced thieves

your watch, wallet, money and cigarettes

may suddenly disappear

you wander the streets

and are accosted by people

talking to you in languages you do not understand

for you money goes far

things are cheap

food, clothing, jewelry, cameras

but not for others here

the locals set up outside the scullery on your ship

collecting uneaten food to distribute or sell on shore


you sit on deck at night

looking at the blazing wonderland of lights

that surround the harbor

obscuring the wealth, squalor and desperation of the city

some people die trying to get here

you are a stranger

a brief distraction

a small source of income

soon you will be gone

taking cheap goods and memories that remain

long after the goods are forgotten

Copyright Michael Douglas Scott