Book Review: The Ghost of the Lotus Mountain Brothel, by Ray Hecht

Henry seeks Ling Ling’s opinion on 1911 revolution.

“Oh I see. I think it doesn’t matter. Whoever is government, whatever happens, we all go to work same as before. Life very hard, don’t worry that never change.”

Henry looks at me for a moment and laughs. I never know why he laughs.

The Ghost of the Lotus Mountain Brothel is a story that could work in the present time. All the elements at play in the early 20th century — the class divisions, the dreams of a young working girl, romantic notions that don’t quite meet reality — are common throughout China, all against a backdrop of great change.

But no matter what changes, a working girl with a rubber sheath is no different from a working girl with a smartphone.

We hear it all from Ling Ling, a working girl who dreams of one day owning the brothel. She is a girl of dreams, and she nicknames her customers by the letters of the alphabet, from Ah-Ay to Ah-Eichi, a married professor, to Ah-Zed.

The alphabet men are just customers, while Henry, a British man who teaches her the alphabet, becomes something more. Ling Ling, much like Alice, the English name she chooses, spends much of her time in dreamland. The brothel is her home while the world outside is something to yearn for. When she accidentally throws Henry’s condom away, she and her roommate Siu Lee need to replace it. Their quest takes them to a higher-end brothel, “a true flower house”, and back at her regular brothel she thinks:

I want to travel more. I want to feel like this, more alive, and more often. I want to see what this City of Five Goats has to offer. Why live a boring life when I could be running dangerously through the streets at night with a used condom in my pocket and a loving friend at my side?

It is Henry who ultimately provides her with a means of escape that however uncertain does seem to promise a better future than owning the brothel. She calls Henry her “knight”, though not as shining to us as he is to her. A young girl of many dreams, she is still a low-end prostitute, one of

The lost among the City of Five Goats. We, who are curious of the city lifestyle, and hence we are punished for our curiosity. So we become working girls. Chicken girls.

Ling Ling thinks she wants something more. It’s only when she’s about to realize her dream that she makes a hard decision, and in the end, the ghost of the Lotus Mountain Brothel is less a ghost than it is a common experience linking 1911 to 2011.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Available on Amazon

A little episode at O’Hare Customs…

The customs agent was taking his time, and my wife and I knew that was a bad sign.

Then he pointed. A worse sign. And he spoke — the worst.

“You need to go over there. There’s a problem with her biometrics.”

Problems, you can count on those with US customs, and so can the fifteen or so people in this room.

Including the Chinese farmer.

From the countryside, he had come to visit his son. This was his first time out of China, first time on a plane, he speaks no English, and for his inauguration to the US, customs has sent him to this room, with no explanation. (( I know they explained it, but since he doesn’t understand English, I doubt hand gestures are adequate ))

He’s walking around, wondering what’s going on. A customs agent approaches him.

“Go sit down.”

But jet-lagged, 12,000 miles from home, the farmer is going tharn.

So our customs agent, well-trained in the subtle art of cross-cultural communication, digs deep.


Fantastic. I never imagined that simply RAISING MY VOICE was all it took to break the language barrier.

Guess that’s why I’m don’t work for US customs.

It fell on my wife to calm him down. Soon — in comparison to say, geologic ages, not the lives of mortal men — they gave my wife back her passport, having fixed whatever problem was keeping us here. We left, not without an encouraging word to the farmer, getting his paperwork straigtened out, his biometrics corrected…

Or a fucking typo, for all we know.