It was a warm day. The humidity stung Jamal's face like invisible watery bees of discomfort. He regretted wearing the expensive full length turtleneck on the expedition. Hong Kong was a country more friendly to under-dressing than over, and this was not the right garb to go hiking through the zoological gardens. Pragmatism over Fashion, Jamal, how many times must I tell you? his skin seemed to scream at him. But it was too late, and they were nearly there-or so Hong said. So Jamal sweated and panted and continued to follow. "This had better be great, Hong" he yelled at his friend. Hong turned his childlike face to him and grinned. "Oh it will be an experience you won't forget." Then he continued forward, and Jamal trudged on. .. Friends since he'd arrived on scholarship, Jamal had quickly become close to Lee and Hong. They were quick witted and easy going and didn't seem as reserved as most of the local Hong Kong students. Jamal had been warned It wasn't easy to socialize. There were three groups, with three unique identities. You could easily tell the ones from PRC from the shit riding their boots because they didn't deign to let their noses down from the sky. The hong kong locals had so many friends and close relationships before university, given that they usually entered with school friends, they didn't feel the need to widen their social circles. And the other foreign entrants usually were busier with maintaining their GPA than having fun, competing against the excellent students and struggling with Cantonese. FInding Lee and Hong was God's way of telling him Jamal had been forgiven for using the Holy name in vain by lying he didn't eat his cousin Ashanti's chocolate cake. Of course he had done it with a face caked in cake so it hadn't really worked, but it was good to know the man upstairs and he were cool. On a lazy Thursday, the Curzon corridor was lined with students on the railings of stairs and lawn, waiting for classes to begin. Jamal, Lee and Hong sat in placid amicability and sipped on Capri Sonne. "They did Bruce Lee wrong with Street Fighter 2. Fei Long was such a weak character compared to the real guy." Jamal said. "You only say that because you don't know Bruce" Lee responded in his solemn, professorial voice. "He was from Hong Kong you know, we know the real guy." Hong rolled his eyes. "You do, do you? Lee died in 73, you weren't even mature sperm then. Or is this your reincarnation? How does it compare to your life as a dung beetle?" Jamal laughed as Lee tried to wrestle the expressions on his voice. "Enough people knew the real him to make a sound judgement, I didn't see gravity wave effects at LIGO to know they are real. Fei Long would whoop his ass with just one hay-yah foot." Jamal wondered at his friend. "You don't think he could have been a competent martial artist?" Lee looked quizzical. "He only competed once in any form and it was more an exhibition than full sparring against.real opposition. Joe Rogan has a greater competitive record than Bruce Lee." Jamal looked at Hong to see his reaction. Hong liked action movies something fierce. Seeing no attempt at defense he assumed Lee was right. It was annoying how often he was right. "Bruce Lee, kung fu drunken masters and qi... all bullshit concepts made popular by the western need to exoticize the orient. It may be fun, but dont hang your hopes on it" Lee said with his famous shit-eating grin of victory. "Lee might be a fraud. But qi? Qi's real." Hong stared at Lee hard. "Too real." Lee sat up from his reclining position and stared back. "Hong. No." The sudden flare in eye musculature intrigued Jamal. "Guys? What are we talking about here?" Hong ignored Lee's ocular daggers and looked at Jamal. "Qi is real. We've seen it." After a minute "If this is a joke, Hong, I might be inclined to punch you." "Ain't a joke. The chinese masters figured out how to focus the power of their nerves into electrical signals. Do crazy things we'd now call supernatural." Jamal pffed. "You're having me on, aren't ya?" "How about a bet? Seeing is believing. A thousand dollars." Now Jamal stared. "You can PROVE qi energy works." "Better than street fighter. Come to the zoo if you like. But don't bring anything electronic. The master has a fit." Jamal wasn't sure whether he was having a breakdown. "Hong, are you serious? You knoww a real chinese kungfu master who lives near the zoo, and has actual qi powers? Are you being serious right now?" Hong kicked up his bag and got to his feet. "Not near the zoo, in the zoo. Yip. 1000 dollars. You in?" Jamal's mouth refused to speak. "I- Ok. I'll have to manage it somehow." "Get it ready by 2 and meet me outisde the park's south gate. Wear something light, it's a long walk." And with that he was off. .. The hiking path climbed upwards yet again. Jamal had lost count how many tiny hills he's climbed and was now puffing uncontrollably. He was starting to believe in chi power because Hong didn't look the slightest bit winded. "How much, farther Hong? I didn't sign up to hike to north korea!" Hong laughed and slowed up his stride. "We're inside the zoo. This is a secret passage. This part of the complex was abandoned long ago. You brought no electronics right? The master is very insistent." "Yeah yeah". Jamal caught up to Hong and was suprised by the sudden grabbing of his arm. "Jamal, he's serious. No electronics. That dude can tell." Jamal freed himself with little effort. He was twice the size of Hong's 5'6. "Relax, Paranoid man, I have no electronics or google maps pings to mess up the 'master', alright? he can frisk me as much as he wants but dont blame me if i get erect" Hong lauighed but it wasn't as natural or large as his natural self. He was clearly on edge. Jamal began to wonder if this was going to be a moment he could never forget. They continued to walk in silence through the ruins of the zoo. It was clearly abandoned. Cages and machines stood rusting, some barely intact, others a strange mix of pristine metal with moss and fungus decorating them. A fairly large banyan tree sat in the middle of the clearing, and next to it, a cage. Something stirred. It was small, and barely noticeable, but in the stillness it stood out. It was orange and black and unmistakable. A full grown tiger. Jamal stopped. His heart raced. The door to the cage was open. His friend was a few feet in front of him. "Hong!" he whispered hard, his throat constricting. The tiger had not made any kind of motion, but was clearly looking in their direction. And then it saw him. His eyes met that of the beast. And it began to creep forward in a stalk. Jamal's blood froze. His legs lost their powers and he felt he would fall if he took a step. His brain was gone. The tiger continued to walk towards them. Hong stopped short of the door, bent forward at the waist then bowed down, completely vulnerable. Jamal still could not force his body to respond, to move, to call out. It felt like the world was on mute. The tiger continued to stride forward. The thin man in the cage seemed to appear out of nowhere. He had chinese clothes, a long beard and cuffs that engulfed most of his arms. The man was bald but there was something strange about his head, Jamal thought.There were white markings from forehead to the dome of his skull. The Master. The tiger approached the door. Jamal realized how absolutely perilous any creature would be in its vicinity. Even though he was seeing it with his eyes it was so well camouflaged and its feet dampened sound so well some part of him wasnt sure if it was real or he was hallucinating. The tiger was beginning to pick up speed. It was way too real now. it was just a hundred metres away from hong, still with his head bowed. And then the master dashed in front of the tiger with a raised hand. The tiger seemed to rebound off an invisible wall. The giant creature shied away from the little as he continued to follow it, until the tiger had crawled back into a small cage inside the larger enclosure. The Master stroked its head, and the tiger let him. Jamal didn't realize his jaw was open until he felt his mouth beginning to dry. Hong got up on his feet and bowed to the man. He turned to Jamal and gestured for him to do the same. Jamal forced himself to move, still utterly bewildered. The thin man did nothing and climbed on top of the steel cage, standing majestically and surveying the landscape. Hong reached Jamal and stood by him, looking at the man. "Better than Street Fighter huh?" "What the hell Hong..." "You owe me some money." "I sure do. And I'm not even upset about it." He handed over the envelope with the 1000 dollars in fresh ATM notes. He hadn't expected to part with them. He no longer cared and would figure out how to pay tuition later. His life had just changed. 'You head on out, same way we came. I need to salute the master again and explain why I brought a guest. Not that he cares but it's polite.' "Can I be introduced?" "He's never signaled a foreigner to approach yet, but who knows. You go on now, I'll meet you later." "Alright. See you then. Wow, Hong." Jamal shook his friend's hand and began the trip back to civilliziation a lot more energized than he'd arrived. He thought about his breath and how he had to join qi gong lessons and take up a martial arts class. Everything. His mind raced, and he tried to concentrate on the beauty of the world around him, and stay in the moment. Jamal was just beyond the hill before the zoo complex but already felt lost. He decided he was far enough for the rules to stop applying and and looked for his phone. in his bag. Turning it on, he waited for a signal. No dice. He sighed and begin to trudge up to the top of the small hill again for a signal. Hong approached the door to the master's enclosure, waiting for Jamal to leave. "Did you get the money?" Lee said. "Yeah. Stupid fucker handed it all over. Which kitty is this? Stripes dont look like Hercules." "it's Asha, one of his sisters. The zoo doctor has Hercules over for tests so Dad couldn't sneak her out. Asha did a great job her first time out though, don't you think?" "Little too great. She was beginning to speed up. I was wondering if you'd reach her in time." "Relax, you've been playing with em since pups. She wouldn't hurt you." "It's not the hurt I'm worried about, if the black American saw her jumping playfully onto me and rolling onto its back asking for a tickle he might suspect something was up." "Or maybe he'd think you were a secret qi master." They both laughed, and Asha in her corner seemed to growl happily along with them. Lee stopped laughing first and pointed behind Hong. "What the hell is that?" Hong turned to follow his finger, and saw Jamal, standing at the top of the hill, phone held high in the air. "What is that moron doing? Didn't you tell him no electronics?" "I did! He must have hidden that." "Well, get him to stop you know the animals are jittery around technology. I dont know how they'll behave." They saw jamal about to put his phone away. Clearly he'd found his signal. Then he noticed them, and began to lift his phone to his face, clearly taking a photo. He reached in the bag and brought out a little extension. The xenon flash. Hong's eyes rose in alarm. "No Jamal don't-" The bright light lit up the wilderness. It was far enough away for the light to be dispered but in the darkness of the sunless sky. It blinded them just a little. And they heard the growl. "No Asha, stay!" Hong detected the tiger moments before it leaped on him and crushed him to the floor. Master Jamal saw the whole debacle from a distance. He breathed deep and allowed his excited Qi to be subdued. Now that the impostors had learned their lesson, he would need to go back to his pretense. He took in another deep breath, and began to walk towards the city.