The Imperial Water Riding Club is a prestigious private club dedicated to the aristocratic sport of water riding—the riding of horses while they are swimming. The association’s palatial clubhouse sits on the shores of Golangolu (“Long Lake”), the largest of the interconnected lakes at the northern end of the city that are collectively referred to as the “four silver pendants.”
For the many homeless people who populate the parkland around Golangolu, the clubhouse offers a number of benefits. In particular, the massive wooden pier—which serves as a viewing platform during aquatic horse races—is partly built over dry land, and thus constitutes a good shelter for sleeping. This space is an especially welcome option during the sweltering summer months, as the lake waters have a pronounced cooling effect. Furthermore, the clubhouse’s architecture—which combines Sensukan and Swiss elements in a style known as “Imperial Chalet”—is characterized by widely projecting eaves, and these provide ample protection from the elements. While it is generally too risky to attempt to sleep against the walls of the main building, where one may be easily discovered by the night watchman, the outlying buildings share in this same architectural feature, and are far less guarded. Of course, if one is able to gain entry to the clubhouse barn, the warm air and soft hay render it ideal winter sleeping quarters.
While the primary mission of the Imperial Water Riding Club is, of course, the promotion of the riding of horses while they are swimming, the organization also puts a strong emphasis on giving back to the local community. Every night, for instance, all of the leftovers from the kitchen are set out for the hungry at the back gate of the clubhouse grounds. After such events as club banquets, weddings, and seasonal charity balls (mostly benefitting various equine welfare initiatives), these leftovers can be extremely abundant, and naturally they are always of the highest quality. Horse blankets, saddlecloths, and ceremonial caparisons that have become too worn down for their original purpose—or that are simply no longer in fashion—are donated to the homeless, by whom they are greatly appreciated on cold winter nights.
The Imperial Water Riding Club clubhouse draws the greatest number of visitors during race days, especially those contests with its rival from across the lake, the Sensuka Aquatic Equestrian Association. During these events, although they must take care not to be spotted by club attendants, it can be very profitable for panhandlers to position themselves on the main road leading up to the clubhouse, just around the bend from the entrance to the grounds, where there will be a steady influx of well-heeled attendees. Water riding fans tend of course to be great animal lovers, and if the mendicants have a dog or can secure temporary access to one, its presence is guaranteed to greatly increase their income on these occasions.
The club members and the homeless people go about their lives on opposite sides of the same spaces. Nevertheless, it is impossible for the homeless people to even imagine what it would be like to move with a proprietary feeling through the clubhouse’s oak-panelled rooms or its gleaming polished verandas, just as the club members cannot begin to conceive of what it is to wake up in the morning under that wooden pier, surrounded by an entire universe in which not a single thing is your own. The two realities can never meet, even in the imagination.