Misfitting

So I’ve been feeling the need to put myself out there more in terms of making new friends. Or rather cultivating relationships with people I already somewhat know but did not pursue. For a long time, I’ve felt that I don’t have the time to have new people in my life, but now I feel like I need to step it up a bit in that department and go beyond the one and a half pukka friend and the handful of circulating lunch buddies I have.

Ironically, now that I’ve done this, two out of the three people I magnanimously reached out to turned me down. I’m not really gutted. The fact is that none of these people were poeple I had a huge intense spark with – in case that’s even a thing anymore – and I’m not entirely footloose and fancy free in terms of time, money and energy so it’s all good. I can live with my current situation of sparse friendships, just that I’d like to have more variety.

And then, when I do go out, there’s the problem of coming away not entirely happy with the experience.

For example, I push V to hang out at least once a month with a certain couple but almost every time the woman annoys me. I keep the thing going because weirdly, she seems the type of person I would get along with, and we’ve had a couple of really good conversations, but by and large she is just too judgy and opinionated about other people’s opinions (which I know is rich coming from me, but I hope I don’t express my dissent quite so condescendingly). It doesn’t bother me anymore because I’ve realised she’s not personally attacking me and this is more her problem than mine, but I still wonder if I really want to deal with it.

Or I go out once every couple of months with the group from my office. The fact is that we are too old, too different and have our own lives and so don’t really hang out more often. There are some nice people there, but still, sometimes I come away … overthinking things that were said and feeling unsure of myself. Now I’m resigned to the fact that this is going to happen with new people, but it’s frustrating that it has to happen with people I’ve hung out with for a while.Specifically, this time there is new guy who has appointed himself the arbiter of taste and feels the need to declare what is good food, high fashion, etc. in contradiction to my much humbler opinions on the subject. I know he is playing up this European man about town thing, but I still find it embarrassing. I could either shut him down with a clever rejoinder, shut him down rudely, or ignore him and I’ve done all three, but it annoys me that I have to do it (I know, I know this is part and parcel of actually interacting with people, but really why?). On the other hand, there’s a guy I got quite close to, who will suddenly go quiet and contribute exactly zero to the conversation, then making me the blabbermouth who keeps (over)sharing.

And of course, this could be entirely be attributed to my unsocialized, insecure self, but I also wish that people just … behaved better. I wonder if it’s me, other people, or the generally restricted pool of potential peeps in Hong Kong, despite a seeming abundance of friendly people, that explains this situation.

What I’m hoping is that there were more people out there I did not find annoying (and who equally do not find me annoying). That it would be possible to have this social interaction without coming away feeling jellyfished at the end of it (a term from Bridget Jones’s Diary about the girl -Rebecca – who seems harmless but makes these really condescending remarks and glides off leaving you to feel the sting too late).

To be fair, on the night out with office peeps, I did meet this guy who I’ve met a couple of times before as he’s a friend of a friend and though I’ve gone through the insecure stage with him, I persisted because I thought he was well, worth it, and turns out he is and I don’t feel like that anymore. I probably will always have a little bit of insecurity around (fellow?) really smart people but at least he’s easy to hang out with. Similarly, one of the girls in my office who initially was judgy bordering on obnoxious on our first meeting, which disappointed me because I always think there’s more possibility with women than men, but turns out she’s cool and we get along. Only she’s much younger and she’s always leaving, so it cannot be more than an occasional thing. With the new nice guy, he’s in a couple, and seems to have his own life and I don’t know how to take it forward except to be happy when he shows up because someone else has invited him.

This angst extends to the online too. A few months ago, someone replied to an extended comment I made on something she posted and I just felt … hurt. It was actually the last straw after a couple of stings, but I just wrote her off/felt the need to step back. And maybe this is a normal thing that happens in all relationships – you piss each other off and need to take a time out – but I feel the need to make it clear to myself that I am katti with someone.

And increasingly, I’m feeling this need to step back even from older friends. Because something they did or said hurt me. Okay, maybe I’m just too fragile these days and this is not a good time to be sallying forth into the world trying to make friends. Or maybe the reason I’m so fragile is that I did not do enough sallying forth. I’m confused.

I know, I know, the challenges of making friends as an adult. There are so many such articles now on the topic, or I keep seeing them because people know this is my pet angst and they send them to me. And it’s comforting to know that other people are in the same boat. But it’s also not, because I don’t want to be in this boat.

 

 

Mellowing in Melbourne – final

One of the ideas I was toying with was getting a haircut in Melbourne since getting anyone in Hong Kong to cut my wavy-curly hair for a reasonable sum seems to be impossible. Thing is as I peeped into the salons on Elizabeth Street a lot of the hairdressers seemed to be of Asian persuasion. Nevertheless, since I didn’t have a big agenda on my last day, I popped into a cheerful looking parlour and booked a cut for the bargain price of $15. Later, I realised I had signed up for a cut at a hair and beauty school.

I was okay with that actually. I’ve always wanted to try a cut at a hairstyling school. The problem was they assigned me a very sleepy looking Indian girl, who I later realised had just come back from three months of maternity leave (no wonder she looked sleepy). Apart from her being a bit fuzzy either due to poor communication skills – she seemed to not quite grasp what we had discussed, and I wondered if we were having communication problems being both Indians, how she was going to survive Aussie accents – or just lack of sleep, she was also extremely slow. I ended up spending two hours there for a basic cut, shampoo and blow dry (and I had actually told her I didn’t want a blow dry). Turns out the haircut was nice, though once I washed it, I realised it looks better blowdried straight. Harumph. Oh well, maybe it will work out once it grows out a little and ceases to be Raja Ram Mohan Roy all over again.

Having spent two whole hours getting a haircut, I took the tram to the DFO Outlet mall on the South Bank. This was a good decision. So many nice shops. The discounted things were high-end discounted things and I was quite confused about where to start. Lots of nice clothes but I’d have to be very selective with my budget. I ended up focusing on the things I needed  really wanted : ankle boots and sunglasses. Landed up with a nice-looking if not perfectly comfortable (time will tell) pair of black ankle boots at a very good price. Ditto a pair of Bill Blass sunnies which are polarized.

Was exhausted when I got back so just vegged out and thought about where to go for dinner. Ended up getting a souvlaki wrap from Stalactites, a 24-hour Greek restaurant in the Greek district.  After some dithering, I decided to do take-out (honestly because it was cheaper). The wrap was nice, but I wish we had actually eaten there since I spotted a number of delectable looking things passing me by as I waited for my take-out.  Next door is a Turkish bakery with very enticing looking confectionary. Since I had some change, I ended up buying a marzipan chocolate (that turned out to be coconut filling).

Arriving back in Hong Kong, I was surprised to find that Hong Kong had somewhat waned for me in my week away at Melbourne. Normally, on the train, bus or taxi ride back home, I enjoy the vista of my city and feel a sense of gladness to be back, taking the edge of my regret at the end of travel. But this time, for the first time, it failed to move me. Something about the openness and friendliness of Australia had gotten under my skin in a way that surprised me.

Australian people, or at least the ones I encountered in Melbourne, are very friendly. They make eye contact, smile and even greet strangers, they make the odd bit of conversation, they say please and thank you unfailingly, qualities that are sorely lacking in Hong Kong. This is on top of the added ease of being in a land where people communicate in English. I know that there is racism in Australia but on the whole, I did not experience it.

Maybe it’s because I know I have to unhinge myself from Hong Kong that I am looking for ways to detach. But I have never been able to in the past. For the first time, I am able to see what a big deal not being the perpetual foreigner might be (even though I am always something of a foreigner even in India).

I just finished reading the Aboriginal chick lit book – Avoiding Mr Right by Anita Heiss – I picked up from the Koorie Heritage Trust and reliving my time in Melbourne’s streets. It’s interesting to look at the city through a slightly politicized lens, even more so because that politicized lens is via a chick lit novel. For example, the protagonist Peta is critical of Queen Victoria Market for being all about white people’s nostalgia. She is also critical of the typical Aussie souvenirs such as boomerangs for appropriating – badly – Aboriginal culture while giving nothing back to the people it came from. On the other hand, she is on board with the style and sass of Melbourne, and the whole story is shot through with romantic encounters – apparently Melbourne men are very flirty… well, I did experience some of that😉 The book isn’t amazing but considering my research interest is chick lit, I’m interested in how the genre can be used to spread a political message .

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mellowing in Melbourne – 3

The morning K left was dedicated to discovering Aboriginal culture which was my one must-do thing in Melbourne.

First of all, my body had apparently gone into shock because went to bed at 10 pm and woke up at 3 am. Of course, I ended up having to rush to the Royal Botanic Gardens for the Aboriginal Heritage Walk. The problem is that the gardens are huge and it’s super hard to find directions to the visitor centre. I finally ended up calling, and getting directions and reaaching in the nick of time. The walk itself was lovely, just the thing I needed. The guide was of Aboriginal descent and gave us a lot of information about the local Boonarong tribe as well as his own tribe.

The walk opened with a traditional smoking ceremony which is a way of welcoming visitors.

He showed us different plants and what they’re used for.

This plant had fragrant leaves and the cone could be used to carry fire.

The paper bark tree: Apart from the bark being used as paper and for warmth, the tree likes being hugged.

Tea tree oil is made out of the leaves of this tree. It’s interesting how many of these trees have fragrant leaves.

The Eucalyptus.We saw a cockatoo poking its head out of the hollow.

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The patterns of the plants began to really inspire me. Like the bark of the tree above or the fern below.

After the talk, I hung around the Botanic Gardens and had a sandwich I had packed. This was my view.

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On the way back, I passed the Shrine of Remembrance which honours Australians who fought in the World War. I’m always surprised how scenic Melbourne is and how the architecture is a mix of old and new.

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Inspired by what I had learnt about Aboriginal culture, I headed to the Ian Potter Centre to check out some Aboriginal art. The work is truly stunning, and there is also a great collection of Australian modernist art, but my feet were killing me by that time so I had to call it a day. I also stopped at the Koorie Heritage Trust Centre which has a small collection of Aboriginal artefacts and art. There I picked up a book by Anita Heiss, who writes Aboriginal chick lit.

Mellowing in Melbourne – 2

Read Part 1 of this series here.

  • One of the only things on my Melbourne bucket list was seeing the fairy penguins. I had first heard of them in a little promo on the city Kylie Minogue did on a video cassette featuring three of her songs back in the 1990s. The best place to see this little beauts is Phillip Island but since we had limited time, we decided to ditch that plan in favour of taking our chances at seeing them at St Kilda. K tried to manage my expectations saying that she had been there and seen only one, but I had read up that there was a colony there, and while they were less prone to showing up in large numbers during winter, there were still more than one to be seen. The best time to see them is dusk, and we had a bit of a wait as the sun set, but quite quickly, we spotted one, or rather a volunteer pointed it out to us with an infrared light. They come out of little crevices in the rocks where they live and really, they are super cute. A pair even posed for us by stretching out their wings backwards in sync, leading to K cynically insisting they had been trained. Hmph. The shot I took of them looks like a sonogram, but here it is for what it’s worth.
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    img_3087St Kilda promenade

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    Luna Park facade

  • On K’s last day, we wandered around Melbourne downtown near the Bourke Street Mall. I tried on sunnies, perfume and Ugg boots but decided to save my monies for outlet mall shopping. Instead, I had a very messy lamb burger at the cute Degraves Street and we wandered around the area, spotting graffiti and

     

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    Dr Seus art exhibition.

Mellowing in Melbourne – Part 1

My long-awaited work/fun trip to Melbourne finally happened:

  • Flew on Quantas. The airline has a bad reputation in my mind, but I was impressed. And apparently on some poll, it’s one of the top 10 airlines in the world. Heh. The cabin looks nice, the normal amount of legroom, one of the best touchscreen TVs I’ve experienced (even if the selection – though wide – was not to my liking), decent food. The service staff were older but good, they did a lot of old school things like several rounds of the cabin – with bottled water, with (delicious) juice in a jug, with the arrival cards, over and above the regular drinks service.

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  • On the flight there, I managed to score an aisle seat and then groaned when I saw a kid in the seat next to me. I was sure that his parent would request me to change. Turns out the kid’s parents were in business class and they switched a couple of times in the night. The person he switched with was his grandma, who spoke only Mandarin as used me as her interpreter to the service staff. It was cute and I was happy to help. There was an awkward moment when I decided to watch Girls Season 4 and a sex scene came on and I became acutely conscious of the kid sitting next to me. The problem is I couldn’t find anything else to watch that I liked, so I took to fastforwarded the adult-rated parts.
  • Everyone in Australia is super friendly. It’s like a breath of fresh air coming from Hong Kong. First of all, everyone speaks English so there isn’t the usual communication hurdle posed by language. And then people have a friendly disposition. After I had finished all the bureaucratic formalities, acquired a SIM card, changed into warmer clothes and was ready to  go find my bus to the city, I realised that I had left the folder with all my booking as well as my conference paper at the immigration counter. I could have given up on it as I could print out everything else, but I was vaguely uncomfortable with all my booking information lying around. After surveying the area and finding noone that looked like an official, I saw a ‘customer service guy’ roaming around. Asked his help, and he advised me to try Border Control. This did not sound like a Border Control issue, but I went down to the office with some trepidation. To my surprise, the guy at the counter said: “Let me call them.” In ten minutes, someone from Immigration had come down with my file. I was so impressed.

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  • I stayed at Jasper Hotel on Elizabeth Street near Queen Elizabeth Market and I highly recommend it. I arrived two hours before check in time but they let me have my room which was a great help as I could have a nap before heading to my conference  drinks reception. The room was clean, modern and much larger than I expected. The toiletries were amazing Appelles products. The hotel is located walking distance from Melbourne Central Station, with a tram stop opposite to Flinders Street station and other tram lines and a number of nice little (inexpensive) restaurants down the street.
  • And of course Queen Victoria Market. It’s a wholesale market, with a lot of fresh produce etc, but also some lovely artisinal shops such as bakeries, chacuteries and chocolate shops. It opens early so I picked up a cheap and delicious breakfast there every day – freshly baked gozleme or bratswurst sandwich with toppings.

  • On the evening, forced myself to wake up from my nap and head to the university for the conference opening drinks reception. It was a good thing I needed to get out, plus I met some people, who then became people I could talk to the rest of the time. I did notice that the white people stuck to each other, and it was a theme that continued throughout the conference. It was very white and Western, and although there have been critiques of this for decades, I was surprised that despite the talk of diversification, the problem still remains in practice.
  • My paper presentation the next day went okay. Low expectations are key. I was advised to read slower and this is a reminder to me to a) resist the urge to pack everything in b) resist the urge to put in long quotes c) find a way to talk not read. I got a tough question, but it was friendly.
  • Over the course of the conference, I made some new contacts, listened to some really interesting papers and actually made one contact who I think will be really useful, so I think I can rate it a success, despite my critique of it being too Western-centric and my determination to stop going to philosophy conferences. So it was a positive experience overall.
  • That evening, very old friend K arrived. As knackered as I was, she dragged me out. We discovered a very yummy South East Asian place with delish nasi lemak that we ate twice over the weekend. And then lots of chatter of cocktails, having the drinks spilled on us, giggling madly, continuing to chat, taking mad pictures with the guy who spilled the drinks on us, and finally making our way back to the hotel only to continue to chat some more.

Slaying the sari

You know the story of how as a girl you watched your mum drape a sari and one day, you grew up, and it was your turn, and the whole thing came almost instinctively because you’ve seen it done so many times? Yeah, that’s  not my story.

It wasn’t my story with cooking, it wasn’t my story with caring for babies and it wasn’t my story with saris. I did watch my mum cooking growing up and lost interest at about the time I might have actually been useful in the kitchen, I had only one baby cousin in my city and but I was too young to really pay attention, and my mum didn’t wear a sari that often. I think she stopped around the time we came along actually. So while my mum can drape a sari competently, the sari as a measure of womanhood wasn’t an image I carried with me into adulthood.

Maybe for that reason, the sari held a fascination for me. Well, first of all it’s a naturally graceful and gorgeous garment. I would stop short of saying it’s the most comfortable garment, though some people might find it so. Wearing nine yards of cloth is going to impede you from really sprinting for a bus, for example, and it’s definitely hotter than a salwar-kurta in summer. And if you’re as clumsy as I am, it’s another story… So yeah, while for other people the sari might have been a tradition they rebelled against, for me it was one I grew into.

I’m in my 30s now and I’ve probably donned a sari five times in my life. The first time was at a cousin’s wedding a week before mine, and the second time was at my own wedding. The common thread here is … weddings. I only ever wear saris to weddings, and so far I’ve had someone on hand to drape them for me. Each time I swore I would learn to do it myself, and then promptly forgot because typically, there was a couple of years’ interval between the next outing.

Until now.

As usual, I was invited to talk about India at the kids’ kindergarten for International Day, and this time, I felt I really should wear a sari. It is so much more exciting than seeing me in a salwar, not to mention that kurtas I own here are extremely simple, and hardly representative of the richness of Indian textile. On the other hand, the only sari I have in Hong Kong is extremely grand; it is the one I wore way back when for my cousin’s wedding, the first one I’ve ever worn. The blouse is extremely skimpy featuring spaghetti straps. The embroidery is heavy and trickily placed so that the two people who draped it on me in the past struggled.

And this was the sari I had to teach myself to drape.

First, I checked out a couple of YouTube videos. Now, these videos (or at least the two I checked out before giving up) take the same approach that people who wrote the Hindi textbooks in school did – they are supposed to be teaching you something but they kinda assume you already know. The technique is so instinctive to them that they forget that a newcomer needs to be told every single step. So yeah, that didn’t work.

I almost gave up in frustration but something but egging me on – and I think it was the belief that now was the time to tick this thing of my bucket list.

Reluctantly, I reached out to two Indian women to see if they could teach me. Turns out they didn’t know either.

So I did what I should have done in the first place. I tapped MinCat, prolific wearer of saris and draper extraordinaire. And we had a Skype sessions where she took me through the steps as excellently as only she could do, with just the right amount of information. Turns out that the videos were skipping a crucial step between the first time the sari goes round one and when one drapes the pallu. This might seem like common sense to some people but I’m directionally challenged. In about 15 minutes, I felt confident that I could do it myself at school.

So I did. The school was kind enough to give me a slightly big room, so I had ample space if not a mirror (though turns out I don’t need a mirror except for a final check). I did end up somehow getting confused but kept calm and carried on. In the end it was fine. I’m sure my pleats weren’t as nicely aligned as they should have been but with an audience of three to six year olds, who cares? I even managed to teach them some Bollywood steps in the thing without it falling off, so I consider this mission achieved.

Mainly though, I feel confident (and maybe this is misplaced confidence – I haven’t yet tacked a Kanjivaram yet) that I get do this myself again and again. No need to sheepishly request anyone to help, except maybe in adjusting the pleats.

The only question is – when will the opportunity arise next?

 

O fish

So I’ve recently become a mother of three fish.

What happened was that my kids met a friend in the playroom who was looking for someone to take over his fish because his family is moving away, and they volunteered (without checking with me).

So one Sunday morning, I come home from grocery shopping to find a Filipino lady in conversation with my helper at the door. Turns out she had come over to drop off the fish. She brought them in a large distilled water container cut in half. I explained that I knew nothing about rearing fish, and I was not inclined to invest in the apparatus required. She said that the fish had been alive in said container for the past two weeks and that she could give us the food she had left. She seemed kind of desperate – because her son was attached to the fish and therefore wanted to find a new ‘home’ for them. So even though I said that I’m not sure we could keep them alive, she was happy to hand them over for us to try.

So that’s how we landed up with Goldy and Feedy (yeah, these are the names the kids chose. How literal could they get). It was quite simple to care for them, and I was inching towards getting a tank, though I decided to wait at least a couple of weeks. The kids lost interest in a couple of days – which confirmed my belief that any pet we get should be purely because I’m willing to look after it.

Alas, one day, V tried to be smart and changed all the water in their bowl. Now, the previous owner had told me not to do that because a) they can’t survive in the chlorinated water from our tanks b) they find completely new water disconcerting (further research has taught me that’s it a bacteria thing – their existing water had the good bacteria needed for them to survive). That evening Feedy died.

I was surprised at how sad I felt. The thing is I’ve always found fish kind of creepy. So they were the last pet I’d be inclined to keep or imagine I’d develop affection for. But there you have it.

Since our fish food was running out, I found out about a shop nearby where we could get supplies. We went for Alice Through The Looking Glass that weekend …very nice, but the Mad Hatter scared Mimi, so V took her out and I urged him to go buy the fish food in the meantime. When Nene and I exited the theatre and met V in the mall, turns out he had bought not only a tank but five other fish. Two goldfish, two black moor goldfish, and one companion to Goldy (whose species we are still unsure off). Turns out the fish shop guy was super nice and V got carried away. I’m not complaining – I was in love with the fish.

We named the orange ones Donald and Trump and the black ones Hillary and Barack. The new Goldy-companion was named Feedy II.

Unfortunately, Goldy and Feedy turned out to have a piranha complex and started attacking the goldfish. Also, one day V decided to feed them peas (which all sources say are good for them) and one of the fish died. Since them I’ve told him to butt out of the fishcare – the problem is he’s too proactive. Unfortunately, since then three fish have died, even though I moved Goldy and Feedy into their own bowl, where suddenly Feedy is ruling the roost, and I’m starting to feel sympathy for Goldy although I hold him responsible for the death of at least one goldfish.

The fact is that I think our tank was too small for the number of fish we had although the fish shop owner told V it was the right size. I think two fish in that tank is ideal. Unfortunately, right now we only have one – Hillary or Barack (depending on whoever wins the election) – in the tank and he seems quite happy on his own and has grown ginormous. Mimi’s friend’s mum gave me a huge goldfish bowl which I’m keeping Feedy and Goldy in for now.

Do any of you have fish? Rookie tips on their upkeep are welcome.

Below are the kids enthralled by the tank at its zenith.


Girls

I finally caught up with Season 5. [Spoiler Ahead, read at your own discretion]

V happened to walk in on me watching the epic fight between Adam and Jessa. “Is this where you learn your drama?” he said, or something to that effect. “No, I’m dramatic because I’m like these people,” I said. “Angsty.”

Girls, for all its crazy, presents the ideal of kind of friendship – where people drift but tey come back, sliding into bed next to their sleeping friend with the confidence that they will be accepted.

On the other hand, Girls presents some unrealistically narcissistic people. In one scene, Shoshana is in a bar with her new boyfriend and a guest, and she has some earth-shattering epiphany, and while her boyfriend is in the loo tells the other girl, “I have to go home” and leaves. This might have been excusable as a once in a lifetime thing but this happens on this show with alarming frequency. People decide they are in the midst of some emotional upheaval and just have to leave. No matter how dramatic I am, I think waiting and explaining why you have to leave is essential.

Back to friendship though, at one point Adam accuses Jessa of siding with Hannah even though Hannah is selfish blah blah blah. And Jessa says, “Yes, that is what friendship is.” That is, friendship doesn’t mean always liking the person you’re friends with. This was an important insight for me.

 

Facebook and friends

I spend a lot of time on Facebook. I read articles posted by people, I post articles I’ve read, I comment and respond to comments. It’s a source of news but also of thinking points.

However, since my recent spate of meltdowns, I’ve been rethinking my online engagement, specifically on Facebook. I got embroiled in a couple of comment threads that left me feeling upset. I decided that it was time to stop wasting emotional energy on these online discussions and cut back on Facebook. So for what feels like a (couple of?) weeks, I did not post anything and did not comment anywhere. However, I’m incapable of entirely detaching, so I did ‘like’ posts I find interesting. This is a tacit way of sharing them without inviting discussion with me further, or expecting further engagement.

I know I can’t attribute my better frame of mind entirely to this, but I think it helped. What I realise now is that Facebook is not just about active posting and commenting and the resulting positive or negative engagement, but also about energy wasted waiting for that engagement in the form of ‘likes’ or whatever. It’s not that I sit around gasping for the first like, far from it, but every time there is one you get a notification and then you react subliminally, much more so to a comment. This is the case even with the blog, but somehow, I find that – thanks to you, awesome readers – the blog discussions are more chilled out and I can detach more easily. Facebook ironically is more public because I have a range of people who actually know me and can directly impact my life on there, colleagues from work for example.

It has also made me realise that while I smart from people being snarky to me on Facebook, I can’t hand on heart say I’ve never done the same either. So when, and it’s a when not an if, I do get back into the game, I will be very careful to be scrupulously polite when commenting, even with friends. And also to cut down on commenting. This I have mixed feelings about because part of the joy of Facebook is being able to have discussions that one might not always have in “real” life with people interested in similar topics. On Facebook, if you don’t give, you don’t get. People who find Facebook boring rarely do anything on it beside lurk, and so possibly the algorithms don’t work in their favour. Nevertheless, starting a discussion means continuing one and I have to think about whether I have the energy for that. Maybe one a week, and one post a day?

Chungking Mansion

Chungking Mansion is the little India of Hong Kong. It is a warren of shops selling desi stuff, little restaurants with desi food, electronics shops and some Chinese related things. The upper floors house various guesthouses of varying degrees of shadiness. Apart from desi folk, the place also attracts African traders.

Yesterday, we went for dinner to Sedequi Halal Mess. We decided to pay a visit to the Indian store and order some stuff, including mangoes. Since I didn’t want to cart the mangoes up to dinner, the lady at the counter kept it for me and I said I would return at 9 pm before the shop closed. That lady is a story in herself – she is usually surly and according to one of the men who runs the shop “a bit crack” but yesterday she was bright and cheerful and putting forward her best sales pitch for the mangoes. She even allowed me to exchange mangoes from one box to another.

So we went up to dinner and the place was full because I think yesterday was the first day of Ramzan and people were breaking their fast. Also, there is like one waiter and people seemed to just push their way through and take a seat instead of waiting to be seated. Luckily V saw what was happening and did the same and we got a table pretty quick. The food, however, took ages to come. There was like a half hour interval between things. So I realised that I would have to go fetch my mangoes or the shop would close.

Now, the lift in Chungking Mansions is another thing. There was a crowd of people waiting so when two paavam looking desi guys took the stairs, I followed them. Now, this is not something to be generally done, and what happened was that on some floor, they veered off and the staircase basically ended, but it didn’t look like the ground floor. I went into the lift lobby and asked the haaji guy waiting there if it was the ground floor. After some confusion, I realised I was on the third floor, but the door led out to a podium that allowed one to change to other blocks. I went back to the lobby and the man said, “Take the lift. It’s the safest.” That gave me pause, but I stood there. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a Chinese hostel owner I presumed arguing with a possibly Filipino tourist: “You are talking too much,” he said aggressively. The Filipino guy didn’t get the hint/threat and kept arguing for a room with less noise.

The lift came and I went and collected my mangoes. On the way up, I could choose the less crowded odd number lift and walk one floor down – but I was leery of taking the silent but menacing stairs again – or take the even floor lift to the sixth floor where I needed to go even though there were four people in the line already and I knew the lift was small. I chose the even number lift, and soon an older desi man and a young Chinese girl came and stood behind me. There was a shop right next to us, and she asked: “Should we buy some fruit?” “Later,” he said. “I’ve ordered food and someone is making a pizza.” They were a strange pair, and I immediately concluded that she was a sex worker.

When the lift came, not only did I get in, but the two behind me and I was shoved up against the Filipino guys behind me. I clutched my mangoes and considered whether i should hold them defensively behind me or in front of me, and decided I’d rather have a barricade between my boobs and my countryman than my ass and the Filipino. Just as the lift was closing, the Indian guy puts his hand out and stops the lift to allow this sardar to get in. It was as packed in there as a Bombay local, except I wasn’t in a ladies compartment. Then, the man stuck his hand out again and the sardar who got in decided to exchange places with another sardar. Only when that guy got in, the lift wouldn’t move because he was too heavy. So he got out and the original sardar got in again. But now the lift wouldn’t move either. Finally, the Chinese security guard shouted, “one person out, one person out” and the original sardar had to get out grumbling. So we all had a bit more breathing room.

The reached hit the 5th floor and I got out and dashed back to the mess, only to find that in the 20 minutes I’d been gone only one lassi had been brought to our table. The food when it eventually arrived was yummy if oily. I’m still dreaming of the kebabs.

For an elegy to Chungking Mansion, watch Wong Kar Wai’s film of the same name.

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