People in my office generally stand in the elevator bank, do not catch each other’s eye, do not smile and do not say anything. I think this is weird. Even if you’re from different departments the least you can do is smile, even if you can’t exert yourself to talk. It’s odd when I become the social one but there you have it. My office is weird.
Despite this, I ocassionally try to make conversation instead of just standing there. Especially since our elevators are sooo slow that it could be a good – I kid you not – seven minutes.
However, these attempts at sociability sometimes fail spectacularly. Last week, my victim was a Chinese guy I had seen in the news section. He glanced at me and started looking at the floor. There were only two of us there so I thought I would risk embarassment. So I asked in a friendly voice: “Which department are you from?” He looked up in surprised, said “news”, gave a strained smile and stared down again. That was the end of that. As we waited out the long three minutes it took the elevator to arrive in silence, I wondered if he thought I was a PR looking to jump him for a story. Later, I saw that he has his own semi-cube in the news section which probably makes him an editor or bureau chief. So what? Does that preclude you from talking to people?
Yesterday, I chose a girl I had made elevator-conversation with before. Unfortunately, I chose to say: “So do you guys produce monthly or weekly.” She goes “monthly” and then “why?” to which I couldn’t possibly say “Oh just wanted to say something to break this never-ending silence” so I go (like an idiot) “nothing in particular. Is it less stressful?” Clearly this is a sore point because I get a lecture on how they do as much work as everyone else and blah blah. I don’t actually believe it – because in each thin-monthly mag, most of the articles are from agencies and they may have one byline story in there out of the team of four but hey, I’m not going to say that.
I try to cover up and be supportive of their stress and then resolve never to talk to anyone in the elevator ever again.
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I got to watch and jewellery fair with the Chinese girl I met at drinks last week who was there for the express purpose of pitching an interview with some diamond guy. As we head to the exhibition, I realise that I am only a small player in a larger plot. This woman is seeking to introduce me to the boss of her ex-husband for the purpose of largely irritating her ex and ingratiating herself with his boss. Everyone at the booth stared at us and the boss forced himself to come over and make conversation. The whole thing was distinctly weird and yet she persisted. Her ex ignored her and me even though unfortunately she had to ask him to come out and give her a badge and he did.
Later, I asked her why she had divorced him. She rather matter-of-factly said that he had another woman. This is almost a cliche out here among Hong Kong marriages. They get married, the husband once settled either seeks a mistress in the dens of Yau Ma Tei or even cheaper mainland China, the wife finds out and threatens him but lives with it or she gets a divorce. Wife devotes herself to the cause of making money. The end.
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My boss comes over to my desk to ask to see this book on HK artists I want to write about. She then proceeds to stand at my desk looking at the book and making idle chit chat. When she’s not talking I’m faced with the prospect of watching her go through the book and looking like I have no work or getting on with work and looking rude. I choose to alternate. Later I wonder whether boss was hinting I give her the book but I really don’t want to. It’s an awesome book. I briefly gave it to the arts editor but found a way to get it back. Now I’m keeping it. She can buy her own copy. But I still haven’t figured out what that was all about.