One of my problems with Hong Kong is the absence of a sense of community. Unlike in India where one knows:
a) everyone in one’s building
b) a smattering of people from buildings near one.
c) The shopkeepers of shops around one’s building
d) The beggars on the street around one’s building
…in Hong Kong, it’s probably just the security guard (and often that depends on the lai see you gave at New Year’s time. I realised a good lai see packet buys you a lot more friendliness in the subsequent year). One is lucky if one knows and acknowledges one’s neighbours – this is not restricted to foreigners; my Chinese friends tell me they don’t know their neighbours either, nor do they particularly desire to. It’s very curious, part a product of some yuppie idea of privacy (less well off neighbourhoods have greater community spirit) and part the result of people changing apartments so often. It takes six months to a year to build up a rapport with shops in the area, if these are non-English speaking ones, which is usually the case with us.
So I was surprised at the camaraderie that developed so quickly in my bus to work. There are a lot of familiar faces on the bus and instead of studiously avoiding each other, some of us actually talk to each other!
The bus I take starts in the terminus under my building. It is not a popular route and so every day, there would be three or four familiar faces waiting. Me, a Chinese little boy and his helper, and an inscrutable looking Chinese office-goer.
At some point, the helper and I started talking. Not sure what triggered it – our bus tends to sometimes leave before the designated time and maybe that’s what happened. Anyway, the helper noticed that I like to read the same free English newspaper as her but can’t always get my hands on it, so the kid started bringing an extra one for me.
The kid, who I shall call LH, decided he would chat with me on the bus. His English is surprisingly good thanks to his helper; at the age of 3 she taught him to read and now at 4 (and-a-half, he insisted) he can actually read the newspaper. However, he does not actually wants to read – unless it is a newspaper article about a bus accident of Barack Obama. He wants to chat and he found an audience in me. So much so that at times, he would want to sit with me, or talk to me between the seats with the person sitting next to me cringing. He became extremely naughty about it at the end, and the helper had to call his mother to complain.
I believe LH came into my life to prepare me for having a boy child. For one, he wanted my attention constantly and would play silly games, always wanting to win. Then, he wanted to talk non-stop and would actually shout across the bus to get my attention. Finally, he could be gross – he once met me in the elevator, coughed and showed me the gooey phlegm. He was pleased when it elicited a loud “ewww!”
I noticed that at a subsequent stop a Chinese lady who worked a couple of floors above me would get in. So we started chatting and since she has a young child, she got interested in how LH’s helper taught him how to read. So she started sitting near us and talking to the helper. Often it would be me and this lady in one row and LH and the helper in the row behind. At some point, LH would decide he wanted to sit between me and the lady and a ruckus would ensue.
The bus driver is a very kindly man, who is particularly fond of children. Once he realised I was a regular, I got included in his good morning too.
Then I realised that the Chinese man at our bus stop also works in my university. So I started chatting with him and now we say hello and occasionally talk about what book we are reading.
Unfortunately, LH’s helper has left Hong Kong and LH has shifted to a different school. The Chinese lady from my office and I still chat occasionally but prefer not to sit together and be forced to make conversation for 40 minutes. So the community is dwindling.
And now the final straw. The bus itself is breaking down. Apparently, because it is not a popular route, we get the old and shoddy bus. Not a good sign!