When I was young, people who lived abroad had glamour. Well, not the ones who lived in the Gulf – there were too many of them and they were too Indian anyway, despite their occasional American accents and their gifts of Kraft cheese and Lindt. But those who lived in Canada, Australia and the penultimate US were more exotic, visiting as they did more rarely, with stronger accents and presumably lifestyles that harked back to the TV serials that we still had to watch on video or Sunday children’s hour because cable TV didn’t exist then.

Nowadays, though, the US is too ordinary with entire batches of college students migrating there en masse. Do people in India still feel a frisson of interest when someone says they live in Boston or California (let’s not even mention the semi-cities that most people land up in). New York still holds some charm (for the person not living there) as does London, but other places?

I find though that living in Hong Kong produces some reaction. It’s unusual enough to be interesting, I suppose. Maybe people are more aware of it.

It seems that living in Hong Kong clothes me in some of the glamour that used to imbue my foreign-return cousins. Where I was hitherto a not very attractive, not very sparkly person, who could be relegated to the fringes, now suddenly I am someone because I am from somewhere.

This was brought home to me very cogently last year when a friend introduced me to a friend and left us alone at the table for a bit. The guy, who had till that moment been unsociable to the point of rude although pleading a hangover which I suppose makes rudeness cool, suddenly realised I lived in Hong Kong. His hangover literally dissipated before my eyes and he began to be decidedly animated. It helped, I guess, that he had just been telling me how he wanted to move to the Far East (double minus points for using that term). Anyway, I could almost see the charm that drew my friend to him though I still found his accent irritating (he lived in the Gulf and had grown up in India but somehow ahd acquired a thick Brit way of speaking).

But he’s not the only one. I see it everywhere I go. Saying I live in Hong Kong is the key that unleashes the interest that had earlier been lacking.

I find myself using this conversational starter more and more often. It has made me complacent, I no longer have to work to draw into a conversation. Mention Hong Kong and they are already hooked. It has begun to amuse me, and even as they stare at me with wide-eyed fascination, I feel a little smirky about these people who are still in awe of the foreign.

It also makes me vaguely sad. Is there nothing else to me?

Even as I feel a bit condescending towards these people, I admit I am guilty of making similar snap judgments. For me, generally, it’s people’s jobs. There are certain ‘cool’ jobs that I admire, probably because I would’ve wanted them, and I do perk up if I meet someone who works there. I must sheepishly admit that I have a pecking order of investment banks also (a legacy of my finance magazine days).

The job-interest thing has happened to me too – I used to work for the main English daily in Hong Kong. It instantly took me up several notches in people’s eyes. Now that I work in a more dull-sounding job, I can literally see the “hmm” in their expressions. Most interesting were the reactions of those who I used to know before I had quit the newspaper but who I hadn’t seen for a long time. They would literally go “oh”, I could bewilderment cross their faces (“why would she quit that job?”) and my interest-appeal slipping down several notches.

As I said, I do the job-thing too. I think the job thing is less superficial than the where-you-live thing because at least a job tells you something about your personality. A city? Well, one just happens to live there no?

Of course, it could be that people are curious about the city you live in. I too am interested when people say they live in unusual locales – like Prague or Lagos. But people don’t generally ask me anything about the city or what living there is like. It’s like – oh you live in Hong Kong, then you must be cool and fun and worth investing some interest in. Huh.

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