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.