I get out in society so little that every party I attend that includes a host of new people takes on a defamiliarised character in which each interaction stands out in stark relief. So on Saturday attended a friend’s birthday party where I was quite the mingler. Also I drank a lot of wine which accounts for some of the weird conversation, or that’s what I’m telling myself.
The party was at an unusual location in an industrial building and being us, we took public transport. We must have been the only people at the party who when asked, how did you get here, said: “MTR, then minibus, then taxi.” Or rather, I must have been the only person, because V would have sensibly dissembled. In our defense, we intended to take just two forms of transport but the minibus dropped us off in the middle of nowhere so we had to take a cab. As the minibus raced towards what we thought of as our destination, I even said to V: “I love the public transport system in Hong Kong.”
I had worn a very nice dress and brought heels which I refused to wear until the moment I was at the party which involved me changing out of my sandals in the lobby and almost falling over.
There was a sprinkling of people when we entered. We said hello to couple of our friends and then I made my way over the birthday girl to wish her and also offload present that I was quite sure would fall out of my bag otherwise. I was quite pleased with myself for actually getting a present and it was a very personalized one, though I have a niggling suspicion that it’s going to be lost in the sea of things at that party. And I will be miffed. But let me hope for the best.
In the background was a lady I’ve met on a couple of occasions and I intended to say hi to her but didn’t, because honestly she’s one of those conversational black hole people and the only thing I can think of to say to her is ask about her teenaged daughter and then she’ll say, she’s fine. But for some reason, I feel bad about not acknowledging her now.
Then, I joined another friend who was talking to very marmish looking lady who turned out to be quite intelligent. I now judge people’s intelligence based on how they react to my PhD topic. I try to keep it simple and say Gender Studies but most people have no clue what that is. And thus, the divide yawns.
It appears the two things I can talk about are PhD and my kids. Weird combination I know but normally one gets segued into one or the other. So to some people I appear to be this mum who does nothing but obsess about her children, and to others I appear briefly as this creature of awesome intelligence and then when I elaborate further, they don’t know what to say because they can’t comprehend someone studying what I want to study. Or they have no idea what Gender Studies is or even what a PhD entails. You can tell the ones who know at least the latter because they ask “in what?”
Two (British) men I met earned kudos in my eyes for suggesting some queer studies angle. It’s not exactly what I’m doing but at least there’s a connection. I also got embroiled in conversation with gweilo man about Occupy Central, which is the topic du jour in Hong Kong, except in expat circles where nothing the locals do concerns them. Frankly, I’m surprised it is not more discussed among expats at parties, or maybe people are following the dictum of keeping politics separate, which might be wise because I suspect the guy was at the polar end of the spectrum from me, but I can never keep my mouth shut about these things.
I spotted this famous artist and edged closer to him and confessed my admiration like a groupie. Alas, he was colonized by this Brit woman who had inane-ish things to say. I should appreciate her talking about the nature of art, but it’s like she never took the ‘what is art’ 101 course. I did a little spiel on Eliot and the pastness of the past and ‘make it new’ and Jane Austen and the universality of the commonplace. Yes, at a party with the latest music that obviously I can’t name blaring so loud I couldn’t hear a bit of what the Chinese artist was saying though I was hanging on his every word.
I gave up and started talking to this Venezuelan model – you can tell what an eclectic group, right? – about her long-distance relationship, which we had touched upon once when we met before. And I had an uncomfortably frank discussion with new fiancé about friend. It’s kind of weird to be encountering people in the first flush when one is at the jaded stage. They’re like: “We’re getting married!” and you struggle to say: “That’s wonderful” and mean it, not because there’s anything wrong with them as a couple but because you know marriage.
My most cringe-worthy conversation of the evening was with close Chinese friend of birthday girl. I’ve heard about her so much but never met her so felt the need to be introduced. She has kids, I have kids. “Is he naughty?” she asked of my son, and I felt the need to elaborate on how he sometimes hits out and how my daughter is even naughtier and bites. She and her husband looked shocked and I don’t think we’re ever going to have a playdate. Why do Indian parents have a hint or more of pride in a naughty child? The irony is that my kids are very well behaved in public and not even that wild in private. Mimi is well over the biting and becoming more and more a girl now, and Benji is a lamb except when he’s reaching the frustration level of boredom. I have no idea why I highlighted their worst moments, maybe I wrongly judged that they would amusing and that fellow parents would not judge (as if). “Do they go to international school?” the husband asked. “Because in Chinese school they teach them to be good.” Erm, and therein lies the problem, I wanted to say. My kid has experienced the Chinese discipline system at his old school. “Oh a boy who doesn’t know how to fight won’t survive in India,” I said breezily instead. “That’s like Mainland China,” they said grimly, and I should have known the conversation was lost after that. Why or why?
I even had conversation with helper of friend who is leaving. She has been in HK 26 years. 26 years! And now that she is old she has to unceremoniously return home to a place that is not exactly home.
People were dancing, I joined them. V was flagging and making eyes at me to leave as usual. A close friend rubbed the side of my ass. I moved away. Later V, who had witnessed it and was surprisingly very annoyed, told me I should tell him off. My own response surprised me. There was a time when this friend’s random penchant to stroke or massage put me off. Now that I’m sufficiently close to him, I’ve made my peace with his proclivities. They are inappropriate and would make other people uncomfortable, but I barely register them. I know he’s harmless and he’s a good person and a good friend. So I can ignore his drunken advances more so because I have an inkling where they’re coming from. Someone will one day tell him to stop, but it won’t be me just yet at least.
I called a cab and the cabbie spoke perfect English, though he was confused about where we were. I was supremely hung over the next day, and reflecting on my sins. Now that I’ve written this, they weren’t that bad. Right?
And on being polite, a skill I champion but am yet fully to master, this.