Les Petits Contes

About life's little observations, which matter. About hilarious situations, which illuminate. About stories which offer immense possibilities, open endings, different interpretations and perspectives.

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Location: Singapore

A nature lover; sun-worshipper, manic book-collector, dessert-devourer and a magnet for hazards

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Friendship Hub

A somnambulant arrival
A little numbed by work crises, and zombied out by sleepless nights, crazy schedules and hectic days at work, I arrived in Hong Kong last Friday in a sleepy daze.

Blankness greeted me at the super impressive and cold airport. But my workaholic trait had already kicked in before my arrival. I had squeezed in a meeting with my PR agency in a few hours’ time: a work meeting during a non-business trip.

Charles the PR consultant met me at the hotel where my friend Agnes had booked me in. It was a busy, noisy, touristy, unheard of hotel. Charles could not believe that Gemplus would put me in such a hotel.

No, this is a personal trip, I explained. ‘’Where would you like to sit down and talk?’’ he asked. We looked around and could not find anything decent. ‘’OK – I am going to take charge now; I am taking you to the Shangri-la…’’ he finally decided, after looking at my blank face.

Regaining memory
Tiffany met me at my hotel room – she had arrived not too long after me. We exchanged screams and hellos and greetings – she from Taiwan and me from Singapore. She ooh-ed and ah-ed over my dresses and then we went to the lobby to meet Agnes, the bride-to-be, at 5.30 pm for a long over due catch up session.

More girly screams, hugs, hellos, welcomes, when we finally met, after all these years.

We headed straight to Soho for drinks and snacks. The poor busy bride has not had her lunch.

Slowly, my memory came back as we drove there. Ah Hong Kong. I now remember. The narrow streets. The huge signboards hanging ‘’precariously’’ over buildings. The abundance of taxis. The speed of everything and the hectic pace.

The old and new side by side. Run-down, traditional ‘’barber shop’’ directly opposite the chi chi hair salon. Dirty, slimy buildings next to posh, spanking towers and plazas.

The various business trips I used to make. The press trips we organised. The personal trips I did to visit Anissa and Agnes.

More importantly, the times spent with Agnes there. As we sat at the tapas place, we started talking of old times, exchanging news (gossip?) about our ex colleagues.

And my mind wandered… I recalled my stay with Agnes in her new apartment – it was after I had just left Amex and joined Gemplus. She was so excited to host me she actually planned an itinerary for a short trip – bagel breakfast, shopping sprees (she took great care to take me to new places I had not seen), steamboat dinner…

Yes, yes, my memory started gushing in… names of towers and plazas and famous hotels came to my mind… exploring Lantau Island and New Territories’ ‘’Hakka walled villages’’ with Sze and Anissa like ang moh tourists rather than typical Asian shopping freaks, huge seafood dinner with the team at Lamma Island after our regional meetings, Tim our handsome boss handing out ice cream sticks after the huge dinner, just before boarding the ferry, the long slow ferry ride under the stars, elegant press dinners at The Peak, some stolen time after business meetings to go to the Stanley market with Pongtip, rushing to some ‘’factory outlet’’ to buy branded clothes with my guest – a journalist I had to host…

Soon it was dinner time with Agnes and her other ‘’helpers’’ for her wedding on Sunday. We had to meet to discuss our ‘’areas of responsibility’’ on Sunday. I sat next to Tiffany, and for some strange reason, I recalled the trip she and Agnes made with me to Madrid… and laughed over the hilarious encounter we had with a grumpy waiter at a restaurant.

The next day, I had dinner with Tiffany, while Agnes further busied herself with her wedding preparations and errands. Everywhere we went, we saw crowds and people. Every restaurant was packed.

We managed to get a table at a Vietnamese restaurant. I suddenly remembered my first trip to Hong Kong, with Sze. Then, Anissa was living and working in Hong Kong and during the trip one day, Sze went to catch up with her own friend while I went to stay with Anissa for one night.

I told Tiffany how one evening, Sze, Anissa and I wandered around the entire city and could not find a single restaurant, cheap or expensive, which could offer us a table for three. It was Valentine’s. Valentine’s was a big thing in Hong Kong – every girl on the streets carried a humongous bouquet – whether self-bought, or from her sweetheart.

In the end, we had to order room service from the hotel we stayed in.

A love story
It was Saturday afternoon. Lucho and Lisa had arranged for lunch with me, Tiffany, Agnes and her fiancé Carl. More hugs and hellos. Lucho and Lisa had flown in from Tokyo to attend the wedding.

I have never met Lucho, Lisa’s husband. But the last time I had met Lisa was more than five years ago, as a colleague.

How different she is now. Her recent stroke had impacted her speech and movement. But she is still the same when it comes to her spunkiness and strength of character, judging from the way she pulled through her coma, illness, therapy and recovery.

Our conversation naturally turned to her courtship days and marriage with Lucho.

Lucho is from Peru, Lisa from the U.S. They met in Osaka at the University while studying Japanese.

Lucho proposed within six months of courtship. Lisa told him to ‘’go fly kite’’, according to Lucho.

Lucho said, ‘’fine, either we marry or we don’t; next time you propose, I do it only once.’’

Lisa did, one year later, and they were happily married.

Well, not ‘’ever after’’ though. They nearly got divorced a few years back, when Lucho spent too much time building his business and not enough time with her. But her stroke changed everything.

‘’It made me finally see what I will miss; normally you do not ‘see’ what you have until you get a wake-up call,’’ Lucho said simply.

As poor students, theirs was a simple wedding – at the registry in Kobe, Japan. After that, they treated their classmates to dinner at KFC! You should sell this story to KFC now – and get them to do a ‘’university wedding package and barrel’’ at all campuses, we joked.

They did not even tell their parents about it until one year later. Lucho’s parents (rich influential land owners in Peru) protested, ‘’why do you marry down?’’ Lisa’s parents, white Americans, also protested, ‘’why do you marry down?’’

Their friends and relatives predicted impending divorce and doom and gloom in their marriage.

‘’But it’s not about our parents. It’s about the two of us. It just felt right. It’s here in the guts, not here (pointing to the head), not here (pointing to his heart). Don’t think too much. It’s right here, deep in the guts (pointing to his stomach),’’ Lucho explained.

Going home with more memories
Hong Kong is a fast-paced, dynamic, never resting, colourful, breathless place. It does not seem like a good place for tourists like me who want a rest and retreat. But I love it. It excites and fascinates me. Though I am not sure if I want to live and work there.

Contradictory? Yes, as contrasting as the old and new side by side.

Anyone who is there would be wise to take the express train from my hotel to the airport, taking only half an hour – to save time, a precious commodity for the people there. I chose to take the coach instead, at the same price, but taking 40 minutes.

I wanted a slow departure. I wanted to sense the streets and sights of Hong Kong one more time as the coach meandered around the tight streets, cut through a construction site nonchalantly and approached the highway. The sights are neither pretty (like post cards of Switzerland) nor pristine (like the streets of Singapore), but I took them all in… and dreamt of the Hong Kong of my heart. My Hong Kong – it’s a friendship place.


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