Read: For Starters (Part 1)
When she finally did come back, Rose went hiking almost every day before starting her new job. “My sister threw a glass at me last night. She hates having me back. She keeps complaining to my parents about how I got to go abroad while she stayed in Hong Kong. She must be jealous at how I got to meet ‘smart’ people and she didn’t. Remember what she said about Americans when she visited?” Rose panted over the phone. She loved calling me on her hikes. It was probably because she did not have anyone else to call in Hong Kong.
“Yeah—she said all Americans are smart.”
“Right, just ‘cause the people I hung out with were smart. She’s totally buying into the whole white supremacist thing.” She huffed. “Coming to think of it, though, besides you, I haven’t really met people who are at my level here, know what I’m saying?”
I suppose? “You’ve only been back for two weeks.”
“But still. I just want to be surrounded by people I can have intellectual conversations with.”
Rose tells me there are very few people in Hong Kong who are truly outstanding. I know she has kept in touch with me throughout the years partly because she thinks I’m one of the outstanding ones in her mile-long list of friends. I think people here are just too preoccupied with life to be outstanding. One time, I fell on her bad side: inspired by a conversation between two white-collared workers she overheard on the tram, Rose took to Facebook for a rant: Those local Hong Kong people who bitch about the mainland Chinese are so stupid. They only got the balls to call the mainland Chinese out on social media for the same actions they do themselves… A developed city like Hong Kong leaves us with less room to judge and criticise others! If only Rose could empathise with those “stupid locals”. Maybe after spending a healthy amount of time in this pressure cooker of a city. She defended herself. “It’s discrimination against your own race”, she said, taking our Facebook debate to the phone. “I’ve met many mainland Chinese who are very decent and well-educated people. Why are so many local people so narrow-minded?”
While promoting Save the Children at her new job, she met open-minded Malaysian Mr. Chiew. Hong Kong is the kind of place where if you try to have a friendly conversation with a stranger, it makes you weird. Men do not even catcall at women. They just stare. The trick is to stare back at them, hard, so they turn away, surprised and embarrassed. One time, my technique backfired. The old man who was half-leering at me, smiled, even as he was crossing the road. I had no choice but to flip him off. Mainlanders. Anyway, when Mr. Chiew struck up a conversation with Rose, she couldn’t resist. It had been a while since she had a casual conversation with a stranger after leaving the US. That night, Mr. Chiew sent her an email.
I was impressed by you, your spirit, your great vision and charitable heart that inspired me to help out children around the world. You’ll have a great future. Since I started out at One World Action, I’ve been eradicating malaria, building hospitals, and providing medical care and laboratory services in Africa. Rose, you were sent by God to remind me of the children’s plight. I’ll soon be moving to Bangkok, but hope to meet you again before I leave. Do call me sometime…
“I’m going to meet this Mr. Chiew for coffee. He is so inspirational and so different from regular Hong Kong folks.” Rose squealed after showing me the alleged Malaysian businessman’s email.
Why did I feel like he was more interested in Rose’s genitals than her “charitable heart”? “Maybe you should suggest meeting him at his office.”
“Over coffee is fine.” She waved it off. “I’d love to work for someone like him. I may be inexperienced, but my passion and willingness to learn makes up for it, you know? There’s so much to prove as a twentysomething female.”
Mr. Chiew never wrote back after Rose asked to meet up. “He’s probably busy.” I sensed disappointment in her voice. But, you see, as a twentysomething female with a lot to prove, Rose jumps at every opportunity. In Hong Kong, we all do.