I know it's a comparison made often with Singapore, but the place has a certain vibrancy and life about it that I found really appealing.
But what really left an impression on me was strangely enough, a saleslady at a toy shop at the Hong Kong Airport.
I was at the toy shop because I was headed back home and my working parent guilt had kicked in. First of all, it was Peanut's tenth birthday and she was very upset that I would be getting home only in the afternoon. And to make things worse, earlier in the week, Pickle had split his lip when another kid ran into him and Papad had been down with viral; so it wasn't exactly the best time for me to be travelling. Thankfully, Vijay was holding fort, and I could now focus on picking up something nice for the children.
The lady at the toy store was an elderly woman but with delightful reddish-purple tinged hair and a ready smile. She was very concerned about my bag, which I left carelessly on the floor of the shop and she kept hovering over it and picking it up to hand it to me. I'd thank her and then get busy with examining another toy and leave it on the floor again, and she'd scurry over to pick it up. She didn't speak very much English, but she managed to guide me to some of the nicer and more unique toys in the store.
I looked carefully at the educational toys that she showcased to me most earnestly.
'Er, you got any...Fidget spinners?' I asked lamely.
'Ah, sure, sure, we have.' She led to me another corner of the store and took out the most beautiful, multicolored, metal fidget spinners I have ever seen in my life. It made me want to become a kid again. I picked out three of them, mentally filing away the biggest and best for my biggest and best birthday girl.
'You fan?' the elderly saleslady asked.
'Well, not a fan, exactly.' I hedged 'But I guess everyone likes fidget spinners, for some reason, although I...'
'No, no.' She blinked her heavily masacared lids. 'You take this fan?' She held out a blue plastic fan and before I could refuse, she switched it on and a cool blast came onto my face.
Peanut liked this sort of thing. She tended to feel warm in her room. This way she could study at her desk with a cooling blast constantly on her face. I was impressed by the thought, and agreed to buy the fan. I also spotted another water-balloon kind of toy that looked impressive because it was the self-sealing variety and since I'd never seen a self-sealing water balloon in my life, I decided to buy that for Peanut too.
I managed to pay for it all and the saleslady, whose name tag said Valerie Chan, billed it all carefully and painstakingly for me.
'You needa bag?'
'Nah, I'm fine.' I said. 'I'll just stuff it in my laptop bag right here.'
She looked doubtfully at my small and overly stuffed laptop case. It was the kind on wheels and I had about three days worth of clothing and other items in there. But I figured I could do it.
I put in the fidget spinners, no problem. I managed to stuff in the water balloon game, it was squishy and so I managed to stuff it in between some clothes. But the fan? It was in a box and I realized with some embarassment that I would have to open up my badly packed overstuffed laptop bag. I struggled with the zipper for a while but it wouldn't give.
Valerie peered out over the counter with concern. 'You need help?'
'No, no.' I laughed a little too loudly. 'It's fine...' I struggled with it some more and the zipper gave way, but my clothes and unnecessary extra pair of shoes were popping out. 'No problem.'
She came around from behind the counter anyway and knelt down on the floor to help me. 'No worry.' she said. She tried to help me make some space, and then came up with a brainwave. 'We take out of the box?' She took the fan out of the box along with its rechargable battery and handed them to me, saying 'You wrap it in clothes.' I went ahead and sheepishly wrapped them in clothes, wondering why I couldn't have just done that in the first place.
With some help from Valerie who practically had to sit on the laptop bag for me, I managed to squeeze everything in again and closed the case. We were both panting a little and I was sweating as we stood up.
'Well. Valerie.' I stuck out my hand. 'Thank you. You're very nice.'
'Ah!' Valerie inclined her head graciously and then smiled at me. 'You also very nice.' She indicated the space between the two of us, and said. 'It very refreshing.'
I grinned at her and waved, wishing I could buy out her entire store, and wheeled my case out of the shop.
'Wait, wait.' Valerie came running after me, holding up my bag again. 'You bag.'
'Oh hahaha.' I grinned, and inclined my head graciously and left.
As I walked away, I found myself thinking - Why can't more people in this world be as nice as this one woman? It would really be a better place. But what did she mean, I wondered, why had she used the word 'refreshing.' Was it refreshing to have nice customers in her store because most people weren't as nice as me? But I hadn't been particularly nice, I'd just bumbled along as usual. Did she mean that I was like a breath of fresh air for acknowledging her niceness? Or was it something else that she meant that I couldn't understand? I had no idea.
But I find myself hoping that I'll get to go back someday and ask her.