Not until I had been in Hong Kong a full 72 hours did I feel even halfway normal. That was yesterday. Today I sit in the ubiquitous locus of international coffee and social civilization, the Starbucks conveniently located near the Island Shangri-La Hotel, whose wireless service for guests I have tapped – not hacked – into. I read the “Agreement,” which had nothing about Use By Registered Guests Only, but rather called for my willingness to be subject to the Laws of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region should I transgress any of the regulations that I possibly skimmed over as I was letting Dierks Bentley blast through my iPod and wait to see Ironman with Robert Downey Jr. in about 90 minutes.
This morning I took bus #260 from Exchange Square over to the south side of Hong Kong Island to Stanley Market. I somewhat expected a sprawling sea of vendors with whom I would have to haggle prices – using my sparse but carefully practiced tai haa (just looking), gay daw chin (how much is it) and taai gwai laa (it’s too expensive). That last one I had practiced with a little New York attitude. Like, Try me, buster…I’m walking away.
It was much smaller.
Yet, as I bought some cool things for the boys, for the Lovely K, and for my brother and sister-in-law, I encountered people who had dealt with many before me who, like me, had practiced only enough Cantonese to appear fully like the pushovers they were.
Now, there are a couple Texans in my life who could haggle in this situation. No taai gwai laa would they employ…no, they’d simply open up a can of English whoop-a#@ and proceed to get 10, 25, maybe 35% off. My new friend at Goldman Sachs Hong Kong, Jovi, told me to make sure to bargain down the price at least 50%. This is why he works for Goldman, and I professionally beg for money. There is a divinely structured order to the world, you see, and we both – no we all, including the Stanley Market vendors – fall into place in it.
One vendor’s daughter, who was ringing me up for my purchases, started chatting with me. She pulled a jade Buddha pendant on a necklace away from her chest out into the fluorescent light of their stall and started talking about how she, her mother and “Buddha-san father” went into China to help people suffering from the “terrible earth shaking in Sichuan.” She told me she was a vegetarian but not an angel but also believed that Jesus Christ, like the Buddha, would sweep all the evil away, but did I eat beef? she asked, no no no, don’t do that, please, because look at the horses, look at their eyes, they look so kind in front of the cart, why don’t you pray for them, and look at the oxen in the fields, they eat only grass and they are so much stronger than man, they don’t need to eat meat so you shouldn’t eat them.
I was losing the battle with this herbivore and couldn’t find a way to work in Ben Franklin’s oh-so-Western epiphany when he cut open a fish and saw another fish in its interior and exclaimed in his Autobiography, “If they main’t eat each other, then why main’t I eat them?”
I was still swirling with this gal’s theology and also her crusade to keep me from eating the ham and linguine that I was to consume in about 15 minutes – she lost that one…HAH! – but I tell you what:
I paid full price for all that I bought.
And they smiled as I walked away, a bit shell-shocked by these gentle people who have survived invaders for 5,000 years.