Every time I enter the building the fan blows cool, soothing ‘you’re home’ air directly onto my face, tangling my hair and letting it stick to my strawberry lips. As I peel my hair back, the security guard always greets me with a real smile. Sometimes he sings and silently sways along with the drone of the fan. I like him. He’s one of the most down-to-earth souls I’ve met in this new land so far and he keeps me feeling positive.
Actually, all of the security guards in this city seem to be genuinely lovely. In the first building I stayed in they would wave to me morning and night and say ‘hello miss’, ‘goodnight miss’. When I moved to dingier quarters, the security guy smelled like freshly-peeled oranges and he replied to my Mandarin with Cantonese and a cackle. Those were both short, but sweet friendships.
In my office building there are two men. One is very tall and one is very small. They both bid me farewell in unison and we always share a group smile. Their energy levels never dwindle, even under the moonlight, and this is why I have a soft spot for them.
It’s the people in a city that give my life continuity and meaning. I don’t live by the rhythms of the forever-changing cityscapes, the towering skyscrapers that seem to jump out on a daily basis; I live according to the rhythms of people that surround me. I am still fairly new here so I haven’t quite got to grips with it all yet, but there is definitely a string of familiarity in my everyday. Today the lady I buy breakfast from tried to get me to buy a different flavoured bun. Being a creature of habit, this upset me a little. I just want two red bean buns every morning, nothing more, nothing less. Perhaps in Hong Kong people mix things up a bit more. Even my juice lady threw some cabbage into my orange juice last week because she said ‘oh, try something new, girl.’
In Guangzhou I’d ride the metro with the same people everyday and eventually we’d share a ‘good morning smile’ and look out for each other when we were shoved on or off the train by the morning-rush. In Shenzhen, without a doubt, I’d buy a newspaper from the skinny, happy man with funny, quirky teeth, and immediately after I’d go to the next stall for my daily vitamin water. I’d feel bad if I bought from anyone else but that gentle, old man who slightly resembled my Grandad. I became really close to the lady I bought juice from in Shenzhen, so much so that when I left China, she gave me blue roses along with my last juice.
I think it’s important to have some kind of small friendship with the people you see on a daily basis. They are the ones who see you every single day and even though you might regard them as ‘strangers’, actually they are still a part of your life. I shudder at the thought of living in a place where I never learn my neighbours names, or the habits of the old people on the block. I want to be able to greet the security guards by name and ask about their lives. I want to buy my fruit from the same lady everyday and get to know her. Just exchanging coins and a few fake niceties isn’t enough.
In Taiwan I think I befriended everyone. One particular place stands out for me, that of a Taiwanese restaurant in Yong Kang Jie. I would go there quite frequently with my classmates so it was only natural that the waitresses would begin to remember me. Infact, when I went back this Autumn, one of the older ladies who works there ran up to me and told me how much she’d missed me. I was so touched. It’d been three months and with the influx of foreigners who come to Taipei to learn Chinese, I thought surely she’d have forgotten me. Anyway, one day during the Chinese New Year festival, I was eating in that restaurant. I ran down the stairs as I realised I was going to miss my train to the lantern town. I tripped on the bottom step and the heel of my boot went flying off. I wobbled back to a stance and red-faced, made for the door. The kitchen is all open-plan and I was standing right in the middle of it. Suddenly, all the chefs stopped working and came running over. They pulled up a little crooked stool for me and sat me down. They proceeded to pull out their tool-box to try and screw my heel back on. One chef started hammering a gigantic rusty nail into my boot and the other chefs screamed at him. They thought it would go straight through to my foot. Another younger chef whipped out an industrial-sized bottle of super-glue and glued my heel back on. It worked! There were honestly about 8 chefs standing around trying to help. They stopped their work to help me glue my heel back on. Something so small and yet there they were, straight to my rescue. It amazed me.
That’s what I’m talking about here. I want to be friends with these people. If they play a part in my daily life, no matter how small, then they are not strangers. I think that’s one of the keys to maneuvering a big city life. Who knows what kind of memorable friendships might blossom.
I don’t know if any of the people I’ve written about here, or any of the other numerous souls that I think of fondly from time to time, still think of me, or if they even noticed me in the first place, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I am so grateful to them for colouring my life a shade brighter and making my everyday in these cities feel a bit more like ‘home.’