Evening Tea In Hong Kong

Feb 14, 2008

Sorry…did I mention the Gorgeosity Factor here? It was as if he’d escaped from a GQ photo-shoot just to give me directions to the P.O….


I had an East-Asia memory that recently brought a smile to my face, and so I thought I might share it on Valentine’s Day. First, the back story:

Once upon a time, I lived in the then-Portuguese territory of Macau, across the bay from Hong Kong. Just out of college myself, I taught English at Macau’s University of East Asia. But I hopped over to Hong Kong regularly to hang out with friends, eat Western fast food, shop, see movies, do mailings (faster transit from HK), and generally stretch my legs in a bigger set of islands than the uniquely beautiful ones I then called home.

One day, I had—brilliantly—left the mailing of some major documents to the very last second. After getting off work, I grabbed up the unfinished papers, dashed off to the ferry pier, and continued working on the project on the jetfoil to Hong Kong. The good news was that if I finished before closing time, I could mail it right in the Exchange Square post office, just near the pier on the Hong Kong side. The bad news was that I’d never been to that particular post office, and had no idea where it was, and the Square is composed of three gigantic towers and an endless sea of shops.

I focused on the task at hand and wrote furiously until the ferry docked, then marched into a central area in Exchange Square and started asking directions. Fast. I had about an hour now, and a little more writing to do on my cover letter. The two or three Chinese I encountered were not comfortable with English or Mandarin, and I was completely ignorant of Cantonese, so there I was. One foreigner who went by was pleasant, but knew nothing. The second, however, is the subject of this short reminiscence. End of back story…

You hear things about the panache, the charisma, the attentiveness of the Italian male of the species, correct? Well, in this case, it proved to be all too true. This Italian businessman gave me instructions to the post office in perfect English—and then, after a moment, decided to drop everything and follow me on my trek through the Square.

I was nervous about this choice of his at first—not because my internal Ax Murderer Warning System had been triggered, but because of my predicament of the moment. I told him that it was kind of him to help me, but that I had to hurry and find a coffee shop so I could finish writing my letter. He said he—sorry…did I mention the Gorgeosity Factor here? It was as if he’d escaped from a GQ photo-shoot just to give me directions to the P.O….Right. So he said he would treat me to tea, after which I repeated that I’d not left myself in a position to chat at that time. He said I’d write; we’d wrap things up at the post office; then we could have dinner and discuss how to prevent me ruining our chances for leisurely conversation in the future.

So I’m horribly late pulling my papers together, and now I’ve got a…a person here to deal with—certainly a very pretty and entertaining person, but a possible obstacle to the goal at hand. I can’t afford to be interrupted, but I don’t want to be rude, either. I say “yes” to tea and take my chances. It turns out not to have been a mistake, or in any way harmful to my original plan for the post office…

We find a coffee shop. We sit. I write. I write some more. The tea arrives. For a moment there is the smallest of small talk, and I apologize for not being able to talk more. He assures me he understands, and urges me to keep writing. So I do, in earnest, and for quite some time.

But you know that feeling you get when you suddenly realize you’re being utterly, totally stared at? Well, at one point far into the writing, I get that feeling and abruptly look up. Boy, I’m being stared at, big-time. But again—no Texas Chainsaw vibe. It’s as if I’m being looked upon by some sort of towering ancient Roman deity half-reclining in the chair across from me, a deity slumming it on Planet Earth, as such deities do, draped in the finest Armani available. A mysterious quantity indeed—lounging, faintly smiling, absently tracing the rim of his teacup as he gazes across the table separating us.

“You’re staring at me!” I laugh. My ways are not elegant. Mine is, in essence, the heart of a poor-but-happy kid from the South Side of Chicago. We don’t start out with a lot of layers, except in connection with The Hawk—an expression for the brutal winter wind that comes in off the lake. I continue: “Are you planning to stare at the top of my head until I’m finished writing here? Don’t you have something in your briefcase you can do?”

“I am now doing what I want to do.” A charming response; the first of many charming things spoken, then later, written, during my fascinating year-long acquaintance with one Alessandro Sita of Bologna—engineer, olive grower, world traveler, spiritual seeker, romantic, friend.

“I said I would be quiet, and I will,” he assures me at our little table in a bustling coffee shop in the commercial center of Hong Kong. “But I did not say I would not look. And so I look.

“Keep writing, my dear. I will wait for you.”