Sunday, 16 June 2013

Operation Make New Friends

Wednesday this week was a public holiday - 'Tuen Ng Festival' - or the Dragon Boat Festival.  At various locations around Hong Kong the thumping beat of the dragon boat drum resonates as teams compete against each other for victory.  We decided to head to Stanley to watch the races as we had heard that there was a fantastic party atmosphere there and we knew a couple of people competing.  Ignoring advice to arrive early as the beach gets completely packed, David and I spent the morning pottering around before arriving in Stanley in time for a leisurely Vietnamese lunch in Murray House.  Murray House is a stunning colonial building that was moved from Central to Stanley in 2001 after being dismantled in the 80s to make way for the Bank of China Tower.  After filling our tummies, it was time to face the masses and initiate ourselves into the Dragon Boat carnage.

It was with some relief that we arrived on a crowded - but definitely not jam-packed - beach.  We had been led to believe that we would be entering a drunken throng of young party people - not unlike Lan Kwai Fong on a Friday night.  In contrast, there were a scattering of spectators covering the full spectrum of age groups, surrounded by the countless competing teams, and not a drunkard in sight.  The teams were grouped together in their branded kit and ranged from the serious teams engaged in poker-faced warm-up routines, to the fun teams laughing merrily as they hoarsely yelled rugby-style motivational chants.  Watching the less serious teams bantering away with each other brought on a tsunami of homesickness.  Standing, just the two of us together on the beach, reminded us just how much we miss being part of a big group of friends who accept our faults and foibles and are happy to endure our British sarcasm and relentless piss-taking - and vice versa of course.

It was a real wake-up call that now that Operation Find a Job has been completed successfully, Operation Make New Friends needs to rev up a gear.  It is not that we haven't made friends in the time that we have been here, as we have, and we have been surprised at how welcoming, inclusive and supportive the established expats here have been.  However, it takes time to get to know people properly before you can open up and truly be yourself - faults and all!

With this in mind, I suggested to David that we attended an Internations social event at the W Hotel in Kowloon.  The location certainly held more appeal than the prospect of making small talk with a group of strangers.  It was obvious when I met David to set-off for the event that he was in an uncooperative mood and was going to do his best to sabotage any chance of making friends - unless they were hideously badly behaved like he intended to be.  Arriving on time - and clearly too early - we grabbed our free cocktail and stood at a table surveying the room.  We were surrounded by a disparate group of predominantly Asian women and Western men and it looked like the early stages of a school disco where everyone is eyeing up the talent but hasn't plucked up the courage to strike up conversation.  The fact that the event on the surface looked to be a singles meet-up, only fuelled David's reluctance to branch out and talk to anyone.

In short, we enjoyed a couple of over-priced glasses of average Pinot Grigio and I was approached by a lady who recognised me from the detox programme, who we spoke to for a while, along with her friends.  Once they left to go out to dinner, the room got more and more crowded with prowling singles, beginning to bravely make the first move to start up conversation.  Without a doubt we were among the tallest people in the room, yet despite our stature we started to get jostled out of the way as people pushed to get to the bar or to get to the girl they had had their eye on for the past hour.  It was at this point that David loudly announced 'They are all so small, I keep elbowing them in the head!', that I decided to give-up and head back to the sanctuary of the Mid-Levels before we upset anyone.

So the first mission of Operation Make New Friends had to be aborted, but I am not going to be defeated!  Operation Make New Friends is going to be put into action over the next two weeks as David is away travelling in Taiwan and China and I feel the operation may be more successful without my social hand grenade husband.

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