Chatty

Filed in General, Life

My father has the uncanny inclination to talk to strangers. One recent time when he visited me here in Hong Kong, we were up at the Häagen-Daaz shop at The Peak and while I was getting our ice cream, he walked over to a group of Caucasians and struck up a conversation with them. He does this all the time, and with his general knowledge of a wide range of subjects and a humble disposition, he can usually carry on a conversation for quite a long time. Some people politely listen while others are actively engaged by the conversation. It's difficult to think that this elderly gentleman with a non-threatening whitish beard, a soft round tummy and a wink in his eye could be anything other than sincere in his conversation so he rarely gets any negative responses to his invitations to chat.

My wife has commented that I sometimes display the same behaviour, suddenly walking up to complete strangers and striking up a conversation. I'm not sure if I generally actively walk up to people but I am aware that I'm not too shy to exchange a few sentences with people in for example a crowded elevator.

There may be a couple of reasons for this chatty behaviour. For one, I am generally treated as a 'familiar friend' by most of the population of Hong Kong, the result of having been seen on local TV off and on for nearly twenty years. Many of the young people have literally grown up watching me on TV. I know that any attempt on my part to talk to the local people will normally be received well.

Secondly, I grew up in a country town. This is probably more relevant than some people at first perceive. In small country towns, most people are friendly toward each other. Gympie, on the outskirts of which I grew up, today still only has a population of around twenty thousand people. The average building estate here in Hong Kong houses far more people than that!

I also remember quite vividly that when my wife and I lived in any of Hong Kong's standard high-rise buildings, we barely knew our neighbours. Now that we're living in one of Hong Kong's villages where the buildings are only three stories high, we suddenly know many more of our neighbours. Perhaps growing up in high-rise buildings unknowingly makes people a little more wary of each other. Or perhaps it's just that life in the city here is so fast paced and high pressured that people simply don't have time or energy to make the effort to talk to others around them. Or perhaps it's simply that you're far more likely to run into your neighbours when there are fewer people to run into, and familiarity builds with frequent meetings.

So it is that we come to an event that occurred tonight. After rehearsing "They’re Playing Our Song (2007)" this afternoon, I drove back to Tsimshatsui to join my wife and her family for dinner at a restaurant to celebrate her father's eightieth birthday. While sitting at the table, my wife and her sisters had their topics to talk about and the older people had their topics. Feeling a little tired and not really wanting to join the girls' conversation, I started looking around the restaurant. Since ceasing my wasteful TV-viewing habit on New Year, I've slept more, exercised more, and done more, and my mind has generally improved significantly. I think clearer and faster than I've done for a long time, and I don't tire as easily. So it is that I decided to peer around the restaurant and as an actor, study the people I could see to see what I might observe and learn.

An elderly woman sat with her friends. She had makeup on and obviously took care to look good, but someone had neglected to help her tidy her thinning hair. At the back of her head, it was lifting and bunched.

An elderly man was cheerfully having dinner with friends. Judging by his mannerisms, it was probably a business dinner. He spoke on good terms with the waiter and it was obvious that he was a regular customer here. Occasionally, he closed his eyes excessively causing them to scrunch up in wrinkly knots, probably an involuntary and unbeknown response that he had attained with age.

Yet another man was having dinner with his family; a wife and a daughter. The man leaned forward as he ate and chewed every bite deliberately and with effort. He appeared to be one of many people in Hong Kong working very hard for his family, and the toil of his labours was clearly visible in the way he ate his food. His daughter was bright and cheerful and there was an obvious bond between them as she squatted on the chair next to him leaning on the table in front of her and chatted to them both. His daughter was possibly the one thing that made his toil worthwhile.

Then, there was a Caucasian. Dressed in a striped shirt; I think it was a t-shirt; the man possibly in his early forties was cheerfully enjoying the food in front of him. I watched him for several minutes. He intrigued me. There was an honesty and a freedom about him. He didn't seem to be as complicated as many people are today and there was a friendly confidence in him. There was also something very odd in the way he moved and bobbed as he ate his food, a movement often seen in Caucasians eating Chinese food. Only later did I come to realise that the strange movement was probably a result of the chopsticks that he was using. Although he held them well and correctly (which many Asians today curiously do not), I suspect that he wasn't adapted to the way his wrist had to twist and turn as he brought the food to his mouth, hence the extra movement of his upper body and head to meet the chopsticks midway. When using a knife and fork, we twist our wrists, but only a little and only on the horizontal axis. Chopsticks require a completely different twist action and I suspect it takes people a while to get used to it.

While watching the man, who I incorrectly believed to be French, he suddenly looked around and saw me watching him. Now my observation of him was completely one of curiosity, of investigation, and because I had no bad intentions of any kind, there was no need for me to hide and I simply smiled back at him. For a second, he thought he recognised me. I shook my head to indicate that he didn't know me and we then both went back to our meals.

A short while later, I decided to take a chance. I found the man's character attractive and I decided to meet him, so I stood up and walked over to his table. Now people do this all the time in pubs and bars, but it doesn't happen very often in restaurants, especially when you know absolutely nothing about the other person.

The man stood up as I approached. We introduced ourselves and sat down. His companion at the table was a local Chinese lady who knew me as a 'familiar friend' and chatting was therefore relatively easier. He was indeed a nice guy, and similar to me in some ways; an Italian now living and working in Sydney, speaking with an international English accent. I'm an Australian, living in Hong Kong who very rarely speaks English but on the occasion that I do, I too speak with an international English accent. It was not a long conversation but it was pleasant. I returned to my table. Soon after, as he was leaving, the man and his companion were kind enough to walk over to my table and bid me farewell.

If I did indeed inherit this 'chatty' behaviour from my father, than I have no choice other than to thank him for it, because on occasion, we do get to meet and know the nicest people.

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21 Responses to “Chatty”
  1. Francesca says:

    I actually think it's quite hard to do that in Hong Kong , since HK people kind of too shy and not easy to express to strangers, sometimes I'm quite sad that some of my neighbours even don't want to say Hi when we see each other near the house, strange isn't it? I remember when i was young not really like that, but it's quite different now because they 're too protective in some way.

    I like that ice cream shop too! Since sometimes I go to the peak to perform druming then I will eat ice cream beside there.

  2. Rennie says:

    Hello. I've started talking to random people now wherever I go. I think a lot of it has to do with my previous job at a banker, a lot of talking every minute of the work day. Part of it just has to do with personality. Sometimes when I am shopping by myself I might see something that I find pretty (or ugly) or amusing and I just want to share it with someone.

    I think you have a point there about living in a high-rise building though. People don't really talk to each other. You might know the people living directly across or next to your unit, but what about the people that live upstairs or downstairs? Will you take an extra lift to the next floor just to knock on the door to introduce yourself or borrow sugar (or soy sauce)?

    Maybe living in a high-rise building doesn't have anything to do with not knowing your neighbors at all. Everyday our parents (and sometimes me) turn on the television and watch the news about earthquakes, kidnappings, rape, etc. How safe do you feel about talking to your neighbors? I only know the neighbors whose backyards face mine because we can see into each others' houses, so we know what's going on inside.

    I just thought I share that. I like your blog. I only blog about the food I've eaten.

  3. Edwin says:

    Gregory, thanks for sharing your story.

    I find it interesting though, when you use the term ‘international English accent’. A lot of native English speakers don’t realize they speak with an accent. Only other people speak with accents.

    I believe everyone speaks English with an accent, including the native speakers and the Queen. When you watch the news on TV in Hong Kong, you would hear North American accent, British accent, and others. But you will rarely hear Hong Kong accent. Somehow it is considered to be bad English. I myself think it is a characteristic of the Hong Kong people.

  4. Christ-Follower says:

    It's a real pleasure reading your posts. And this one about your chattiness is extraordinarily amusing in that you seem to have the power of observation required of a writer though your initial intention was to be inspired in a way that would later enhance your acting skills. Imagine the vivid description of the Caucasian's handling the chopsticks paying attention to such details as the angle and whatnot. We can actually see in our mind's eyes the scene of the happy family gathering, the cute old man that was your father and the friendly Italian from Sydney. Your witty writing has brought life to what seems to be nothing more than everyday occurrences. Thanks for your sharing!

  5. Milan says:

    I spoke to you at Whampoa Gardens. I swear your English accent sounds exactly like mine.

  6. small_leafy says:

    Since the day I randomly found your blog, I constantly give it a visit when I'm online. This is due to not because I'm a huge fans of yours, nor I'm your next door neighbour, but it is those kind of words and stories you present on your blog. It's just make my brain kept thinking. It's been wonderful to be able to share a stories of yours with people you don't know, acquaintances, fans and friends. Although only know you by appearance, and the post you have posted, obviously you are beyond that. (A positive compliment) Keep up the good work and give yourself a pat on the shoulder. Looking forward for your next post =)

  7. Nessa says:

    Thanks for your story. I truly enjoyed reading it. I have always been quite a chatty person since I was in primary school or something, and often got referred as "that girl who talked a lot" by teachers -- not exactly the best thing to be referred to in a local school eh? Anyway, that obviously didn't discourage me from chatting it up in various occasions -- while sometimes conversations weren't as appropriate (e.g. in class) but I just keep talking to complete strangers at times.

    And when I started my college studies in the States, in quite a suburban setting of a little college town where everyone is super friendly to each other for some reason unknown to most international students from big/ busy cities. All those "Hey how are you" "Good how are you" "fine thanks have a good one" are the MOST common things said each day around campus. I know this is weird for some friends of mine from home but it worked out perfect for me coz it was just my type -- not the shallow type -- but the chatty type. now i enjoy random conversations all the time with friends or new friends :) and it certainly feels great!

  8. Jam says:

    I think this is because of different culture, I live in New Zealand here and I almost talk to strangers like pretty often and they always show you a smile and can start on any topics any time. Either in supermarket, or in a lift.
    However when I met some Chinese here, it's would still be the same, their faces were like "mind your own business"......

  9. Cup says:

    Mate,
    It didn't quite work when me old boss (a pommy director in Galaxy) started calling you "gwai lo" in our lunch when sitting directly opposite you :)
    I think you just ignored him. I actually wanted to talk to you but then again, you were with those HK "stars" like Ron Ng and co. so I guess fat chance I can start talking to you in that situation :)

  10. -D says:

    Interesting about the International English accent. I know you're from AU but I swear I never hear an Australian accent when you speak your dialog on TV. I thought you were just being truthful to the part and using an English or American accent for the character.

  11. goo says:

    i randomly found your blog. you have very insightful posts! i really enjoyed reading them~

  12. 河國榮 says:

    Milan,

    how's married life? ;-)

    perhaps you also have an international accent? it's a broad version of English without any heavy localisation accents.

    Cup,

    you could have walked over and said hi. I don't mind.

    and I don't think I heard the director call me 'gwai lo' but I wouldn't have minded anyway unless his tone of voice was demeaning.

    -D,

    I wish I could duplicate or learn accents as you suggest. I'm not that good. I watched "Blood Diamond" yesterday and Leonardo's dialect/accent work was superb! I'm not qualified to judge whether the accent was true to Caucasians living in Africa but it sounded pretty authentic nonetheless.

    regards,
    Ho Kwok Wing

  13. Julie says:

    Hi Craig, I need your help to save this little life. The other day I was at the bus station in Tai Wo (the one opossite McDonald's) and saw a guy tying a dog to the railing and then ran up the esculator. I didn't think much of it then, but when I returned home that night, the dog was still there, no sign of the man, I had a pretty good idea he'd been abandoned, so I gave him food. And he's been there for a whole week now. Last night I went to feed him and I saw a guy from the SPCA, he received a call about the dog, and having found out that he intended to hand him to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, so I lied that he was my dog and I would move him, so the guy left without the dog with me. Unfortunately, I live in one of the tiny blocks of flats with my family including my heavily pregnat sister in law, so there is no chance of me taking him in. I know you are a wonderful person with a heart for animals, and even if you can't have him, I thought you might know where I can take him, or whether you have friends who might be interested. He is a sweet young dog, judging by his teeth and his whiskers, I think he's about a year old. Please please help, we are desperate.

  14. Ariel Ong says:

    Hi, found your blog listed in the Sponsored Links, when I was checking my Gmail.

    Well, I've to admit it was the word : Häagen-Daaz caught my attention to this posting. hmm... I guess I'm a chatty person too, which I used to categorize myself as talkative. *winks* What I encountered was some people tend to be very friendly to a stranger, but there's a number of unapproachable people too. Therefore good luck & enjoy your stay in HK.

    Cheers! - Ariel Ong

  15. Milan says:

    >> how's married life? ;-)
    >> perhaps you also have an international accent?

    Married life is great. I have to get used to cramp shoe box units, Cantonese spoken at 100km/h to me, and frequent nagging from the parents-in-law.

    I always thought I had an Aussie accent, however, I purposely speak quite neutral when teaching English at the school. However, even my face isn't 鬼佬, people can tell I come from Australia.

    Though I heard you speak English on 賭場風雲, and you sounded quite neutral. However, I know you come from Australia, so perhaps I had that it the back of my mind when I talked to you in real life.

    Milan

  16. Fiona says:

    Greg, the first time I heard you speak English in one of the TVB series I was thinking "oh.. you have an Aussie accent, wonder if you're Australian?"

  17. adam says:

    hi greg, i am sure hk people would love to chat with you when you bump into them anywhere, you definitely are one of the images we grew up with. i quite enjoy watching you on TV since you have acted any kind of characters i can name. really look forward some day, you will earn a major role in a drama. I think hk audiences have gradually developed a positive thought on overseas and different colored characters on their every-day show, unlike the pass i think? keep up your work!

    adam
    an hong kong chinese in bloody Australia

  18. Timothy says:

    Hi greg! i do that all the time too, i grew up in Fairview Park (錦繡花園)in Yuen Long, if you know where that is. Is a small private low rise housing area, and everyone who live here tend to have a strange behavior, is to talk to random people in the town centre area. Hopefully one day i will bump into you somewhere in Hong Kong and start and "non-stop chat" with you lol.

    P.S. i just watched TVB drama "CIB" last week (i live in canada for school), i like your role a lot!

  19. Tonia says:

    Let's see if I have a chance to talk to you in HK...!

  20. Peter To says:

    Can you please send me back a e-mail when you get a change. I would like to talk to you. can you please call me when you have time.
    my number is 626-589-5933
    have a nice day
    your friend
    peter to

  21. Irene says:

    Hi!

    I think it's kind of cute how you just walk up to strangers and strike up a conversation. I live in the suburbs but still pretty close to the CBD. I don't strike up conversations with strangers but if they're walking past me, I will smile and say hello or good morning/afternoon. It's funny how they're sometimes quite shocked that a stranger would smile and say hello to them.

    Ahh, holding chopsticks incorrectly... I do that. I started holding them incorrectly as a kid and now when I try to correct it, it doesn't go too well. I also have noticed the funny way many gwai lo eat with chopsticks :)

    Irene