encounters

Chemistry, or A Brief Encounter in Macau

On Sunday, exhausted from my first day in Macau, I went to sleep at around 2 am (relatively early by my standards). I planned to wake up at 10 am. Eight hours sleep would be sufficient, I thought. I felt weak, dehydrated, and had a headache, probably the result of too much walking and too little drinking. As I put my head on the pillow, I immediately drifted off.

At 10 am the alarm clock rang. It went on for half an hour until it stopped. I felt as if I couldn’t move, I had neither the energy to get up, nor to perform the simple task of grabbing the bottle of water inside my bag to quench the thirst that made my throat burn. I was aware that I was sleeping too long, but my limbs simply would not obey my brain’s commands.

All of a sudden, I heard a noise, so loud and persistent that I could not ignore it. I slowly came round and realised someone was trying to open the apartment door. Repeated sighs and the nervous tinkling of the key resounded from the staircase, tokens of exasperation at the stubbornness of the door. After a while, the bell rang.

I pushed the blanket aside, sat up and got to my feet. I walked towards the door, opened it and saw an Asian girl standing in front of me. Tiny beads of sweat shone on her forehead, and her cheeks were slightly red. It was unbearably hot and humid outside. “Hi,” I said. “Hi,” she replied. For a few seconds she fixed her eyes on me; perhaps she was embarrassed, or maybe she had expected Kana, my half Japanese, half Chinese host, to open the door, instead of a white guy wearing pyjamas. “Come in, come in,” I urged her. “It’s really hot outside.”
“Yes,” she said, and pushed a small pink suitcase into the flat.

She had large, slightly round eyes and long black hair. Her features were regular and well proportioned, with faintly protruding cheeks, thick arched brows, and a small nose. Her skin was nearly as fair as mine, but as smooth as a child’s.

There are times in life when you like a person at first sight. It is hard to explain why. Surely it is not just a matter of appearance. There are a myriad of things that make up one’s charm; voice, attitude, manners, outfit, etc. As soon as I saw her, my weariness receded, and I was glad that, of all apartments available in Macau, she had chosen that one.

“Are you a guest?” I asked.

 “No, actually I’m a friend of Kana’s,” she said. She opened the door of one of the rooms and put her luggage inside. While she was unpacking her suitcase, we started to talk. Her voice was gentle and calm, and her eyes were full of vitality.

“I thought you were a guest because of your luggage,” I said. She explained that she had just come back from Taiwan, where she had attended a friend’s wedding. I told her I had lived in Taiwan for two years. 

And so began one of those conversations that last for hours, in which one effortlessly jumps from one topic to the next, shares views and experiences, enjoys oneself in a natural and relaxed way, without ever feeling bored. 

She told me about her life as a student in Macau, her family background, her travel experiences, and impressions of the countries she had visited. She told me about her struggle to find her own identity. As a mainlander who lives outside of Communist China, she is confronted with prejudices and discrimination; but on the mainland, too, she and her family experienced intolerance and bigotry as members of an ethnic minority. I talked about my life in Taiwan, my love for Hong Kong, my experiences in Europe and Asia, and my interest in Chinese language and culture.

It was already past 5 pm, and I hadn’t eaten anything, nor had I taken a shower, yet. I took from my bag a banana I had bought the previous day.

“Go and take a shower first,” she said. “I will go downstairs and buy you something to eat.”

Did she say she’d buy lunch for me? I wondered. I thought I had misunderstood. I just smiled at her and nodded. I went to the bathroom and took a shower. When I returned to the living room she was not there. A couple of minutes later she came back, carrying a white plastic bag. Inside the bag there a polystyrene foam box, chopsticks and a spoon. “It’s for you,” she said, and handed it over to me.

I was really touched and embarrassed. I tried to refuse. “No, no, please, you should eat it. You haven’t had lunch, either. I can go out and buy something later.” She was standing in front of me. For a few seconds her gaze, determined but gentle, remained fixed on my eyes.

“I will have dinner later with my friends. I will just eat some cookies.” She rummaged in her suitcase and took out a pack of Taiwanese cookies, showing them to me. “Do you want some?” she asked. “They’re good.” 

I couldn’t possibly allow her to eat cookies while I had a proper lunch. I tried to give her the lunchbox back, but she wouldn’t take it. I went to the kitchen and opened the box: there was rice, two different kinds of meat, and vegetables. She came to the kitchen, too. “Let’s share it,” I said. “It’s enough for both of us.”
She walked up close to me and glanced at the food. She drew a pair of chopsticks from a cutlery stand, took a piece of meat from the box and ate it. “I will just eat this. The rest is for you.” I insisted, but she went back to the living room. I followed her. “Thank you very much. This is really kind of you,” I said, looking at her.

“It’s no big deal,” she said bashfully.

“If you ever come to Italy let me know,” I said. “I will show you around. Or if you come to Hong Kong.” 

I ate my lunch while we continued talking. When I finished, I thanked her again, and she smiled. We talked for over five hours, but I felt as if we could have talked much longer. Our chat was interrupted by the arrival of a friend of hers and of Kana’s. The three of them would go to dinner later, she told me. It was already past 6 pm. For a while, she practically ignored her friend and we continued our conversation. But I was worried about taking up too much of her time. She had an exam the next day, and she had told me that she hadn’t studied enough. I said I would go out to do some sightseeing. She sent me a friend request Facebook. Then I said goodbye and left.

I believe there was chemistry between the two of us. A feeling that vanished as quickly as it materialized. A cursory episode in our lives among hundreds of others. But, as long as it lasted, I enjoyed this innocent, spontaneous flirting. Sometimes, while going to the kitchen or one of the rooms, she walked past me, slightly touching my arm with her hand. That’s as daring as it ever got. In its simplicity and genuineness, it was beautiful. If an encounter is brief, as was this one, it is best to keep it pure, so that you can always remember it as a happy moment in your life. Let things happen naturally, do not push them too far, have no regrets.
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Categories: encounters, Macau, travel

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