Under my umbrella
On the way to meeting a friend in a bar, it started pouring like crazy yesterday night and I got stuck under the ledge of a building, waiting for the rain to stop.
Rain in Hong Kong is intense, but usually lasts only a short time. Unlike in the Netherlands (where rain lasts for hours, days, or weeks) in Hong Kong I just chill for 15 minutes and go about my day once it stops.
I had already waited 15 minutes under that ledge and the rain didn’t seem to have any intention of stopping. It would slow down, only to pick back up again. A couple down the street took their chances during one of the lulls, leaving the dry safety of the ledge, only to be caught in another downpour seconds later.
Looking at the block across the street, I was wondering whether anyone was staring out of the window, watching the people getting wet outside. It would be a more innocent version of Schadenfreude, I thought. Would I help someone caught in the rain? One could throw an umbrella down onto the street, but perhaps from no higher than the third floor.
An old Chinese lady came down the stairs, pulling a large bag behind her. It was one of those huge, plaid shopping bags, the ones that I thought would make a perfect flag for post-revolution Romania, but then discovered were popular all over eastern-Europe and indeed most of the developing world.
Once downstairs, the old lady proceeded to pull plastic bags from a box and stuffed them into the larger bag. I had created an ad hoc poncho from trash before, and had the same thought yesterday night. The plastic bags looked clean, and big enough to cover my body. I just needed her to leave the bags alone on the street for one minute. During another lull in the rain, I’d run across the street, find that transparent bag she had just put in the plaid bag, and I’d create three holes, for my arms and head.
She saw me staring at her, while she picked another empty bag from the mystery box. Suddenly the lady went back up the stairs, leaving the plaid bag on the sidewalk. Would she mind me taking one of the bags?
Before I had gotten a chance to put my plans in motion, I noticed the lady run towards me. She handed me an umbrella and ran back to her bag. It happened so fast, that when I looked up from the umbrella in my hand, the lady was already back across the street. I yelled at her in my rudimentary Cantonese, “多謝！聽日俾妳！” Thank you! I’ll return it tomorrow! She yelled back “唔要！” No need!
Three girls had just gathered under a ledge further down the street. They were completely drenched and the look on their faces suggested they had surrendered to the rain. I felt bad. I was this privileged white guy, standing under a perfectly fine ledge, with no particular hurry to go anywhere, and I had been given this nice umbrella, big enough for a few people in fact.
I opened the umbrella and ran towards the girls. They were visiting from London and were walking towards their hotel. I offered to walk them to the hotel, and told them the story of how I had just gotten the umbrella. These are nice stories and I wish I had more of them. I hope the girls, in turn, are left with a nice story of this random dude, with the cheesiest pick-up line ever, expecting them to believe an old lady would run through the rain, to give him, him of all people! an umbrella, and not one of those shitty ones, no a really nice one!