Weekends are funny times to be in Chinese elevators. People are busily coming and going. Kids slouch off to extra-curricular lessons, workmen carry tools upstairs to continue unfinished work, oldies return from riverside walks, grandparents take toddlers to the playground, and newcomers visit Block Six relatives and struggle with the swipe-card floor access. I see all this and more on my journeys to and from lessons.
At 11:30 on Saturday morning, Miss K (my older daughter) and I were waiting for a lift to take us to the underground carpark. Lift A (it’s always Lift A darn it) arrived from the 45th floor already carrying Ms Tall and her two miniature versions of mummy. We exchanged pleasantries and she was surprised to learn after six months of polite conversation that I teach. Oh good I thought, perhaps I can drum up some extra business – her kids were my in target market segment.
The lift stopped at the 29th floor.
The doors opened but the floor appeared to be empty. Seconds passed and we attempted to shut the doors before an elderly couple muscled their way in with no apologies offered for the slow entry.
Ah, Mrs Battle-axe and her beleaguered husband. I’ve seen her before, the purple hair dye masking an undergrowth of grey roots. She’s short, compact, and forever grumpy. I smiled and offered a “Ni hao” greeting. No response. The husband carried a pretty box with a transparent top revealing a roast suckling inside. It was not apparent whether this piglet was their lunch or something to be offered up at an elaborate ancestor worship activity in the city outskirts.
“Have you got the keys?” She barked in Cantonese.
“Um no, I forgot” he replied while unsuccessfully trying to reopen the doors of the now- moving lift.
“You bl–dy b—–d!” She roared, spittle flowing forth like lava from an erupting volcano. The kids (both Ms Tall’s and mine) hid behind the taller adults. The lecture continued: “You’ll have to head upstairs and get them you useless loser! You’re a #$%$#% moron!”
The roast piglet looked on.
With public humiliation complete, the husband mumbled something rude about his wife’s sterling personality before they (plus suckling) alighted on level one. Presumably they were going to take another elevator back upstairs.
Ms Tall, visibly shaken, and with the topic of education long-forgotten, attempted to clear the air by remarking on what wonderful weather we were having. They trailed the unhappy couple out to the lobby leaving Miss K and I in the lift. As we continued our ride to the basement level I asked what she made of the terse exchange (she is fluent in Cantonese and very used to the boisterous nature of Canto-speak). She said simply:
“That old woman was very rude but that roast chicken looked nice!”