Warnings in August 2005

August is a great month here. Yeah, it’s hotter than a roadside kitchen, and there are truckloads full of rubble being carted out of the city from the construction sites, but August sees the influx of so many people that the little things can be pushed aside. People are returning back from overseas study, coming to study overseas, getting back from vacation and getting here to vacation. It is a great month to meet new people. I do my best to give most people I meet the benefit of the doubt and not assume anything about them before getting to know them, but more often than not, my best is just not enough. I warn you to be better than me. People are coming in from all over the place. They have all sorts of backgrounds and they surprise me all the time. Often what I assume is wrong. I hope you will all be a bit better.

The other day for example, I was sitting in a café drinking a cup of green tea with a dash of mint leaves—great for the hangover—and I saw this guy at the other end of the place talking to this girl. He was old enough to be her grandfather and was yapping away in English about this and that. I thought, “Damn this guy doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground. What has he been here for two weeks?” Then in no longer than it takes to spit out a tea leaf, the guy started yapping with the waitress in Chinese. I took the boot out of my mouth and left. I was wrong.

Then there was the time I was in a taxi a few years back. The dude said something that I thought sounded like English, and I just didn’t feel like going through the drill, so I rambled off the few sentences I know in Spanish. I wanted to give him the old—just because I don’t look local doesn’t mean I automatically speak English—thing. Then they guy started to have a conversation in Spanish with me. What? The taxi driver speaks Spanish? I found out that he had worked in construction in South America for four years, and he was actually quite fluent as far as I could tell. Wrong again. Then there was that guy from Kenya who spoke Cantonese, that hick from Virginia who spoke flawless Chinese with a Shandong accent, the guy from Wenzhou speaking Danish, and that dude in the wheelchair by the lake with great English. Wrong, wrong, wrong again. I made all the wrong assumptions. Can’t anyone be pigeonholed anymore? I guess not. We eat bananas from Thailand, wear watches from Switzerland, watch American movies, dance to music from the U.K., smoke hookahs from Egypt and mix it all with so much comfort. Why don’t I do it with the people as well as I do it with the cocktails? I try, but I still often just get it wrong. I hope you do better. Meet people. It’s August.

By Tim Hoerle