Tag Archives: That awkward moment

Mid-Autumn Festival Faux Pas at Customs

When traveling across borders, there’s always that thought that there might be a bit of miscommunication with the language differences. However, I’m not sure language is the main contributor to these little holiday travel faux pas.

This past week was Mid Autumn festival, a time for moon cakes and lanterns and family time.

Give the recent, new addition to the family, my baby daughter, we decided to venture across the China border to Shenzhen to visit some family over there and introduce them to the bouncing baby girl.

We decided to take the whole gang along: wife, son, baby daughter, father-in-law, and myself. We were expecting an endeavor, that’s for sure. Battling through wall-to-wall holiday travelers, while bringing two kids on a long ride of various transportation methods (bus, to train with a transfer, and then a taxi).

It was a two and a half hour trip, door-to-door, with plenty of room for spontaneous chaos. And sure enough we got it. Son wanted to run around like mad in the chaotic Shenzhen train station. Daughter cried through most of lunch and the entirety of one the bus rides, but was inexplicably a perfect angel between those times. We were happy to see our family again and finally introduce baby daughter to them. It was nice seeing them as always. But it was an endeavor indeed.

Still, it was two moments while going through customs that made us go hmmm, when we looked back at the most exhausting holiday lunch trip in recent memory.

“Wait! Is that child with you too?”

As we were heading towards Shenzhen, we went to the passport check all together. My wife handed all the passports and Hong Kong ID’s to the customs lady. Wife was standing by my son, who was in one stroller, and I was standing behind my daughter’s stroller holding on to the handles the whole time. The Customs Lady checked my wife’s passport, then mine. She stood up to look down at the kids, asked my wife for my son’s name. All seemingly smooth. She then handled the stack of passports and IDs back to my wife and motioned us to move along.

As shuffled our family, carriages, and stuff past the booth and the family behind us started taking their clan into the area in front of the customs check, suddenly the customs lady yells,

“STOP!”

We freeze in our tracks. Did we forget something with her? Then she looks down at my daughter in the carriage in my hands.

“That child, is she with you too?”, the customs lady asks.

I managed a simple “yes” and a look of, “well, yeah, that’s pretty obvious, right?”

The customs lady asked for her paperwork again. She looks through it. As she’s doing this, we’re in the middle of the way, since it’s one path for two customs check booths. We’re blocking people from the other booth. The family behind us are looking at us like “WTF.”

The customs lady asks for my daughter’s name, I tell her. Another customs officer comes over to check what’s the problem. Finally the customs lady lets us continue passing and gives us back our documents.

It didn’t actually take that long. Just a few moments of random awkwardness, but it got me thinking afterward, how could she not have thought my daughter was with us? We gave her my daughter’s passport, I’m standing right behind the carriage holding onto the handles the while time she is checking our documents, and then when we’re going, she asks “is that child with you too?”

You mean the child that is so obviously with us that I’m pushing her around in a stroller right in front of your face the whole time? Are you kidding me?

Did she just not see the stroller or that there was a child in it or did she think that I was just holding onto the child of the family behind us? We’ll probably never know. It’s possible the holiday rush got her frazzled or maybe she needed another cup of coffee at that point. I know I needed a cup of coffee at that point, and a shot of whiskey while you’re at it.

“YOUR WIFE?!”

On the way back to Hong Kong, we figured that we would learn from the previous incident and try something a little different. The customs lady seemed to have gotten confused by the sheer number of people and passports we handed her, so this time I would go with my son and his documents. My wife would go with daughter and her documents. We would go as two groups.

As we approached the customs check, we planned to go one after another. I’m not sure how it happened, but a British couple ended up in between us. We figured, no. Big deal, we’ll be done pretty quickly after each other.

Wife went with daughter to the customs guy and went quick and smooth, no incident. Then the British couple in front of us went for their passport check…. but something was up. The customs guy was scrutinizing over their paperwork longer than usual. Another customs officer walks over and they confer with each other. Meanwhile my wife is waiting, wife daughter, over in the area where it says, “please don’t wait long here, keep going.” I already see another customs officer, some older guy in I uniform, approach her and ask her to keep moving, but I see my wife motioning with hands and arms that they’re still waiting for us to be done, not get separated and all that sort of thing.

Eventually, the British couple gets asked to go to “The Booth”.

I don’t know if that’s what it was actually called, but it was a elevated booth, above the rest of the other customs checkpoints, with two more officers up there. As they are being escorted up there, I can hear the young, British lady saying “I don’t know what the problem is.” Well, hopefully they managed to describe to them the problem before they pulled out the rubber glove and told them to relax.

As the customs guy gets back to the booth to finally check our documents, I hope I won’t have to suffer the same fate, especially since it would mean carrying my son in stroller up the steps to The Booth, which by this point, I had not the energy to do.

The customs guy looks over the paperwork and asks me to say my son’s name. I say it. He asks if my son has a Chinese name. I say he does. He asks me to say it. I try my best to say it with the right tones. I assume I failed, though.

The customs guy asks me if I could write my son’s name. The spontaneous sound that came from me, I could only describe as half scoff, half “are you kidding me?” laugh, and half trying to hold it all back and failing. I know that’s a lot of halves, but this was a big reaction to his question. And all while saying “no no no no no no no.” As I was saying it, it occurred to me that I probably should give it the old college try to learn how to write the characters of my son’s Chinese name, but I had bigger worries at hand.

The customs guy’s facial expression when from immediate surprise to confusion to “hmmm, sounds like someone needs to go to THE BOOTH.”

I immediately recover composure and point out my wife. “My wife knows how to write it.”

“YOUR WIFE?!” he says. I don’t know why he put so much emphasis in saying that. It’s like the combination of confusion western guy, child with Chinese name, Western guy who doesn’t know how to write child’s Chinese name, and shock that a female may have procreated with Western guy to create this enigma child had all come together into a perfect storm of emotion response.

“Yes, she’s right over there,” I said as I pointed our my wife, still waiting over there by the exit to the customs area, wonder what’s the hold up.

“HER?! YOU’RE SAYING, SHE’S YOU’RE WIFE?!”, he responds. It was like whatever emotional outburst had formed from the initial “You’re wife” had picked up steam and multiplied exponentially. As I looked over to see what could be so shocking about me pointing out my wife standing with baby carriage, I got a possible clue as to why the customs guy’s response had been so fervent. The customs officer that stood guard, telling people to keep moving and not wait there had changed shifts. The officer that was standing there now, was not the older guy from before, but this tall, beautiful, modelesque woman in uniform. She kind of looked like Angie Ng.

Immediately, I realize he thinks I’m pointing at supermodel customs officer and calling her my wife. I imagine one of two possibilities: he’s either upset at me for trying to pull his leg or he’s jealous because he’s been eyeing supermodel customs officer for years now, constantly trying to figure out the best way to voice his feelings towards his secret crush, and I’ve just become to asshole who wants step right in his way. The Booth seems more and more a definite possibility.

My wife notices me empathically waving her over. “Yes, yes, that’s my wife coming over,” I say.

He turns, sees that I do in fact have a wife approaching, and says “I see” with a combination of ‘sigh of relief’ and ‘how silly of me’.

I explain to my wife what’s happening, the customs guy wants me to write my son’s name. She talks to him in Chinese, writes in the air with her finger the characters, and confirms everything to the customs guy. With a stamp of the passport, he sends us on our way, and we happily walked along, at long last heading home and without a visit to…. THE BOOTH.

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Cactus in a Tea Cup: A Love/Hate Story

It was a rainy day in Hong Kong as I tried to take my parents around town while they visited from out of town.  We dodged the rain by ducking into a ceramics shop in Sheung Wan.  The shop carried all kinds of ceramics: bowls, plates, tea sets, pots for plants, etc.   In a section towards the front, they even had these little plants for sale.  Little bits of greenery meant to cheer up a very small corner of a very cramped apartment.

As I was lurking in the corner, waiting for my parents to finish picking up little ceramic knickknacks for souvenirs,  I observed this western guy standing near a shelf of tea cups.  The guy was, one-by-one, picking up and examining every single tea cup there.  Each time, he held up a tea cup he would then drop a little cactus inside, examine it, realize it was an awkward fit and then move on.  From what I could tell, this guy was intent on searching for the perfect tea cup to be a pot for his little cactus.  Each time he came up a bit short in his endeavor.  I can only assume that he had no interest in any of the selection of actual pots for little plants that were stocked in a shelf nearby.


I felt for the guy.  He was on a mission to find a new home for his new spindly friend and he was not going to be deterred in his search.  He would try a blue cup with stereotypical Chinese porcelain design.  Nope, too wide.  Then he’d try a red cup with a more avant garde interpretation of stereotypical Chinese porcelain design.  Nope too deep. Then a green one, etc. etc. etc.  I watched this scene for five minutes and I gotta admit,  I was kind of routing for the guy to finally find a cheap $5-10HKD tea cup for his stupid, little $5HKD cactus. 

What I found most entertaining about this was not so much the western guy’s plight for the perfect tea cup-cactus combo.  It was the middle-aged Chinese lady standing right next to him.  It seemed she too was shopping for tea cups, but I imagine she had strictly more traditional uses in mind.  The entire time, while the westerner was dropping his cactus in each and every single tea cup, she was standing right next to him, unnoticed and giving him this dirty look.  It was the kind of dirty look that was the perfect combination of horrors and bewildered.   

I could tell in her face that she really really, really wanted to tell this guy that these were not flower pots.  There were a couple of moments I could tell she was building up the courage to say something, but she never seems to build up the nerve to blurt it out.   So, she’d go back to giving him the look.  If you’re wondering what that look looked like, it was something along the lines this picture of Teresa Mo.

Damn gwai lo better not get his thorns in my tea cups.

So with her unwilling to speak up and the guy unreletantly focused on his quest, I stood back and watched this comedy of errors for a few minutes, until finally, at long last, the western guy found a cup to his liking near the bottom of the shelf.  

The guy went off with his cactus in a tea cup.  The lady picked up her own tea cups.   And both went their separate ways, never to meet again. A brief and mundane chance encounter that probably ruined each other’s day a little bit.  

Still, I couldn’t help, but think that through it all, a tiny connection was formed between these two wayward souls.  One that will stay with them without even knowing.  In either case, I was amused.  It’s not every day that you get to watch an accidental, live action, theatre of the absurd performance art piece in a Hong Kong ceramic shop.  It was like a Samuel Beckett play… if that Samuel Beckett play was silent… and starring Teresa Mo.

Man Reaches In Between Woman’s Legs for Power Cord, Interrupts Coffee Date

That awkward moment at a coffee shop when someone is sitting right over the power plug and you need to reach under theirs legs to plug in or pull out your cord.

hk_starbucks_coffee_in_caine_road

I was at Starbucks doing a bit of writing and internet cruising on my computer, while enjoying my overpriced cappuccino.  I had my laptop connected to a nearby plug at ground level and had been comfortably hogging it for more than an hour as I, ever so slowly, sipped my tall size coffee.


At long last, I ready to pack up and leave when I realized that, blocking the electrical outlet that held my plug, were now a pair of women’s legs.

I needed to ask her if I could sneak in underneath her legs to get my cord.  Only problem was that the lady was right in the middle of a hot coffee date.  And the guy who she sitting with had her full attention, enthusiastically chatting her up a storm.

I couldn’t understand more than a word or two of what he was saying, as he was talking fast and furious in Cantonese.   I could only assume it was an amazing story though, just by the sheer excitement in how he was telling it, with body language to match.  

Whatever story he was telling, I got the feeling he was determined to impress this lady and believe me, he was succeeding.  She was completely enraptured by this story, whatever it might have been.  

Meanwhile, I was sitting there, waiting for a stopping point of some kind to intercede, but there seemed to be no stopping this guy’s flow.  He was firing off words like James Joyce on amphetamines.  For those unfamiliar with the works of James Joyce, check out this clip from the classic film Back To School from 0:42 onward for a taste of what I mean.

back-to-school-yes-yes

Being that it would be kind of awkward to interrupt this couple during their moment, I decided to stall my plunge downward to retrieve my cord.  I started slowly, but steadily packing up all my things.  As I did, I was hoping that, by the time I had finished wrapping up my odds and ends and shoved them into my backpack, I would finally get my chance at making a congenial interruption, with as little awkwardness as possible.  Unfortunately, I had no such luck…

I sat there with powercord half wrapped in my hands, looking over at them with this “hey, I don’t mean to interrupt” look on my face, patiently waiting for them to notice my eyes burning into their faces, but nope.  They were in another world.  A happier world.  A world without being trapped from taking their powercord from underneath a pair of legs while the nonstop blossoming of true love was taking place above the table.

Eventually, my patience wore thin and I had to take action.

date-interrupted

I tapped on the girl’s shoulder, while the dude was mid-sentence.  Surprise registered on them both instantly as she turned to find this random westerner stealing away this girl’s attention.  Immediately, I was like “hi, excuse me, sorry, but I need to, down there, my cord, the plug, really sorry about that, thanks!”

Realizing what I was asking, the lady moved her legs just enough in order for me squeeze down underneath her.  And so I contorted my body downward to try to take this cord from under her legs as unsuspiciously as possible.

When I rose up, trimphantly, cord in hand, I saw the face of the guy.  His facial expression was brief, but definitive.  No doubt in my mind, this guy was saying to himself “hey, I was the one that was supposed to get in between her legs.”

why-you-cbing-bruh

So I just give him this look back like “geez guy, what you want from me?”  I mean, let’s be real.  I gotta do, what I gotta do.

I didn’t say another word.  I finished packing up and rushed out like a thief in the night, leaving them to awkwardly continue their date.  I could tell that I must have spoiled “the mood”, but I do hope he managed to get back on his game.  I mean you had to give him credit.  He must have had one hell of a story that he was telling.

Still, let this be a lesson to all coffee daters out there.  If you want to make the best impression, before you start telling her the story of the century, or reciting heart melting poetry, be sure to take a second to make sure your girl isn’t sitting on some other guy’s cord first.

Two Old Ladies Arguing in Front of the Men’s Room Nearly Made Me Piss Myself 

Define “Awkward”: two female cleaning ladies having a spirited argument in Cantonese right in front of the men’s bathroom door, completely ignoring my pleas to get past.

Now you might say to yourself, “what’s the big deal?  Just ask them to move out of the way.”

Believe me my friend, I tried, but these ladies were having it out and were not having any of my interruptions.

For those unfamiliar with the sheer power of old Chinese ladies in full out argument mode, check this article from the SCMP out.  

I know that was in Mainland China, not Hong Kong, but those ladies argued for 8 hours straight until they passed out on the street.

The two aunties in front of me didn’t seem to have the same reckless abandon, but in a place where “face” means everything, no one goes down without a spirited verbal fight.

So just to give a little background to my own situation, it was right before the holidays.  I was doing some last minute running around. Extra long lines had me holding it in for a while.  Once checked out and bagged, I ran upstairs to the luxury section of stores.  The bathrooms there tend to be clearer and less lines, but of course more hidden from plain sight.

After finally a bit of maze deciphering, I finally discover the entrance to the bathrooms, only to be confronted by this obstacle; two old Chinese cleaning ladies in a full on argument.  

Using my observational skills and very rough Cantonese, I could only surmise that they must have been arguing about wash clothes, of all topics.  Now they could have been arguing about a man, about politics, or post-brexit economic strategies for all I knew, but they were waving around wash clothes like you wouldn’t believe.

And there I was, arms full of packages and desperate to go through to relieve myself.  I tried saying “excuse me”.  I even tried an “Mm goi!”  I was ready to try in Italian, Spanish, and even throw in a “sacre bleu!” if I thought it would help, but these two ladies didn’t seem ready to hear me in any language.

Plow through them?  Yeah I could have tried that, but two things to keep in mind. 

1. I was using much of my reserve energy to “hold it in” if you know what I mean.  Afterall, I’m too old to get away with the pee pee dance.  So I had to keep my cool and that takes some effort to look like you’re not making effort.
2. If there’s one thing you never want to do, it’s arbitrarily step in the middle of any fight, regardless if it’s about a man or owed money or wash clothes, as this one seemed.  

I later came across this article about strategies and tactics to use when trying to break up a fight.

http://www.wikihow.com/Break-Up-a-Fight-Between-Two-People

Regardless, I had to deal with this situation as best as I could muster.  The next washroom was a long pee pee dance away.

So I calculated how much reserve energy to redirect without wetting myself, fired the vocal thrusters and let out a last chance “Mm Goi Siu je”.

The two ladies heard this time.  They turned to me and looked at me with a combination of “stupid Gwalio” and who are you calling “young lady?”

They parted out of the way and I rushed through into the bathroom, just in the nick of time. So crisis averted and I was soon back on my way to getting ready for the holidays.

I hope all your holidays were as least awkward as possible.  Happy new year everyone!

Auntie’s Head Mistakenly Grabbed on Hong Kong Minibus 

That awkward moment where I’m trying to squeeze my way off a crowded minibus, I reach for the back of a seat to steady myself, accidentally grab a Chinese Auntie’s head.

For your average westerner, there’s always that slight bit of nervousness that comes when it comes to riding a minibus in Hong Kong.  The routes are less likely to be on main streets, you have to ask the driver to stop where you need, and there’s a whole list of ways you can and must use to get to your stop, and you have to say it in Cantonese.

On top of that, getting off the minibus at your stop often becomes a true test of quick thinking, agility, flexibility, and speed.  When the minibus is full, stuff in people’s arms are overflowing into the aisles, the bus driver is itching to hustle down the street ASAP, and you’ve got the window seat in the last row, you need to duck, dive, twist and dash your way to the door and off the bus before the people outside start rushing on-board.

Naturally, this sometimes makes for awkward moments, like the other day.  I struggled to get out of of my window seat, past the lady with bags on her lap that gave me like two inches to crawl past her.   As I stumbled, I reached out to grab a handle or the back of the seat, but I missed judged my reach.  Instead, I accidentally grabbed an older, local Hong Kong lady by the head.


It took a split second to realize that I had grabbed something hairy, instead of the shiny metal handle on the back of a seat, but that split second seemed like an eternity of horror.  I let go immediately, ran out of the bus in complete embarrassment, and (while I already knew apologies would mean nothing, that lady was most definitely going to curse my whole family in Cantonese) I apologized profusely with a staccato and continuous string of “sorry sorry so sorry” the whole way up the aisle and out the bus.

I couldn’t help, but think that day that, even though completely by accident, I probably completely reinforced all that lady’s negative impression of westerners in Hong Kong.  Maybe next time I’ll take a cab.  😉

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