“So is this the longest you’ve ever been in a project?”
“My first one was 3 years, then they kicked me out because I didn’t know Java.” She talked about starting off poor. “We had to count the number of chickens we eat in a day. And I told myself I would never want to go back there.” She said this meaningfully, and drowned out amid a coffeeshop at 10 at night, it became more real, because life does not need dramatizing, it neither cuts to a close up, nor does it cue an acoustic soundtrack. Life is messy but beautiful to those who will take the time to savour it. People around us were having their late night dinner. The old uncles had their Heineken bottles at their table and the beer lady with the yellow skirt and hanging on to her sexuality was pouring a mug for them. We went on to talk about other things, but the phrase stuck with me. “I would never want to go back there.”
“I think I’m one generation removed from that, my parents they stayed in a kampong.”
“It’s like a zinc roof, cramped conditions, not like HDB”, and saying that, I motioned with my hands to indicate a tall building.
“We were so poor, way back then, I had to write my code on paper. Because when we use the computer, we pay by the amount of time we use. My generation, we use Turbo Pascal, you know? Imagine, if you want to debug, and you’re paying by the time, and there are so many if else statements to look at.” She laughed, and I wondered if her white teeth were real.
Just a month before – “Let’s talk later when you’re free. Is there anything you want to tell me … ? You’re … What is it? Did someone die? Girlfriend problems? I know a lot of secrets, you can tell me anything.” Now, we were laughing.
Talk flowed on to that conversational standby, video games we used to play (“The Atari? Sorry, different generation”). Then, on to expensive handbags (“My mother, she just went to Paris, I can’t believe how much …”), and then, whether you keep track of the money you spend.
“Ah yeah, me I don’t really spend much, just rent, food and ….” He nodded to himself, in his self effacing way.
“Ok, don’t ask me how I know, but there’s this blonde in the CBD area, she does massages.”
“You mean with extra services”
“No. But with a happy ending.” We all gave each other knowing looks and giggles.
“Wait I don’t get it. How do you get a blonde massage, without extra services, but with a happy ending?”
“I’ll try to get her website.” He waved his iphone around, there wasn’t any reception here.
“Ok ok.” He made a faraway look as if to compose his thoughts, blinked, and leaned forward.
“Have you heard of this YouTube song ? I don’t want any love, I want bang bang bang!” We all laughed at how animated he had become. His innuendo gets me laughing most of the time. (“Yeah she a nice pair …. “, he let it hang in the air, “of eyes. Yeah, that’s what I meant. And of course, she also has a nice pair of …. Spectacles!”)
Suddenly we were talking about lions and their harem of females, alpha male mating behavior. “Yeah, it’s true. In the animal kingdom …”
Laughing is affirmation that we enjoy each other’s company. It also reminds us that we’re having a good time. I laugh louder because it feels good. This is connectedness. This is flow. I miss long conversations and laughing so hard your eyes tear up.
Conversation flits about. At the end, you sometimes wonder how you ever ended up talking about B when you started off in the first place with A. The Brownian motion is a joy to behold and to recount: We started with layoffs, then to a poor start in life, kampong housing, Rolexes, first gen video games, do you read books, branded bags, money management, Macau and prostitutes, massages with happy endings, animal kingdom analogies, office romances …
How does conversation flow? Why is it that sometimes you realize the beer drinking uncles are gone, and 2 hours have passed in what seemed like 30 minutes, while sometimes the conversation has to be resuscitated multiple times with sudden questions, followed by answers that end just as abruptly.
People take a risk by asking incisive questions. They risk offending people, or looking stupid, or maybe the very questions they ask reveal too much of themselves. But going for that question that gives pause, that everyone wants to know the answer to, that is the question that can uncover laughter, vulnerability or insight. Good conversation is about asking good questions.
“What do you think about …”
“I believe in giving love a chance” – the words of a romantic.