Well you know about the roaming security canines and the less helpful ants and mossies. Time to meet the human neighbours. Downstairs lives a rare nucleur family, virtually extinct these days of young mum, dad, boy of 6 and toddler girl. They moved in from Tai Po just a month before me as the landlord wanted their place back.
I have yet to actually see the hubby in person as the poor bloke leaves for work at dawn and only comes back way past dusk. I know because I hear him click open the gate in their courtyard. So I’ve heard him and glimpsed him pushing his bike out one early morning but have yet to be formally introduced. He works as a chef apparently, so my all knowing landlady tells me. Not much of a life, huh; he only has Sundays to enjoy the kids.
Wifey doesn’t fare much better. She’s a full time mum as hubby’s long hours mean no break for her. The kids are lovely. But from day one I hear the little girl cry for extended periods or even scream, as if she is in pain or being beaten. I am sure this is not the case, as I’ve seen the mum with them. They do not look neglected or malnourished or in anyway abused. Maybe she has a bad reaction to mossie bites or hates the heat or just likes to get her own way. I don’t like to ask as it really isn’t my business. It may be construed the wrong way and taint our otherwise amicable relations. I am tempted to offer a couple of hours free babysitting just to give the poor woman a break but this again may be interpreted wrongly.
It’s just I hate hearing children in pain or distressed; it does seem to happen very often and lasts abnormally long. She should be starting to ‘talk’ but she only points and makes noises which don’t reassemble any earthly language. The teacher in me wonders why. The mother was worried she may not be accepted in the kindergarten. I wonder if there is a physical reason or is she autistic, though she seems sociable enough. Only the other day she called me ‘Yee Yee’, which is Cantonese for Auntie, as she excitedly pointed to their new strawberry plant. She’s definitely not mute.
As for her brother, he is extremely IT literate as I discovered when I invited he and his mate up. They fawned over my laptop and instantly I became their favourite Yee Yee. His buddy is better at playing the actual games and he is move savvy at finding his way round the computer.
The parents are a young attractive couple in their late twenties or possibly early thirties as most Chinese look younger than their age. Good genes?! Wifey and I share a common loathing for the mossies and trade tips. Last time she recommended a green anti-swelling lotion from Thailand, which can be purchased from the same shopping centre as my optician’s.
She suffers more living downstairs. If the mossies want to launch an assault they’ll have to fly up first. I had thought the flat impregnable with windows and doors firmly locked but the little buggers are slipping in through the ventilation fan in the toilet. So I’ve had to shut out my last breath of fresh air.
They were particularly bad last night and the Little One had to be on guard duty armed with battery operated plastic racket. The worst place is the tiny wet room when you are captive on the loo; there is nowhere to run or hide. I got bitten there in five different places within the space of 20 seconds.
Little One says she doesn’t feel them when they actually attack but I do every single time and suffer the itch and swelling immediately, whilst she has a delayed reaction, which at least gives her a brief reprieve. We each have our own mopiko now; Japanese anti-itch/swelling cream, the only thing that works. Well I haven’t bought the green lotion yet, so will report back. They bother the Little One most during the night and she has to cover herself with anti- repellent spray with the killer bat at the ready. And she does reconaissance and destroy all enemies before jumping into bed. Whilst for me, it’s the one time they leave me alone. Apparently I’m in the minority.
Well I digress, back to the two-legged neighbours. There is the topless original villager, so called as he has lived all his life here and also the owner of the dogs. Topless is a rather appropriate nickname as he loves walking around in a pair of shorts and he’s bald. I suspect his wardrobe is more to do with the heat than showing off his otherwise puny chest and non-existent biceps.
He is always smiling; even when I complained his dogs had pooed outside my door. His advice was to hit them, which wasn’t helpful or what I was expected. Even if I caught them red -handed I don’t believe in beating dogs. He was far from apologetic as if they had nothing to do with him and indirectly making me responsible for their training. Last time he saw me clearing away the poo and looked away, knowing full well who the culprits were.
In his forties and the picture of health, Topless doesn’t appear to work. He devotes his time roaming around merrily and doing the odd school run on his bike. Other times his wife with round face, glasses and long hair picks the kid up. She doesn’t work either and they can be seen venturing out, to do errands and shop I guess. They are both friendly enough.
So far I have only seen the kid out once, on his way to school. I was caught madly stamping on the ants. More likely than not he must have been thinking this newcomer is a mad woman. The lady downstairs told me he stays indoors due to a bad reaction to the heat. Poor kid, he’s obviously living in the wrong part of the wrong. Here the hot days rule supreme! The coldest it ever gets in winter is a modest 10 degrees celsius. Mild by European standards. Maybe emigrate to Canada, Iceland, the Arctic?
I do feel sorry for him since he is missing out on a huge chunk of his childhood; the best bit is playing out with your mate without a care in the world. The other two boys are always larking around during the weekend, I hear them pretending to be supermen or astronauts which puts a smile on my face. No wonder their windows are painted over, permanently shut and the air con on. I know because I can see the appliance constantly dripping outside my bedroom window.
One advantage is I don’t need curtains as they can’t see me undress. One less thing to worry about and have to keep clean. Anyway I have makeshift ones out of clothes on hangers hooked through the loops on the curtain rail. I have consciously adopted a minimalist existence to keep clutter at bay.
Now we get to the third boy in the village, who’s a year older than the other two. He is extrovert and chatty and also loves my laptop and me by proxy. He and his single dad, a tall skinny tanned man live next to Topless & Co. on the upper floor of the house opposite. I thnik they are relatives. Dad told me when he came to prise him away that he moved here from the Mainland two years ago. There is no sign of mum and I felt sad for him. Then one day I came back with a potted orchid, trying to make the flat look a bit homely and he told me his mum works at a flower shop in Mongkok. Mystery solved. But I never see him go anywhere so I assume he never sees her. But he looks happy enough.
My sister bought the kids sweets when I moved in to promote good public relations and I have carried on this tradition. The boys’ favourite is the blackcurrant chews and the ‘beautiful girl’ as I call her is the strawberry one. And she is beautiful, just like a doll, if not for the screaming and crying, she’d be angelic, especially when she gives you a ‘flying’ kiss. I always hide the sweets behind my back, surprise them and in their excitement they always forget to thank me. So I always say, ‘Now what do you say?’ Then it is ‘ Dor tse Yee Yee.’ And I’ll pat them on the head and tell them they are good children. The toddler from hell never seems to be around when I am being Santa Claus so I entrust the chews to her sibling.
The other day the older boy ran up to tell me he had won the Most Improved in English prize in his class. I patted him on the head again and confirmed that he was a ‘lek jei, i. e. clever boy. He beamed with pride, ah, this boy needs a mother! Maybe I could take him under my wings. Sometimes we converse in English and he tells me, ‘My name is Eric’ and ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ but that’s the sum of the small talk.
Finally we get to the lovely Filipino family who live downstairs from Topless and Single Dad. They have a huge courtyard and on their day off like to party with loud music and invite friends round for a BBQ. I don’t mind the noise, it is comforting to know people are enjoying life to the full. They are also good cooks as the smell of mouth watering food is always wafting my direction.
Their family consists of Dad, a gardener and always in a good mood and Mum who’s more introvert and low key. There is a grown up son in his late teens or early twenties, who is always polite. He works for a family above the local bakery cooking and cleaning. He comes home every lunchtime and lets the dogs out to answer the call of nature.
A little girl, about eight, completes the picture, although I hardly see her play out. I don’t even think we have met properly but I know she exists because of the washing on the bamboo poles.
The Filipino dad is the hero who rescued me from my balcony when I got locked out. Not quite a fireman’s lift but a ladder was provided with a stool to enable my short little legs to get over the railing, for my precarious descent into the arms of swarming mossies. But that is another story.