Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Standing Ticket


The man with the weathered face and the large canvas bag launches himself into the ticket office window. On the other side, the intern hears the dull thud, and yawns. She repositions the microphone and tries to explain to him again that without his confirmation code, he cannot collect his train ticket.

But I lost my code and my train is leaving in half an hour! He wails. He slaps down some creased bills and demands to buy a new ticket and even those in the long lines behind him shake their heads at his wishful thinking. During Chinese New Year season, the largest human migration in the world, who can magic up a ticket, especially to the undeveloped regions to which 350 million migrant workers must somehow make their way home?

She checks her phone. No new message, no legitimate distraction. Exhaling dramatically, she turns back to him and tells him that he should have brought his code. Now will he please stand aside so she can help these good people buy tickets?

He pounds on the window with his sun-baked hands, not in anger anymore, but in a futile attempt for her to really see him. I haven't been home in years. I have finally saved enough days off and money to buy them all presents. Find me a standing ticket, anything will do, please - my son, he doesn't even remember what I look like. 

She pauses and calls her boss. Her boss puffs his chest, confiscates the man's ID, and yells for the guards to kick him out of the train station.


The HR team passed out company postcards, with our smiling faces plastered all over, and encouraged us to write our loved ones during this festive season.

I wrote to him, thanking him for being the first one to encourage me to deviate from the secure path of a prestigious company and take the plunge into a roller coaster startup life. His was the voice that tipped the balance.

Three weeks later, the soppy words and the shaky handwriting are still on my desk - the cherry on top of the pile of presents I never sent.

He had made it clear that I was no longer welcome at the address on the postcard. I wasn't ready to find out if he was also referring to my mail.


The team is trickling back from their Chinese New Year holidays. It's technically a work day, but everybody is still on their holiday high.

This is the part I dread every year. The proud procession of returnees bringing back their local specialty and insisting that you personally try it in front of them. You know, because I'm from Hong Kong and must have never tried homemade sesame biscuits gone stale from the days of train travel/ nameless nuts that break my nutcracker/ rubbery duck neck in spicy sauce/ pickled donkey meat/ suspicious brown goo in a plastic tube (liver paste?).

Later in heaven when God asks me how I've developed my talents, I definitely will show him how I can store semi-chewed pieces of chicken feet in my left cheek for eventual secret disposal while still cracking Chinese New Year jokes.