I have a problem. No, let me re-phrase that: I have many problems. This is just one of them: I cannot tell the Chinese from the Japanese or Koreans from the Vietnamese; not by looking at them or by hearing them speak.
As I sit here on the floor of the lobby of First World Hotel in Genting and watch them stream past I notice one thing: A disproportionately large number of older women are wearing pink. Pink tops, pink bottoms (oops), pink from top to bottom. There are little girls who are wearing pink of course, but the young girls prefer black, white or grey. Blue is restricted largely to jeans.
I wonder why.
I am reminded of a saying in my mother tongue: Old age is the second childhood. Maybe the Far Eastern languages have a modified version: Old age is the second infanthood. That would explain pink. And adult diapers as well. But I am not satisfied with the explanation; I am a writer and have the propensity (defined as 'a city with too many buildings that require props to stand up, for example Mumbai), to come up with linguistic (which is the opposite of statistic), answers for everything. So I use my contacts in Mainland China, the restaurant, not the country, and fix up a meeting with Dr. Feign Shoey, the leading Chinese scholar in adult films, sorry adult psychology. Dr. Shoey is 300 years old, give or take half a century, and has a pronounced hunch. I am sure if he takes off his shirt I will find a tortoise shell instead of a human back. That would explain his age and the skin of his neck.
We greet each other and I bow excessively and surface to find that Dr. hasn't bowed at all. 'This bowing thing is Japanese and I am not,' he says and begins to explain the tradition. I interrupt him; I know my Japanese bow. 'Yeah, it's a hierarchy thing, right? The more powerful person bows less...'
'You are right, you are wrong,' Dr. says. 'Oh my god, he is Confucius,' I exclaim in my mind, 'He is the one who writes those little notes inside fortune cookies! The guy who first started the practice of writing meaningless messages in less than 140 characters!' He continues, unmindful of my silent exclamations. 'It started off as a democratic tradition - you just bowed to each other in greeting without caring about who was senior or junior until one day the oldest man in the village bowed too much and too far and all the king's soldiers couldn't straighten him up'. 'But how did it become the hierarchy thing?' I am keen to know. 'Haven't you watched Japanese and Chinese movies? The older the Master, (I am not kidding, he said master with a capital M), the more powerful he is. Unlike the rest of the world where as you grow older, you lose hair, teeth, memory and the ability to hold your water or to have... Yes, that also. With time, things got confused and the Japanese tradition came to be what it is.' As he finished this a very beautiful girl of barely legal age (I know this for sure because she was wearing black), entered the room and said, 'Honey, I was missing you so much'. Dr. shut his eyes and pointed a finger at her and muttered something under his breath and whoa! she was on the floor enacting that famous scene from 'When Harry Met Sally'.
Then I realized why he was such a great doctor: Because of his bedside manner!
After much philosophical banter like: Why do the Chinese eat practically everything if they are Buddhist? Answer: To hasten their ancestors on the karmic cycle; the sooner a creature dies the sooner he or she will come back as a human. Or, how to eat crab with chopsticks? Answer: I am allergic to crab. Also to chopsticks. And so on. Until I finally slipped in the Pink Question. Dr Shoey nodded sagely. Then he woke up with a start. 'You have already found the answer my son!' He declared, 'Also it is time to change my diaper'.
As I took my leave (yes, it is MY leave. You don't say, 'I will take YOUR leave' because it is you who is leaving), I didn't bow. This time I had two reasons: Dr. wasn't Japanese and plus, I didn't want to bow when he needed a diaper change.
So what is the answer to the Pink Question which Dr. claimed I had found?
Is the answer in the same vein as Botox, 'tucks' and plastic surgery? Maybe it is.
Or maybe I will find it in some fortune cookie I will open one day. But I will have to wait until I visit the USA and order take-away Chinese. Because forget serving fortune cookies after a meal, the Chinese I have met around here haven't even heard of cookies.