Yesterday we lunched with our old neighbors from 3 years ago when we all used to live in Sai Wan Ho. We'd all just moved into the (then) new development - us from Pok Fu Lam, them from Sydney, Australia, where they've lived they told us much later, pretty much all their life.
Gradually, somewhere between "Hi-byes" in the lift lobby as we observed with mild curiosity their well-mannered tween boy and girl in between rush hours to the office each morning and Mrs H's friendly efforts to get to know us (then keep in touch after we'd moved out - and Kings still Facebook chats their eldest in particular) we decided they were the best neighbors we'd ever had.
We were escaping the annoying "dog-keeping rules" of our previous home, they were enjoying the huge difference between Aussie and Hongkie tax rates (HK has one of the lowest employment tax rates in the world) by moving here "for the foreseeable future". Sometimes I'd be "But it's such a beautiful city! HK is crazy polluted and sometimes the smog blocks out the sun..." And they would be "Uh, y-eah, with like a 40% tax rate after working real hard? No place is ever perfect..."
Mrs H and her then-12 year old daughter would come over and mind baby Rockstar. Rockstar, we were surprised to discover yesterday, still remembers their daughter (who has grown some 12 inches since we last saw her). When I came home from the hospital, they were our first visitors (at home, that is - though we discouraged visitors to the hospital in general, our first one was one of my most beloved bosses to this day, packing a warm onesie and some ginseng tonic thing which I didn't get to take til I stopped breastfeeding a year later).
Mrs H once told me getting to know us, knocking on each others' doors, even watching me recover from a painful rather last minute-scheduled C-section, were all good learning experiences for her kids - how she has constantly used various life experiences and friendships with all their imperfections as teaching opportunities for her kids also makes her one of my parenting role models.)
The Hs had the key to our apartment almost from the start, so their kids could come by for a dog fix any time while we were at work. (Or maybe it was so JD could have a people-and-tennis-ball fix.) They had just left behind a home with a garden and a Cavalier King Charles. It can't have been easy for them to get used to the 37th floor apartment (tho we all had great views when we weren't looking out the other windows at a confusing, dizzy-fying jumble of other high rise apartments) of a 70-ish story high rise apartment block on one of those days when the sun doesn't shine through because of the smog.
Then one morning I knocked on their door at 8.30am and had Mrs H shuffle into our living room in her bathrobe and slippers as a witness, leaving the apartment door open while we fired our then helper by the book. (You kinda get the idea you need to take some precautions after your helper is out all night out of the blue without telling you beforehand (leading us to believe she was lying injured somewhere and standing by to call the police to file a missing persons report), then shows up 8am on Monday morning heavily made up and raises a warning finger at you the moment you open the door: "Before you say anything, let me remind you it is my right to stay out all night on my day off. And remember I took my last 2 employers to court and won." We uh, kissed going to work goodbye that day.)
I remember being at a loss because at the time I had just never, ever considered being an SAHM and didn't know what I was going to do without a helper while I was at work, especially when I was striving to regain my full workload of responsibilities in the wake of the financial crisis after a relatively recent 3-month maternity break. Mrs H listened grimly as I went on about, of all things, helper problems and how I had no idea what I was going to do now. She is an SAHM, they'd just got here from Sydney, we did not share the same faith...... She did not judge me. Instead she just looked grim and tried to help.
Mrs H started to help us keep an eye on a brief succession of new helpers (btw it's pretty common to have a tv monitor in your home, which you can access online any time on your cellphone, but then the helper figures out quickly what the range of the camera is - for eg it could not pick up that what the helper placed in front of Rockstar in his bowl was simply plain bread torn with her fingers into chunks. Also, when you dialed in to have a look-see there would be a warning beep and several seconds lag before the camera switched on. Maybe enough time for the helper to dump her cellphone and turn to the baby. I hope they've got faster cameras today.)
For a time, we played "apartment door games" with their kids. Especially easy, since our front doors were practically right next to each other. We would stick a photograph on our door with a piece of paper and start a conversation - for eg, once it was of a half-grown chow chow wearing red "graduation day" robes and a mortar-board. (This was JD's classmate in her first obedience class in Singapore. Her classmate's owners would correct you if you mispronounced the chow chow's name in Mandarin.)
Mr H installed a Bloomberg at home, and would periodically nudge his son toward various internships in the financial sector. Master H wouldn't touch it at first, but in later years he would call us on the Bloomberg Chat when he did odd jobs at various financial institutions. (At one point he worked in the office where my girlfriend was one of the more senior stock brokers - yeah the market is really small in the end - and they would pretend to be each other when they called me over the Bloomberg. In fact I met one of my best friends to this day at one of the H's family BBQs in Shek O maybe 6 years ago.)
Kings was especially impressed with the (then-15 now 19-year old) boy, who at one point used the Facebook medium to locate potential clients to which he would provide a kind of user-interface web-page designing consultancy service to supplement his pocket money. (Given the relative affluence of the families around us in general, and the ease at which a lot of kids around us seem to get most material stuff they want nowadays, we were impressed at the Hs' ability to instill "values-without-too-much-resentment" in their teenagers.) He really did get some employment work out of that (but I've forgotten the details), and when Kings first dabbled in internet startups our neighbors' then-15 year old "consulted" for him too. (In his "day job" he and his sis attended one of the ESF schools in our then-neighborhood so it was a first and positive impression of the school group we had even back then.)
Maybe teenagers have really changed nowadays, but that was still the first time a 15-year old had ever told us the internet startup work "would look great on my cv." I think in the end Kings ended up writing one of his character recommendations for college applications. A glowing report would not have been a stretch.
Anyway it was quite something to reminisce over the weekend - and wish our new neighbors could follow us to our new place for the umpteenth time.