Of Salty Plums and Life [WARNING: LONG, NOT SO INTERESTING POST]

Exploring something alone always brings a different kind of experience.

Two weeks ago I went to Hong Kong to do some tasks. I wasn’t too excited about visiting the place because HK is just like my second or third home; I was excited about the fact that I’m traveling alone though! Well, traveling semi-alone because I’m staying with my relatives, but I get to go out during the daytime on my own.

Day 1, it was 4 pm when I accomplished the tasks I have to do in HK, and I decided to roam around the streets. I saw the usual city hustle and saw familiar stores along King’s Road. If I were traveling with my family, I would probably be focused on finding shops with sales and discounts to score bargain hunts [hahaha]; but since I’m on my own, I decided to go into a bookstore. I was browsing through books when I caught the eye of an old grandma walking slowly towards me. I realized I was standing in her way so I respectfully nodded, smiled a bit and made way for her to pass. But then she approached me and asked me in Fukien (福建話 / 閩南語), “Are there any salty plums (鹹梅 / kiam-muy) here?”. I told her that the place is a bookstore and probably wouldn’t have any salty plums. She said okay and that she’ll go further inside the store to ask the personnel if they sell salty plums. Of course the personnel said they don’t sell salty plums. I was thinking then that she probably has dementia. At the same time I was debating on whether I should maybe do something to help her get home (it’s getting darker outside, she might encounter danger after I leave her, her family might be anxiously looking for her) or just mind my own business (someone else would help her).

In the end, 多管閒事的我 I decided to help her. But my rational self was thinking I’m only finding myself trouble; I might not be able to help her if she really has serious dementia, besides, I’m not even good with streets and directions! Luckily she seems to still have good recall and told me she’s living at a nearby building. I accompanied her to the building and saw that there’s a store at the ground floor that might have salty plums. So we went inside and asked. I learned that they no longer sell salty plums, just sweet plums and that’s not what the old grandma is looking for. I also learned from the storekeeper that the grandma lives on her own and frequently visits the store to look for salty plums. The grandma kept on telling the storekeeper that I’m a very good person for helping her out, that there are only a few people like me out there. But I was thinking I’m not doing much actually, there are a lot people out there doing more meaningful stuff. The storekeeper further asked the grandma about her family and I learned that all her kids are living outside, that they only send her money but don’t visit her much. I got teary-eyed at that point, but the storekeeper was apathetic. I think the storekeeper saw and I wonder if she’s thinking I’m overreacting, it’s just that I get teary-eyed really easily. I don’t know what has gotten to me that day but I thought I should accompany her to her actual unit, 幫人幫到底. So I did and I saw that she’s living in a very small, untidy studio-type unit alone. Tears flowed down. I chatted with her more and I realized she’s gone through a lot and that she’s really a tough woman. I decided to leave a note for her kids to read when they come visit her, but I don’t know if they’ll ever get to read it. Later on, I decided it’s time for me to leave. Then the grandma optimistically said she’s going out again, or else she’ll be bored. I concluded that’s how she lives her daily life, that she’s able to come back to her crib even if she has dementia. But how about other people who can’t? Don’t they need more people to care for them? We took the elevator down together and walked different ways after. I continued to roam the streets but my mind was left thinking of what I just encountered.

That night was long. My mind was racing with thoughts.

  • A lot of people become so absorbed in working, in living the daily life, that they forget to care for their family, or for people around them in general.
  • Sometimes living our own lives becomes so difficult, that we forget to care for other stuff outside our own lives. In reality, the issue of 獨居老人 elderly people living alone is not new. It’s always been there but only a few people mind it. If I didn’t have this encounter, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind either. The same is true for other issues, a lot of people choose to turn a blind eye.
  • When I got home, I told someone this story and her reaction was that my act of good Samaritan might have brought me to danger, only that and nothing else. I replied that it’s hardly an act of good Samaritan. When people become older, do they care about the world less? Is it because it’s difficult to change the world and we all have our own problems to mind? Is it because 縱使世界有那麼多問題, 日子還是要過, 所以顧好自己跟周遭的人就好了? Will people eventually become jaded? I don’t know if I would too, in the future. I remember my good friend, she said “I never want to become jaded.”

It’s been more than a year since my last blog entry. I’ve never been a skilled writer, but I just want to write this thing down, to remind me in the future, to keep me grounded, and to maybe make some impact if I can.

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