Getting to know people

When I ‘take salt’ at your table, I feel obliged to you in some way. I like to believe that the reverse holds true. So, after I had enjoyed someone’s hospitality, I will reciprocate. This is the traditional Asian way.

I had also liked collecting people who promised to be interesting, especially the immigrants. I have met, talked with, or socialised with, a sample of almost every European country represented in Australia; but not always at dinner.

After retirement, I continued my practice of working for sundry community organisations. I have served 10 such organisations over 25 years, in two locations. Yet, I have never been invited for a meal or even a coffee by my fellow-contributors to civil society. Strange! I must be infectious.

When I invited my sponsor to the local Rotary club to dinner with his wife, he said that mine was the only invitation he had ever received in our shire. But then, unlike the Asian tradition to which I had been accustomed, when friends dropped in for a short visit, in Australia, one had to make an appointment for a meal 3 weekends away.

My approach to a stable human relationship was to invite to dinner those I was interested in (to enjoy a good chat over some wine), or to avoid or smooth over a problem. An example – at dinner, the school principal and I, after 4 hours of chat involving our wives as well, could find no difference in approach to the education of children (including my own) – thereby defusing a teacher who had crossed the line between relative responsibilities, viz. school teacher/parent (and lodged a complaint about me with the principal).

As an immigrant in a fast-changing Australia, and interested in observing society (which enabled me to write my books), I became interested in the behaviour and the social values of a segment of the middle class – defined more by income then by education or culture. Living in increasingly bigger homes, and driving more expensive cars, they were busy earning 2 incomes, while any young children had to spend a long day in educational institutions such as child care centres.

I knew a child under 5, who spent more than 8 hours in one of these places; he subsequently displayed non-conformist behaviour for some years. There was no other way he could indicate his hurt and anger at his treatment. I did wonder whether such parents had any time to get to know other people.

Is self-regard and self-sufficiency all that matters in life?