When I got home from work today, I found a young lady sitting in the living room.

"Hello." I smiled. So did she. I told her my name. Her name was YY. Her voice was slight, as was her handshake.

J was in the study with YY's husband, who was helping to resucitate a dead hard disk. They stayed there for the next hour. So YY and I started to talk.

YY was a PRC citizen, but was recently granted permanent residency here. A fine arts graduate (major in print making!) from a Nanjing university, we spoke about YY's job search, her inability to make any art here, her distaste for the noise and congestion in Singapore ("why such small toilets here? I really don't understand", she had said when I told her we had to knock away a wall to make a large enough bathroom from 2 small ones), her general disillusions with life, her concern for her husband's health, her views about the corruption prevalent in Chinese art colleges, her jobless and aimless peers in Nanjing, the huge pool of fine arts graduates in China (hey, what's new?), her husband and her search for a new flat so that they could move out of his parents' place, his desire for children (her indifference to that prospect), her views on money, driving and - the future... a simple life.

I told her about where she could get relatively cheap art supplies, why students here use linoleum instead of wood for printmaking here, the teaching prospects here, J and my lack of desire for children in our lives now ("we'll have to get new furniture"), our lack of desire to drive/own a car, the possibility of her teaching Chinese and art in our schools, and yes - the future... a simple life.

My mandarin was just about sufficient to survive the conversation.

She was surprisingly open and frank. We were, after all, strangers. Perhaps she was lonely? Having been here for less than a year and with few friends, I can imagine how it was not easy.

We had common experiences (art, printmaking, married life, work, Singapore/Nanjing, flats, husbands, public transport, space), and from these there, also divergences. And from the divergences, we establish again points of relation - comparison and empathy, contrast and sympathy. Perhaps this is why it is almost always enjoyable to speak with someone from another country, background, culture. This toggling of perspectives and contextualising of experience - it helps us keep sane.


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