Brig had just finished his Hard Rock burger and was drowning a french fry in ranch dressing when a nicely dressed Chinese man walked over and stood near his table, holding a glass of beer. It was 10:30 p.m. and the bar had become even more crowded. Somebody was celebrating a birthday. The Chinese man looked out of place amongst this crowd of “Gen Xers,” and “Millennials.” Brig thought the man was probably looking for someone, but as he turned towards Brig, the man motioned with his hand towards an empty chair at Brig’s table. He wanted to sit down. Brig, well into his second beer and third opiate, was feeling more sociable.
“Please!” Brig invited.
“Mgoi.” (Thank you) Mgoi is a polite way of thanking someone for a small favor. The man smiled handsomely, put his beer on the table and sat down.
“Msai Mgoi.” (No need to thank me) Brig properly and politely responded.
“Aiya! You speak Cantonese?”
“A little,” Brig replied modestly. He suspected that this well-dressed gentleman spoke English better than he spoke Cantonese.
The nice man smiled and shook his head up and down, showing he understood. “I apologize. I can understand a little English, but I can’t speak it at all.”
“No Problem. Actually, I would like to practice my Cantonese, so this works out great.”
“Wow! That is fantastic! Your Cantonese is incredible. Like a native! Where did you learn?”
“I was a missionary for the Mormon Church and lived here in Hong Kong for two years, about fifteen years ago.”
“Ah. The Mormon Church. I know. I know. You were one of those young men in the white shirts and ties. Right?”
“That was me.” Brig took a long draft from his beer, as did the older man.
“My name is Lam Gwok Wai. You can call me Tommy.” The man held out his hand, which Brig shook vigorously.
“Brigham Young. My friends call me Brig. My Chinese name is Yeung Bui Gam.”
“Nice to meet you Brig. Yam bui (cheers)!”
The direct English translation of “Yam bui” is “Drink cup,” though the real meaning (amongst friends) is “bottoms up,” which implies that the drinkers should empty their cup. Brig knew this guideline and watched, out of the corner of his eye, what Tommy did. Brig’s glass was half empty. Tommy’s almost full. But it became clear to Brig that Tommy intended to drain his glass, and Brig followed his example. They both finished at about the same time, but some of Brig’s beer went down the wrong pipe, causing him to cough.
Tommy laughed. “Well done, my new friend. Well done. You must have some Chinese in you.” Brig smiled. It was nice to have a normal, friendly conversation with someone again. He would be downright giddy if only he didn’t have to pee so bad.
“Excuse me for a second Tommy. I need to use the washroom.” Brig stood up and had to balance himself with his left hand on the chair. Once he regained his equilibrium, he reached for his pack.
“No need, Brig. I’ll watch your bag for you. Don’t worry.”
“Thanks, but I have something I need in here. Just save my seat. I’ll be right back.” Brig hoped that hadn’t offended Tommy, but there was no way he was leaving his backpack with anyone. Not even his new best friend.