“The line is so long.”
This didn’t faze me. After years of living in the country of unrivaled line waiting patience, I’ve started considering less than a one hour wait to be reasonable. Japanese people can wait without complaining for hours. In the rain. Before sunrise. I know, I’ve done it too.
So waiting for less than half an hour indoors for the best – bar none, the best – egg tarts I’ve ever tasted? Piece of …tart.
“You get a table and I’ll bring them over, ok?” my dad said.
I nodded and headed into the cramped seating area. Every seat and substitute had been filled so with no existing line in sight, I stood to the side, making my own. In Hong Kong, I had a relative’s pocket wifi. In Macau, I relied on the free wifi that shopping centres doled out so I was perfectly content to catch up on my social media while waiting.
When a seat opened up a minute later, I pocketed my phone and headed over. Before I could reach the table, a woman flanked by bags swooped in and buried the table with her shopping. I looked around to find no one reacting to the table thief and decided that she hadn’t seen me.
It took another two times, once when I was already reaching for the seat, before I finally caught on to the rules of the line waiting: there are none.
This time, the phone stayed pocketed and I was on alert. At the next opportunity, I moved in too close too soon for normal social convention, almost hovering over the finishing occupants and sliding into the chair before they could push it back in.
Immediately, a woman came over and began berating me in Mandarin. People speaking in foreign languages at breakneck speeds have lost the fear inducing panic in me thanks to a long period of exposure, but at the volume and belligerence that she was going, I have to admit, I was a little stunned. I caught on to enough of the words to understand the general message but I decided to use the golden go-to I use for these situations in Japan… in Australia too come to think of it.
“我聽不懂 (wǒ tīng bù dǒng: I don’t understand).”
Later that week, safe in Japan from screaming Chinese people, my housemates shook their heads at me as I told them the story over egg rolls.
“日本人になったね (nihonjin ni natta ne: You’ve become Japanese),” they laughed.