I'm sitting here all alone in the my company's Hong Kong offices early on Saturday afternoon ... playing my iTunes (of course) and musing on where I've seen in the scant 36 hours that I've been here. Granted, the abrupt change in time zone and lengthy work day (returned to the hotel about 11:30 p.m. last night) has left my brain a bit more addled than usual. It's as if I went to bed at home and somehow woke up in the middle of a Bruce Willis sci-fi film.

I really enjoy riding the Hong Kong subway, called the MTR, to work. I get to casually observe the swarm of people flowing all around. The Chinese are a very busy, hustling group of folks. Generally speaking, no one will hold a door for you. They aren't really being impolite ... just don't want to slow down. All you have to do is look at which button is most worn on the elevator panel to see what I mean.

Hong Kongese also rarely seem to look up at you and never smile at strangers. I don't know why that is, but it suits me fine.

Many of the young women are dressed very fashionably, including stylish hairdos and perfectly applied makeup. They usually board the train, find an unobtrusive spot and quickly start playing with their phone ... to pass the time and so as to avoid looking at anyone. The rest of the ladies wear smocks with practical footwear like crocs or hiking boots. Their hair is usually cropped shortand they typically spend their ride looking for an empty seat to occupy. I call these types "married.



Anyway, I managed to make it through my first day at work pretty well. Everyone in the office was very excited about the annual dinner party scheduled for that night. It was to be a dual celebration: Chinese New Year's (this is normally held in February) and the 10th year anniversary of the launch of our Hong Kong office. We have entered into the year of the snake. When I asked what that might mean, the answer I received was that it will be "flexible" ... makes some sense, I guess. I was given the assignment to hand out lai see (red envelopes containing small bills). This is a traditional gesture meant to wish the recipient health and prosperity.

I greeted everyone in the office with a hearty "Kung Hei Fat Choi," which means "happy New Year," not an insult like you might think. They respond by clasping their hands together and shaking them at me.

Everyone got very excited when they saw me approach with the lai see, many staff jumping up from their seats and doing the greeting before I even made it to their cubicle. Their enthusiasm made my little task a lot more fun than I thought it would be.

Dinner started at 7 p.m., but you could arrive early to play mah jong if you'd like. Since I can't win at gambling even when I understand the game, I chose to protect my wallet and show up for dinner only. But while watching the games that were underway, I finally figured out what gets the Hong Kongese to open up and have fun ... alcohol!

The bar served punch, coke, beer and wine. Rather quickly, the punch was gone (probably the libation that goes best with mah jong), I'm allergic to beer, so it was wine for the night. Must have been a good vintage, too, judging by the growing pile of screw caps. It was a typical Chinese meal featuring a dozen courses of whitefish, shellfish, stuff you'd never think of eating (bird's nest soup), food you like but served in a way that you could never have imagined (some sort of hot stew with grapes). My favorite may have been the rather chewy "Goose Web," which was exactly what you think it is. I can only hope that there is an effective avian prosthetic out there. The fish balls (NOT what you might think they are) exploded on my poor, unprepared taste buds. Always a culinary adventure over here!

They handed out service awards and mostly small monetary prizes (you had about a 50 percent chance of winning). The tables were arranged so each team sat together (the masters of ceremony came from my support group and our table was having a raucously good time!). This led to a lot of cross-table competitions for lottery winners, best bird's nest soup, toasts or what have you. The company's Hong Kong party was much better attended (but no spouses) than the Christmas event in the U.S. ... much louder, and everyone was participating.

I had a great first day! And Kung Hei Fat Choi to you all!

Gary Atkinson is employed at Bemis in Shirley. He and his wife, Kim, and family live in Townsend.