"I love eating melon," Alberto said.
You see, we were running out of ideas on what to buy our friends when we visited them. You could get them wine, you could get them whisky - but what could you buy that would be really useful, that everyone could enjoy?
You could buy fruit.
"Why doesn't anyone give fruit anymore?" I asked Man Yung. "I remember back in the 80's in Hong Kong, whenever we went visiting relatives or friends or whenever someone paid a visit, the visitor would bring these enormous baskets made of pink plastic coated wire - they were impossible to open - filled with apples and oranges. Of course, I would always be disappointed. Sugus candy would have been a bigger hit with me and my cousins. Even Quality Street - although the toffees were not a particularly nice surprise for me."
"Well, I like the Quality Street toffees. Even before they had the wire baskets, people in Hong Kong were giving each other fruit. They'd tie half a dozen, a dozen oranges together with red string, slap a pink paper on top - and yes, I know the kids prefer chocolates, but the adults really appreciated the fruit. Families would sit together in the evenings peeling oranges and talking about the events of the day. Fruit will always be eaten and would never go to waste."
"So why don't people give fruit anymore?"
"I think people don't visit each other anymore."
It's so much easier too, not to visit. We have cellphones. We have skype. We have email. We have facebook. Anything except having to deal with the messiness of being together, face to face.
When we brought out two yellow melons from their plastic bags at Osvaldo and Coca's house and held them up chest level (a la Austin Powers one), they knew right away that Man Yung was joking about my lack, thereof. Where did these cheeky chinese people come from?
In Argentina, like Hong Kong of yesteryear, visiting is still a daily occurrence. Osvaldo always had his eye on the gate. The godfather of his children, a distinguished bespectacled gentleman, came by to say hello. A neighbour lady with a no-nonsense attitude and a wide smile came over and helped Coca check her blood pressure.
Osvaldo and Coca, like all our Argentinian friends, let us into their homes. You came at lunch hour? Then, please join us for lunch. If the tablecloth is a little dirty, flip it over. In our home our children and grandchildren are always coming and going. Our dog is fat, but fast - please make sure he doesn't sneak out of the gate! There's the smell of tea, of cooking, of mate.
"You must eat!" they said. Force feeding optional.
The melons were a big hit. "They were a little raw," Coca said, "but the kids couldn't wait. They split open the melons right away, chopped it into little pieces, added orange juice and a little sugar...and we all ate it afterwards. It was a very delicious fruit salad!"