What Brings You Joy?

Since his retirement several years ago, my client John and I meet every time he’s back in town. His greeting is always the same. “Oh! I have a whole bunch of bills to pay.”

“John, they’re all for the trips you make. You have no mortgage. You spend $20,000 a month travelling with Mildred because you want to and can afford it. You’ve got millions in your bank account you’ll never spend. Your kids are doing well. They’ll never need your financial help. You’re both in excellent health. What are you complaining about?”

One day, fed up with his carping, I asked “John, what’s really going to make you happy? What brings you joy?” He was flabbergasted.

I found my answer to that question on a Sunday morning stroll through Victoria Island, Hong Kong.

Emerging from the subway station, I encountered swaths of lush, manicured lawns surrounding the station. I sat on a park bench absorbing this little piece of tranquility in the midst of a madding hubbub. A Filipina appeared out of the train tunnel, carrying a rolled up piece of cloth. In her other hand she carried a plastic bag full to the brim. She laid out what now appeared to be the tablecloth and promptly sat on it, reserving the spot for herself. She took plastic containers out of her bag and began munching lumpia—Filipino spring rolls. Within minutes a couple of friends emerged out of the subway and sat beside her. They were also loaded with plastic bags. They began to twitter and squawk to each other in Tagalog with fierce animation, sharing each other’s food containers. Soon more Filipinas turned up. One by one they covered the whole of the lawn as far as the eye could see.

Have you ever seen Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds? A village school is about to be attacked by a horde of them. They appear one at a time, swooping down onto a telegraph wire until the whole length of it is completed covered with birds. It was exactly the same here.

My stomach grumbled. It was 11.30 a.m. and I hadn’t eaten my breakfast. I entered the nearest Watson convenience store and purchased some fish balls. For some reason, I walked over to a group of Filipinas. “Can I sit down beside you?”, pointing to a postage stamp of bare grass. “Of course,” sounded back a chirpy four-foot-nothing of a girl. I began to talk to her. We exchanged names.

Bella was a university graduate. Having found no work back home, she contracted herself out for a pittance as a nanny in Hong Kong. She shared a cupboard of a room with two toddlers she looked after and was given one Sunday off every two weeks. She was asked to leave her home for the day. The rest of the girls with her shared the same fate. They had nowhere else to go save here, set down on the grass for the day.

She was so happy. “Today I can finally sit with my friends and share news from home, after such a long time. I’m so lucky. I’m so blessed.”

My newest book ‘The Vanished Gardens of Cordova’ is available on Amazon and Kindle.
Click here to learn more and purchase.

Written by Emil Rem

An eccentric accountant becomes a writer of eccentric characters, in exotic locales, with each chapter taking us on a trip into the fascinating twisted world of Emil Rem. Born to a close knit middle class Muslim East Indian family in Dar-es-Salam in the 50’s, he is then moved to Maidenhead England at the age of five. The next twenty years are spent shuttling between England and East Africa, wearing a St. Christopher’s cross one minute and attending church, to wearing a green arm band and attending Muslim religious classes in Africa next minute. Moving to Canada, marrying a woman from the Philippines and having two boys only adds further texture to his stories.


What Brings You Joy?