Abstract: When you go abroad for studies at a young age, there is always a cultural shock. The daily routine, way of life, diverse culture in a metropolitan city and the attitudes of people around you are no longer familiar. One has to learn quickly to adapt.
We are in the business of diamonds, jewellery, jade & precious gemstones. When I was 42, I quit my high paying overseas job as a hotelier. I left for New York City (NYC) to enrol at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) to do the Graduate Gemologist (GG).
The plan was to involve the whole family in the diamonds and jewellery trade. My 3 children were coming of age. After the completion of their high school at 17, they were all sent to NYC to follow suite.
I was the oldest student in my GG class in the late 90s. The three children were the youngest students. Usually the mean age of any class of GGs at GIA was around 28 and above.
By the time William, the youngest son, completed his GG in early 2000s, we have 4 Graduate Gemologist in the family.
Calvin, my second son, went over to NYC on a cold December month in the early 2000s. His sister was already qualified as a GG a year earlier. She was pursuing a jewellery professional degree then at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in NYC.
Calvin always kept me up to date with his life in NYC. We communicated through phone cards, emails and Messenger.
This is one of the episodes which I find amusing.
Calvin was the youngest in his class of around 30 students. All of them were at least 8 years his senior. However, he was never left out. He mingled well with the class.
It was in part due to his good command of English. He was also knowledgeable about gemstones, especially jade and corundum (rubies and sapphires). He had been sorting gemstones since he was 12 years old. I brought home a lot of jade and gemstones when I was working in Myanmar.
Darren, a fine sophisticated Thai lady, was one of his close friends. Her family was one of the biggest ruby and sapphire merchants in Thailand. Her husband was a big-league investment banker working in a prestigious firm in Wall St, NYC then.
She treated him like her younger brother. She taught him a lot of lessons. Especially lessons like “How to survive in a big city?”. She was about 11 years senior than Calvin.
I too had the privilege of having a dinner with the lovely couple while I was in NYC.
Occasionally, their classmates went for jolly drinking at pubs during weekends. But, alas, Calvin was always left out. They checked identification for age limit at the entrance. All pubs selling liquor were out of bound to those below 21. This was the law in NYC.
One evening, Darren threw a small party at her apartment on Upper East Side, Manhattan. This was a posh area with the most concentration of famous museums in NYC.
Calvin brought a box of chocolate. One always brought a small gift when invited for a dinner. He could not buy any liquor or beer, even in those ubiquitous pop and mum stores.
Calvin was the first to arrive. He was seldom late to an invite. Unless of course, there was an earthquake, or a tsunami or a snowstorm that hit NYC occasionally when all traffic came to a standstill. Or when he opened the door to come out of his house, there was a huge angry black bear blocking his way.
In Malaysia there were two oft-mentioned excuses when one was late. “Oh! Sorry I am late. I was caught in a terrible traffic jam!” The other one was, “I could not find a parking lot.”
When he was comfortably seated in the dining hall, Darren asked, “What do you want for a drink, Calvin?”
“Anything,” Calvin said with a jovial smile.
“Oh dear! I don’t have any drinks called Anything?” Darren, the gracious host said.
Calvin was still in his Malaysian mode. It was common practice in Malaysia to answer the host with ‘anything’ when asked this question. Seemed to make the job easier for the host. One would take any drinks that was convenient. Or whatever the host had prepared.
Darren gave her some sagely advise, “Calvin, when you live in NYC you have to be specific. You have to tell people what you want. You cannot let them guess what is on your mind.
It really makes my job very difficult. And I would be a lousy host if I serve something which you don’t like.
Now I am asking you again, what drink can I serve you.”
“Give me a Bud, please.” Calvin said confidently.