The young lady was standing facing the lifts when I got there. I thought I was quiet, wearing sneakers instead of my usual heels, but she must've heard me, for she turned. She gave me the most radiant of smiles, a friendly nod, and said "Hi". I didn't expect her to greet me, and I certainly didn't expect her to start talking to me.
I was a little taken aback when she asked me where I was from. I thought maybe I'd misheard the question, for she spoke with a very thick accent, but I answered her all the same. I said I was from here. She looked surprised, asked again to confirm that I was Malaysian, and then said I don't look like a Malaysian. I think she must've meant Malay, for she then asked if I was Chinese. In return for her friendly effort in starting a conversation, I asked her where she was from. Instead of answering directly, she flashed me a cheeky grin and asked me to guess! Where did I think she came from? Which country did I think she looked like she belonged?
I was actually thinking of an answer when an upward-bound lift arrived - she was waiting going up and I was waiting to go down - and she had to take it. She stepped into it and turned to face me again.
"Libya," she said, "I'm from Libya."
Generally, I do not appreciate strangers talking to me (but especially asking what I deem very personal questions such as my name, my occupation, my age etc.) but this was so different. I marvel at the ease with which she struck up the light-hearted, casual and rather impersonal conversation, which didn't make me feel the least awkward or uncomfortable.
She was a stark difference from a family of four I shared the same lift with later. I held the door open while man and wife waddled their way in, lugging bags of groceries and two boisterous little boys; I held the door open again 3 floors later while they heaved their way out - and did not get as much as a nod of acknowledgment, nor a smile of appreciation. Of course, I would never expect anything for merely pressing the "Doors Open" button in the lift, but outright discourtesy gets on my nerves.
These - all within the span of an evening - reminded me of something Papa always said:
There are all kinds of people in this world - and you can choose the kind of person you want to be.
Wasn't he simply the wisest?