"Sometimes I wish my parents had taught me differently," said my friend. "Don't get me wrong, I do not regret marrying my husband. He is very nice. But you see, my father always said, 'study, be smart, marry a nice man'. Sometimes I wish he had said, 'look after yourself, be pretty, marry a rich man'."
"Why?" I ask her. We went down the escalator while the Louis Vuitton model tipped her nose arrogantly at us from where she was frozen on the billboard.
"Well it would be nice to just sit down and enjoy life."
I nod in agreement. And then I check myself. "But that won't guarantee you happiness," I say.
"I suppose so." She shrugged vaguely.
I take a sideways glance at her. I never hung out with her much back in college. She is short and pimpled, a sweet smile framed by split hair-ends freshly rolled into curls. She told me she had just been to the hairdresser before picking me up for lunch. I couldn't imagine her being more happy or more sad than she was. For as long as I knew her, she always seemed perpetually suspended in one mood: practical.
Not a bad thing. The practical fact of the matter is that, this city encourages you to find happiness in practicality. Service is cheap. Rolled curls are cheap. Apathy is cheap. The lack of it is costly. The pretty girls who understand this get the rich guys.
The nannies take care of your children at home and feed them with your refrigerated breast-milk while you spend three hours in traffic to go to work. In the back seat while your driver negotiates the traffic. The pavements are foreboding, pitted like the surface of the moon, narrow like the edge of a cliff, littered like the depths of a marketplace. The buses are crowded and steamy and late. They tell you: there is no place for moral consideration, just get a car.
My friend quit her steady office job to start her own venture and have more time for the child they had recently decided to have.
Without being prompted, she felt she needed to explain her decision to me.
"I felt that it was time, because I figured I need someone to take care of me when I'm old. Unlike people in the west, a child would never put me into a nursing home."
Maybe that is one form of guaranteed happiness.