On the last day of my trip to Hong Kong, I found what I thought would be the perfect gift for Sandy, the girl I was spending time with back in Korea. Somewhere by the Big Buddha statue on Lantau Island, I was able to locate a (cheap) set of coins that featured the Chinese Zodiac. I really wanted to bring something back for Sandy, since we had been getting close. The coins were perfect. I remembered a conversation we had the first time I went over to her apartment.
“Wow,” I said, “you’ve got a lot of coins.”
“Yeah,” she told me, as we looked at the big assortment of metal currency sitting in a glass jar by her bed. “It’s kind of my collection. Here, my brother donated a loonie and a toonie – let me show you what they look like.”
And she did. Or at least I think she did. I couldn’t remember very well, but it didn’t matter. A loonie and a toonie couldn’t compete with an authentic set of Chinese Zodiac coins from Hong Kong. I bought the coins and a few other things for Sandy and came back to Korea excited to give them to her. At school, during some downtime, I wrapped them up in an old Korean Times. I could already imagine her face, opening up such a thoughtful gift.
“These are for your coin collection,” I would say.
Her jaw would drop. Obviously. “Oh my God,” she would say. “This is such a thoughtful gift. You remembered that I have a coin collection and you brought these back for me. You’re…I don’t know what to say…you’re fucking amazing. You’re the best non-exclusive pseudo-boyfriend a girl who’s not ready for a relationship could have!”
This scene played in my head as I rode the subway over to her apartment. These coins were going to melt her heart, the way stopping the world would melt the guy from Modern English. Damn, I told myself, I am one excellent guy. I listen and I remember and I buy really cheap gifts based on all that.
Sandy seemed happy to have me back. She cooked me a delicious tofu stir fry and then the moment had arrived. It was time for her to open her gifts. We sat on her bed and I handed her the wrapped coins.
I was excited and confident and, as she tore the Korean Times away, I said what I had pictured myself saying, “These are for your coin collection.”
She looked up at me in confusion. “Coin collection? What coin collection? I don’t have a coin collection.”
I looked down at the coin set in her hands and then back up at her. “Huh? Yeah you do. You told me about it…how you have a little hobby of collecting coins.”
Suddenly she seemed serious – a little angry even. “I do NOT have a hobby of collecting coins. I never told you that. You must be thinking of somebody else.”
“No, I’m not,” I said, arguing pointlessly. “You keep them in a glass jar…over there…you said your brother gave you a loonie and a toonie…”
“Um,” she said,” those were left by the girl who had this apartment before I moved in. It’s just a bunch of spare change. And my brother gave me a loonie and a toonie because, um, we’re Canadian. He was giving me some money, not donating to any make believe collection.”
I was stunned. There was no coin collection after all. Yet I could clearly remember talking about it. Could it have been possible that I was confusing her with some other girl? Somebody must’ve had a coin collection. Why did I think she had a coin collection? And why, having given her a dud gift, was I still arguing with her?
“Well, even if you don’t actually have a coin collection, I can remember you saying you did. Maybe you told me you have a coin collection by mistake.”
She set the coins down on the bed. “Why would I do that? This is great. You go ahead and make up anything you want. Like I said before, you never listen to me. I tell you things and you don’t pay any attention. You just hear what you want to hear.”
It had all gone so horribly wrong. My thoughtful gift was actually completely thoughtless.
“It’s fine,” she said. “I’ll put them on a string and hang them up somewhere.”
“Hey,” I said, trying to be funny, “maybe you can start a coin collection now.”
The moral of the story is this: don’t try too hard to make someone feel special. Any old gift probably would’ve done the job. I got too cute. Or maybe the moral is that when you go to China (or Hong Kong), you should just buy people things with dragons on them. Dragons never, ever disappoint. So if you’re taking notes, you will want to write those two things down:
Don’t try too hard.