One Asian man

Filed in L.A. (Sept 2006), TravelTags: , ,

I'm tired!

This morning, I didn't have any chores to do and I didn't feel like going to Starbucks again, so I started walking with a full backpack on my back. An hour and 25 blocks later, I discovered a very nice 'French' cafe Le Pain Quotidien with tables outside on the sidewalk. Inside, incredibly attractive breads and cakes were on display and I knew this was the place I wanted to eat at, so I sat down at one of the outside tables and ordered breakfast: a parmesan omelette and a double-cappuccino.

Everything at this restaurant was 'organic', meaning that any animals involved were treated humanely and any food products were not processed any more than necessary. The omelette was fabulous, the cheese wonderful (I'm a cheese lover). Even the organic butter tasted great. The bread was above average, and the organic Belgium jam, marmalade and hazelnut spreads were also wonderful. The coffee was so nice; served in a large cup without handles; that I ordered a second cup. The food wasn't cheap. In fact, by Hong Kong standards, it was very expensive but it's simply another case of getting what you pay for, and I'm only here for a few more days so…

After that fabulous meal, I continued my walk until I found a Staples store where I purchased a second clear folder for my sheet music, and then photocopied sheet music that I had previously purchased here in L.A. so that the pianist and I would both have something to look at in my workshops. Then it was back to my teacher's studio for our afternoon lesson.

Following the lesson, I spent almost an hour waiting and photographing the humming bird that lives near my teacher's home. The humming birds are quite fascinating and I'll tell you more about them after I've returned to Hong Kong and chosen a few photographs to show you.

I then took a bus ride to an electric appliance repair shop where our KitchenAid cake mixer was getting repaired. Fortunately, very close to that repair shop was a specialty shop selling cardboard boxes (cartons). I just so happen to need a box to pack the extra things I've purchased while here in L.A. so finding this shop was perfect.

It was then time to go 'home', back to the motel. Imagine for a moment, a Caucasian guy with a 25-pound backpack on this back, a cake mixer nestled in one hand and a flattened 18" x 30" box in the other hand, getting on the bus. It wasn't easy getting everything home but it's finished now.

An interesting thing happened while on the bus coming home. A young lady stood up, walked to the front of the bus and asked the driver how to get to China Town. I watched her carefully. Her English appeared to be broken but I was almost certain that she wasn't Chinese. She looked Middle Eastern to me. When she returned to her seat, I realised what was going on. She was helping an Asian man with very limited English to get directions. Their communication was though almost non-existent. The young lady alighted from the bus a couple of stops later, leaving the Asian man wondering about how to get to China Town. He moved over to the opposite seat and asked the black man sitting there the same question.

(Minorities mix very very well here. There is no obvious racism that I can see, and people treat each other very well and with respect, regardless of race or colour. L.A. is a very special city in this aspect. The same cannot be said of much of the U.S.A. where minorities are few in number.)

The black man tried to help the Asian but was also having problems communicating. At the same time though, he appeared to be ready to help out the Asian man or at least felt that he had communicated what the Asian man needed to know to get to China Town.

I struggled with whether or not to talk to the Asian man. He looked Chinese to me, and chances were good that he spoke either Mandarin or Cantonese. My struggle was that others were apparently successfully helping him and I don't like to belittle other peoples' favours and good intentions. In the end though, it became apparent that the black man was not taking the bus as far as the Asian man and it appeared necessary to talk to the Asian man.

I stood up, moved over next to the Asian and asked him in Mandarin if he was a Chinese man. He was a little shocked at first, and then relieved that I spoke Mandarin. I couldn't take him to China Town because I was carrying so much, but I was able to help him understand what subways he would need to take to get to China Town. He assured me that he would be okay.

The Asian man; by my estimation now in his late 40s; was in fact from 四川 (Si-Chuan) in China. He had sneaked into the U.S.A. more than ten years ago and has been working here ever since. He spends almost all of his time working for and being with other Chinese and has therefore never learnt English. I know that the Chinese can treat their own people very unfairly, taking advantage of their illegal status. This is true especially in China Towns all over the world including L.A., London and Sydney. I asked if he was illegal and after confirming my intuition (without any hesitation by the way; he obviously trusted me), he commented that no matter how hard it had been, his life was still far better than it would have been if he had stayed in China.

I believe the situation in China is now changing; rapidly. Within a few years, many people will have better lifestyles although many others will unfortunately still be living in squalor, especially those coming from country towns to make a better living in the big cities.

Happily, this Asian man has much to look forward to. His children will be emigrating (legally) to the U.S. next year. It will be a wonderful thing for him when his family is once again together.

And now, having carried everything back to my motel room, I am finally back in Starbucks, drinking my coffee, resting, reviewing today's photographs of the humming bird and writing this article. It's nice to be able to sit down and simply relax.

6 days to go…


Comments (Comments are closed)

12 Responses to “One Asian man”
  1. yanni says:

    Asian people are everywhere. I went to Sydney 2 weeks ago, and everywhere I went there were either Chinese, Korean or Indonesian. If I was to get lost there, all I had to do was to find someone with black hair to find directions (I speak Chinese and Indonesian too, so I can speak to many of them) It's amazing.

  2. Vince says:

    Hey Greg! It has been a while since i have dropped by. Well... isn't it great that everyone still misses you. I've just finished my MSc last month and I am now back in Hong Kong. After being in the UK for 4 years I am still trying to settle down here. I mean it's great to be home and seeing my family now but I need to get used to the buzzling place. I was lucky enough to find a job here and I am working as a HR Consultant in the field of Management Consultancy. The work pattern here is bizarre and that I find the practices are not inline with international standard at all. However, I do have to say the job allows me to make use of what I have learned from my course in this job. Anyway Greg.... it'll take me a day or two if I have to keep going on about it but I am sure you know the feeling of businesses in HK. Take care =)

  3. UN says:

    Great post... This is my fist visit to your blog. Very nicely done on the sharing and helping part.
    You bring out a good part of human communication part. How you become part of the "WE" when you approach the man on the bus. When two "I"s, eyes, joint together, I-I, it become a We as Ken Wilber states in his work.
    Thanks for sharing the beauty and the good of L.A.

    nJoy your time at L.A.


  4. Allen says:

    That was a nice thing to do.

    Interesting blog, by the way. It's nice to see someone who actually types in complete sentences and fully formed thoughts (as you can see, where I'm from, that doesn't happen very often. Most of them would prefer to type down shotgun phrases without heed for grammar, capitalization, spelling, etc...).

    Interesting Chinese name, too. Do you also speak Cantonese fluently? I'm also a 華僑, but I don't speak it all that well.

  5. Mark says:

    >> Interesting Chinese name, too. Do you also speak Cantonese fluently? I'm also a 華僑, but I
    >> don't speak it all that well.
    >> Posted by: Allen | Sun, October 15, 2006, 11:12

    I was shocked when I read your question! Mr Rivers speaks awesome Cantonese. I place his Cantonese as good as Sharon Balcombe's:

  6. Gnap says:

    Sigh... So Greg, you are a person with heart as well.... God bless you!

  7. MY says:

    That was very considerate of you to help out that asian man. You really do blog out your thoughts. Yes, there have been times when I have been caught between choosing whether or not to help out someone more when others have already made their best effort.

    So are you as fluent in Mandarin as in Cantonese now? How many years has it been since you first started to speak Mandarin?

    Wow, 6 more days left. :)

  8. sosum says:

    Woo such a nice blog~I guess you've use many time on this website~

    Also,I think you're a wonderful person!
    Beacuse not too much foreigner(I mean for Hong Kong)know how to speak Chinese...
    And I believe that Chinese is more difficult to learn than English...
    Ha....but you made it!
    If I were you,I don't think I can do it...
    I love the foreign countries,but my English really not so good..^^"
    I think I should be more work-hard.

    May I ask you some questions?
    1:You've been here(HK)for the long long time..
    Then how about your old family?
    Will you visit them sometimes?
    (you can avoid to answer this.Never mind of it~)

    2:How do you feel Hong Kong,do yuo remember the feeling when you first time to visit HK?

    3:Also,how do you feel about TVB?

    (I'm sorry to ask you too many questions,you can avoid to anser these,if you don't want to tell me.Thank you so much~)

    Take Care~~~~~~

  9. Alex says:

    I completely understand that feeling when u want to help someone and u weren't sure whether to do it or not. My situation is very similar. I've been in the UK for 5 years and I considered myself as "too English to be Chinese", but yet "too Chinese to be English" I am fluent in both Cantonese and English also half fluent in Mandarin. (OK, I am talking too much about myself now......=.=) Anyway, since there are many tourist around HK all the time, I am always happy to help them to find their way around. This is where the problem lies, sometimes they looked confused and don't seems to know where they're going but I am not sure where they come from. They can be French, German, Austrian, Dutch e.t.c. and doesn't speak a word of English. Then I'll be stuck...... and I just hate that feeling
    when you try to help someone but can't actually do them any good.

    Good Luck in your Singing and Take Care

  10. bronney says:

    Hey dude! Are you the guy on TVB??? Wow cool! Hey when you're done studying, I would love to hear your stuff man. Oh about helping people, don't think too much, if you feel like helping them, just help them anyway you can. He could be Japanese for all I know but usually it doesn't matter, the body language can take care of the rest :)

    Good luck with your studies.

  11. sally says:

    Hi Greg,
    I came across your blog brainstorming ways in which to assist my partner (who is currently in Hong Kong, I'm in Australia) find a casting studio he can hire for half a day.

    He is in Hong Kong for two weeks performing a famous english play you would be familiar with.
    Since arriving in Hong Kong he's had a call back for a role in a new American production.
    To submit a final tape he needs to find a studio urgently. His agent and I are REALLY struggling to find a suitable place anywhere in Hong Kong. We are all awfully concerned he will miss a great oppotunity if he can record a tape. The producer in LA is very keen to see him audition one more time and if he was successful, the role would mean so much to him- especially because it will be shot back in Aus....
    As you would know, any roles for Aussie actors mean the world- they are few and far between for even the best of them

    If you know of ANYONE / ANYWHERE that would provide a room, somone who has the equipment to film a short read digitally and is able to upload the piece to email it to LA we would be eternally grateful for your assistance- of course we want to pay for the studio and cameraman etc.

    As his play is on every night this week, my partner would only require the space and a camera man with their own equipment to film for a couple of hours during the daytime- hoping for this monday! ( ....urgent i know)

    many many thanks Greg!
    Ps : you wont believe it but this is the first Blog I have ever seen- im enthralled!....and i have saved to favourites for future reading!

    my email is

  12. Kayin says:

    Yay! That was really nice of you to help out the Asian man! My parents don't speak English either but they've been here long enough to know how to get around the place *nod, nod*