Day 282 - Johnson

Day 282 - Johnson (3rd person I approached)
October 09, 2014 - The first person I approached, Francesco, said he’d be happy to chat with me. He was expecting a friend to be joining him soon. Not thirty seconds later, his friend arrived. Francesco offered me his telephone number to chat later. I explained that it was about in-the-moment conversations, and thanked him for his willingness to chat. His friend wasn’t sure what was going on. 


The second person I approached let me explain what I was doing. Then in a somewhat gruff tone told me that I had already asked him once before and that his answer had been no then, as well. I thanked him, and walking away, made a mental note of his face in my mind. May I never ask him again.


Johnson was sitting alone except for a bunch of bananas on the table next to him as he ate. I told him what I was doing and asked if he would be willing to chat. He asked how long for and I said five, maybe six, seven or eight, and my voice trailed off. He asked if I minded if he continued eating, and when I said no of course not, he told me sure, he’d chat. The he asked me if I wanted a banana. I smiled, it just seemed so random. And thoughtful.


Johnson’s family were living near Saigon, in Vietnam during the communist revolution of the late 1970’s. His parents sold all of their possessions in exchange for gold bars and in 1980, paid for passage on a fishing boat to escape Vietnam.

“They paid for their passage and were told what time and where to meet the boat. They were going wherever the boat would take them. I was still in my mother’s womb. She was pregnant with me. My older brother was one-and-a-half years old when they made that journey to escape. They landed in Malaysia and I was born in a refugee camp in Kuala Lumpur,” he said.

“We were only there for a couple of months and the Canadian Government said they would take us in. I thank you very much for that,” he said with a warm and genuine smile. 


Some relatives who had left Vietnam on a different boat had settled in Edmonton (Alberta), so Johnson’s family headed there.

“We stayed there for a couple months to get settled and adjust. My mother’s sister, my aunt, had also left Vietnam and had settled here in Vancouver (British Columbia - BC). We moved out here and have been fortunate enough to call this home ever since,” said Johnson.


Growing up in East Vancouver, Johnson told me he was grateful for the diversity.

“I had friends that came from all parts of the world. Everyone was different, so we were able to be friends and get to know people for who they were, rather than where they were from. It was a melting pot of cultures,” he said.

“School was okay. It was more of a social thing for me. I think most of what was taught in school was one opinion or view of history and culture. There were no real life skills or lessons taught in school. Nothing practical. We had to go out and find those experiences through each other,” he said. Johnson was very active growing up. He enjoyed drama, theatre and the arts, and played soccer in elementary school, then basketball in high-school.

“I was into martial arts as well. By the time I graduated high-school, I had a black belt in Taekwondo.”


“Of course I went to college, I’m Asian. I had to keep my parents happy,” he said sarcastically, and laughing. Johnson went to Langara College (Vancouver) to study Sports Medicine.

“I liked sports so I figured I’d explore that. But after almost a year in college, I knew it wasn’t for me. I just didn’t like school. So I left,” he said. Johnson got a job “working for the man,” in retail.

“I had always been into fitness and martial arts, and I thought about becoming a personal trainer. I knew some people who had gone to school for it, but that didn’t appeal to me. I found an online correspondence course and did that. While I was working in retail, I started to get some clients for training. People would see I was fit and healthy and they’d ask me questions, and that’s how I started getting clients.Working in retail and training clients, I was a living example. Then a marketing company approached me and offered me an opportunity to do some promotional marketing with them. I was working three jobs. I didn’t even finish the training course, I was too busy training to do it! But the more I was training people, the more time I was spending at the gym. It had once been my place to escape and get grounded and now it was becoming my work place. I started to do that less and less,” he said. 


The marketing company offered Johnson a full time permanent opportunity. In Toronto.

“I made the move. I packed up everything and headed to Toronto,” he said.

“I was there about four months and I was looking around at my colleagues and everyone was doing nothing but working. That’s all they did. I wasn’t happy and I wanted to leave, but I felt foolish. My friends in Vancouver had thrown me a going away party. I had moved across the country. It was speaking to my mother, that helped me to see the light. She said what’s the point sticking with something you don’t like, in a place where you’re not surrounded by a network of people who love and care for you,” he said, putting his hand over his heart.

“I am so thankful for my wonderful mother and her wisdom and advice. I am blessed.” Johnson quit the marketing job and moved back to Vancouver.


“I was living at home, with my mother’s support. My parents have always been so supportive. We are a tight family unit, the four of us. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. It’s a long story but I’ll give you the Coles Notes version. I wanted to do something that allowed me live with passion. I had my martial arts and that had developed for me. When I got my black belt, it was more about fitness and some ego in there as well. As I got older, I came to embrace more of the spirituality of the art. The way of life. I had always enjoyed theatre and drama in school. I did some research and started taking acting classes. For the past eleven years I’ve been a professional actor and stuntman. It’s unusual to do both, and it’s especially unusual to do both and be Asian. The martial arts comes in handy because I can train in stunts with that, as well as use it in my own stunt work,” he said. 


By now Johnson’s food was getting cold. I thanked him for his time and his story, and took his picture. I asked if he was happy how his life has turned out so far.

“Absolutely. I’ve travelled for work and I’m now open to travelling even further. If it happens that I have to spend more time in other locations then so be it. I’m ready and open to it. This city is incredible, you only have to look around you, everywhere is natural beauty. Vancouver will always be my base,” he said. I asked what work of his I would know him from.

“I was in a successful web series called Mortal Kombat. I also got to fight my childhood hero actor, Jet Li in the movie called ‘War.’ I played the bad guy," he said with a satisfied grin. #notastranger

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