Day 351 - Richard (2nd person I approached)
December 17, 2014 - As the year draws to a close, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on this project. The people I’ve met, the stories I’ve heard and shared. The friendships that have grown out my seemingly random, chance encounters. I’ve connected not only with people I’ve met in person. I’ve formed some wonderful online friendships, with people who have followed along, offered encouragement and supported this project. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to put into words what this experience has meant to me, nor to qualify what it has done for me.
Today’s story has two parts. I saw Don this afternoon. I met him way back in June on Day 165, almost at the halfway point of this project. I see Don in various parts of town, from time to time. Some days we’ll sit and chat, and some days we wave and keep going on our separate ways. This afternoon I was heading to my favourite coffee shop to meet a friend. I saw Don sitting on a bench at the side of the road. I smiled, waved, and said hello. I intended to keep going, so that I wouldn’t keep my friend waiting. Don didn’t wave, but he did say something which I didn’t quite hear. I casually asked him to repeat it, while I was waiting for a traffic light to change, some fifteen feet away from where he was sitting.
He looked distressed. I turned around and walked over toward him. He mumbled something, and again I had to ask him to repeat what he had said.
“My brother died on December first,” he said.
“I just got a phone today and I called my sister. She said she was trying to track me down, but didn’t know how to find me. He died on December the first, and I didn’t even know he was sick.” He was Don’s older brother. His sister lives in Edmonton, where his brother had been. He died from a form of cancer. I sat down next to Don, not caring that the bench was wet. We sat quietly.
“I didn’t even know he was sick. December first," he shook his head slowly.
"I had a dream a few nights ago about my sister. When I woke up and remembered the dream, I felt odd. Like something was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was,” he told me, wiping tears from his eyes. I gave him a hug. Don hugged back, tightly. I asked him if he was sleeping on the streets this week, and mentioned a connection I might have to get him some shelter.
“No, I don’t want to go indoors. I’m going to wait and go see my friend who is just over there. At the church up the road,” he said, pointing eastwards. His friend is a pastor in a church that has helped Don out before. She wasn’t going to be available for another thirty minutes. I was glad he had somewhere to go.
Don has no family here that he is in contact with. He reached over and hugged me. I offered to sit with him while he waited until it was time to go see his friend.
“No man, I’ll be okay. It’s just a shitty way to be going into Christmas. And the shock. I just got this phone today. I misdialled a few times too and kept getting the wrong number. Then I got my sister.” His eyes filled with tears. He pulled a tissue out his pocket and wiped them away. We sat quietly, until Don looked at me and said
“Thanks for being here, Colin. I’ll be alright. You go off and see your friend.” I told him he would be in my thoughts, and asked if it would be alright if I wrote about seeing him today. I said I’d ask people to keep him in their thoughts. He responded with another hug. Sometimes there are no words. There’s always a good hug. (*Fact Check - see link below.)
Later in the afternoon, I saw Richard sitting near a coffee shop, in a local mall that I frequent. He was reading a book that appeared to be written with Asian characters. He was using a highlighter to mark certain passages. I approached him and started to tell him what I’m doing. As I spoke, he put down his highlighter, closed the book, and gestured for me to take a seat opposite him.
“I was born in Hong Kong. It was during time when all Chinese families very large. I am one of ten children,” he said, with a big smile.
“It’s not like that nowadays. Maybe one or two childrens only.” He is very soft spoken, and while he had a strong accent and his diction faltered a bit, I knew that language was not a barrier to our conversation. I asked how many years there were between the oldest and the youngest child. He closed his eyes and his lips moved as if he was reciting the names of each child.
“Oh, you make me do math now,” he said, opening his eyes.
“About twenty year.” I said that his mother had spent many years with small children all around.
“I had three mother’s. That's the way it was done in those time. My father marry three women, all together,” said Richard.
“When I growing up, I had to look after the three youngest ones. The other ones not my responsibility.” When I asked why just they three youngest, again he smiled, and told me
“They born to the same mother as me. She was wife number one,” he said while using his finger to make a ‘number one’ sign. He laughed quite loudly when I asked if wife number one was the most important wife.
“That all depend who you ask!”
Richard liked geography and physics in school.
“I played all the sports I could as well. Basketball, badminton, soccer. I went to school until I graduated at age nineteen. I like to think I was smart guy. After high-school, no more. I follow my father into his business. He was buying property, the land and building houses and selling them unit by unit. Like apartments,” he said.
“I never used a hammer. I learned the business of building and selling. Once I learned enough, I stop to working for him. I start work for my name. My business,” he said, proudly. Richard tells me he learned English in school.
“They teach in English at school, from an early age. That’s where I learned from.” I mentioned that I thought his English was very good, and that he seemed like he had kept practising. He looked at me with surprise.
“I live in Canada, you have to speak English!”
“My brother came to Winnipeg in Canada to go to university. He ask me to come and visit him, and I liked it here. Well, not Winnipeg because it to cold and the snow, but Vancouver is really nice. My brother asked me if I want to move here. So I go back to China and applied. My wife and children moved here to Vancouver. Forty years ago,” he said. Richard has five children.
“I’ve been married fifty something years. I never remember the date. Fifty plus.” He and his wife have five grandchildren. Two of their children still live here and the other three live in various parts of the world.
“We go to see them all. I go back to Hong Kong every year too.” Richard retired when he moved to Vancouver, forty years ago. He tells me, much to my surprise, that he is eighty-three. I asked him what he does with his spare time.
“What you mean? I have five children, I don’t have spare time!”
He tells me that the book he is reading was written by his Pastor in Hong Kong.
“It is about spirituality and how to live a good life. I am learning always. I teach Sunday school in my church, but not to children, to adults. I spend time helping at my church, doing the volunteer work. They help me, I help them,” he says.
“My parents were not go to Church when I was a young child. I am a Christian. I used to walk past the church on my way to and from school everyday. Maybe when I was eight years old. One day, they invite us in and give us something to eat and drink. That is when I started church. I go for many years, then stop,” he says.
“About forty-five years ago, I started to wonder questions about life, and what it means and why. I started going to church again. Now I’m still learning.” His parents eventually started to go to church as well, at Richard’s request.
We shook hands and I ask if I may take his picture. He adjusts his hat and smooths down his jacket
“Ok, I’m ready.” I take a picture and show it to him.
“No, that's not a good face. Can you take another one, please?” I took another one, it was exactly the same. I show it to him.
“Yes, that’s good,” he says, and smiles.
I ask what he is doing, sitting there at the coffee shop.
“I’m waiting. My wife is getting her hair fixed,” he says fluttering his hands at the brim of his hat.
“Always waiting.” Two parts, one story. Balance. I am so fortunate. #notastranger
*Fact Check - Day 165 Don - http://on.fb.me/16uQ8WK