Saturday, September 24, 2016

Descend into San Francisco.

Notes from my 3-week travels through America. Day 1. 

Half-an-hour prior to our descend into San Francisco, a Chinese woman behind me slides into the empty seat next to me and asks for help. She’s holding a U.S. Customs Declaration form. She asks me to fill out the blank spaces for her. 

There are 15 questions on the blue and white form. I go through each line, explaining where to write her name, how to find her passport number, and how to spell “Hong Kong” - where our plane originated.
- 這裡寫妳的姓氏”
“我的姓啊,可以写中文吗?”
“寫英文吧” 
“中间名,这是什么?”
“這不用管它,下一欄是,妳的名” 
“下一欄是,妳護照所示國籍,妳是中國國籍嗎?”
“中国,是的,中国”
“那寫中國吧”
“英文嗎?”
“恩,中國的英文”
“中国的英文呀...”
我把她的護照翻到封面:“這上面的英文字,照抄吧”
She smells like almonds and tells me she has a green-card, and has been living in America the past four years. Her husband has a job in the city and she spends her days teaching Mandarin to children. Even at work she doesn’t use English - there’s an interpreter. She has just gone home to Guangdong for the first time. She now lives somewhere near San Francisco - 在山上, she says - and wants me to call her the next time I’m there. 
“妳是好人”, she says, “怎么帮我忙”. 
Despite my prejudices, this is what we do in a foreign land - we help each other - right? I’m reminded of the 80-year-old Chinese couple from the inflight movie I just saw, 不二情書》("Book of Love", 2016) , who lives in Los Angeles, never learned English, and has a hard time functioning in the community after their English-speaking children moved away. (This film is really about Tang Wei 湯唯, 吳秀波, and the book "84, Charing Cross Road". But here, we see the old couple as a beacon of stability, longevity, love, and kindness.)

I gratefully take down her information and promise to reach out next time I’m there. Her name is 趙 Annie. She prefers 赵. 

(On my connecting flight to Dallas, I sat next to a Hispanic man whose backpack wasn’t under the seat in front of him before take-off. When the flight attendant came to remind him, he responded with “Yo no hablo Ingles.” The flight attendant grunted loudly in obvious annoyance.) 

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