The gruff beard counterpoints the cheerful Santa Hat.
Perhaps a cover to the balding hair – alas another year gone – it certainly has been a long one.
Two men – brothers, lovers – who knows and frankly it’s not my place to judge.
Human love is human love – and I can see in their tenderness with each other that it is love by very definition of the word.
A pink haired goddess. Rapunzel of today’s generation. She leaves but acknowledges her presence or maybe I have acknowledged hers.
A stunning beauty.
I said I would stay local but I find myself again in Starbucks. Work is the agenda but people watching is the reality show.
“I’ll pick you up tonight” kissed to the head and check from one man to another. He leaves. He stays. Sniffles either from a persistent cold but more likely from an insistent love.
I can imagine he’s texting him as he leaves the door. I remember all too well those days as well. Phone a lifeline and whatever the maker decided to do with battery life, the heart beat.
Christmas does different things to different people. Those with stories of loss are all to conscious of what they have lost. For others, the ability to take a much needed deep breath. To spend a little of the hard-earned money on loved ones. To reconnect with those we have spent too little time with.
Friends from fargone places send messages wishing you happy holidays. The warm moments that remind you that the stocking isn’t always full of coal.
In all this global uncertainty, caravans and controversy – the universal truth that we are all human spirits and souls on the same sleigh ride of life is an important one. Taking time aside to love one another, interact with one another, smile at one another – a raison d’etre for living.
Wishing you and your loved ones endless love and happiness over a cup of Starbucks coffee (no sugar – my weight is becoming problem).
(p.s. the guy with the Santa hat actually works here!).
(p.p.s I will be putting up more blogs in 2019 – it is my resolution every year but this year I’m committed).
When my moms was still around, she told me about how they used to put our people in shackles.
They were thicker back then. Big iron shackles. So tight, apparently, the blood vessels constricted and feelings were lost in hands and legs. From our ancestral home, we was apparently brought onto boats to supposed freedom. Instead, years of slavery followed. There were no keys back then so those shackles became the bangles of the day, the number of links remaining a sign of the length of your arms and your worth as a potential worker.
I know my people suffered the consequences of generations of abuse. Maybe that is what led to my own abuse so many years later. My parents abandoning me at such a young age. I don’t know if my parents are alive or dead. My biological mother, they said, was only 14 when she had me. Her and my father never were supposed to be together. They had both runaway from their respective homes and met in an abandoned building that they calle dhome. They both needed to get by and used each other as a lifeline for that fateful year.
My father stayed long enough to watch my first diaper switch and decided that this life wasn’t for him. He went on to other cities and apparently fathered other kids. I tried to ask around, and best I know he is in the hole now – doing life for a murder. They put me in protective services when I was just 10. I didn’t realize moms had thrown me to the wolves back then. Pain was just natural. I only realize the scars I carry now.
My foster family that they set me up with decided I was nothing but a burden on their lives and who put me into labour to feed their own older biological children and their own crack addiction. I would always get the leftovers – the soupy and saucy parts of pasta and stale bread that I needed to dip in water to make edible. I often went to school with no packed lunch. Every day I needed to pretend to use the washroom and instead go to the cloakroom where I took a few pieces here and there from my classmates. I knew which bags belonged to the white kids. They always had more snacks that were easy to steal.
I always slipped out, eating lunch by myself on the roof of a nearby building. Watching the cars go by, women being picked up and driven away. Back then, I had no clue what that operation was, only that these women were real pretty and tall.
I understand that the Fosters were paid to take me in but they decided to keep any money they got to themselves. They would always sober up just enough to tell Child Services at their monthly meeting that I was doing okay and had my older “siblings” nod in agreement in a repetitive, orchestrated routine. I was told if I said anything I would get beat so I just put on that blank starey face that I still use today.
Damn, I wish I could put my hands in my head. Close my eyes and dream of those faint memories of better days. When I was hitting lead off for my high school baseball team. Coach even said that if I played the way I did in my 9th grade there would be college scouts by 10th grade. Unfortunately that year was my last year of formal education. I didn’t pass enough classes to allow me to stay at the school they said. Other schools said their schools were full and didn’t allow me to enroll.
Snap back to reality. Today, I am in those same shackles my mom told me about. Red jumpsuit. Laceless shoes. One foot in front of another, I tell myself. Those cursed feet. The same ones that led me to cross over the arbitrary line to a foreign land that seemed so familiar. To me, it all seemed like one America. Little did I know that I had broken a rule. Hell, I had broken numerous ones before. I don’t what made this one any different. One side of the street had a Taco Bell and the other a McDonalds. I was just trynna get a burger, you feel me?
The guard accompanying me looks no older than 22. Poor kid, I think to myself. He’s a brown skin as well. Isn’t that how society works? They got us coloured people enforcing each other. I wonder if I was his blood brother he would treat me the same way. Regardless, I wouldn’t know. I only met my blood brother a month back. He offered me to stay long enough to find another City to get my sorry ass to. Other than a last name we shared nothing. He clearly didn’t want nothing to do with me other than ensuring I never returned.
I don’t remember what happened over the past week. What day it is? What month it is? What led me here again?
Suddenly my shackles came loose with a pop. I tried to massage my wrist and ankles that were feeling incredibly sore from three hours of constriction and bumpy suburban van rides.
“Hands on the glass, and face the wall” – a new guard came up behind me. “Put your hands on the glass and spread out your legs.” Suddenly I felt a leg stick between mine. Hands started patting me down. This is probably not the best time to think it, but imagine I could just turn around and give a big hug. I haven’t had a hug in years. The touch of this guard made my whole body shiver. Every single human touch I had did the same.
“Do you prefer Turkey, Ham, or Vegetarian for lunch?” I think of making a wise-crack that I would love that Big Mac meal and I would have got one had I had enough money, but it was pointless. I knew the menu here. It is the same as always. “I’ll have Turkey again, sir.” with Ice Tea.
I remember that one Thanksgiving when I was five when Mom’s and I had went to Georgia to see Grandma. She made this Georgia Sweet Tea and they had roasted this big crispy turkey. Apparently it was a slave recipe passed through generations. I will never forget how rich the gravy was. You know that feeling when you hungry and wake up immediately dreaming about food. The turkey and gravy shows up all the time in my dreams, but not enough in reality.
“Where do you want to go when you leave Canada?” I stared blankly at her.
“I unno, I got nowhere to go m’aam, no family” I stammer. I was gonna go into my whole story about how I ended up here accidentally. That I had brought the can of mace from the States as I had been robbed sleeping a few months back and that I never intended to use it.
I decided against being lengthy. She probably already knew my story anyway. This woman truthfully looked like she didn’t want to be here either. I could only imagine her job was like doing laundry, except every time a batch of clothes were washed, they kept getting dirty again.
“Do you wanna go home then?” or “Stay locked up for another week.” she asked in a damned if you, damned if you don’t manner.
“Just get me home, m’aam. I’mma go crazy if I stay here just another minute.” I whispered.
“Come again? You need to speak up, sir.” she barked.
“Get me home.” I spoke – not realizing how loud my response came out. I barely had any water all day. My voice must have sounded coarse and cruel.
“No need to raise your voice,” she admonished. “We will get you home by 4pm today.”
“Sir, in five minutes you will have your hearing,” she continued. “All you have to do is tell the member hearing your case that you want to go home and today we can get you home. Alright. No further questions? Take care.” she left curtly.
I went back to my cell. The two Spanish-speaking detainees eyed me with some interest. “How did it go… esayyy?” one walked up to me.
They had not had their meetings yet and were eager to know what was up. Every time someone was released, there would be ‘high fives’ all around – woots and cheers – even the Guards would sometimes join in. The same ‘high fives’ they used to give when I hit the ball out of the park back in 9th grade. Except, this time I did not want to be a part of it. There was no reason to ‘celebrate.’ This wasn’t a Common song.
I shook my head and said nothing. I went back to my corner of our tiny, too cramped cell and put my head on my arms.
The two Spanish-speaking ones started talking to each other and laughing. They were refugee claimants. Apparently they were just missing identification documents and they would be out in the matter of days. I had taken some grade school Spanish but still couldn’t catch much of what they were saying other than the word ” dis one loco.”
The rest of the afternoon was a blur. I went in and out of a sedated state. I was offered some tylenol yesterday because of a bad headache. Maybe the medication was too strong. Maybe I didn’t sleep well enough last night. Maybe, the 5am cornflakes didn’t go down so well this morning.
I think I spoke to some lawyer. She was helpful enough. She was tall and beautiful. Eyes that had me lost like I was looking into an ocean. I didn’t grow up with any oceans though, we were stuck between Atlantic and the Pacific, dead centre Middle America.
She told me with much empathy that there was not much I could do, that refugee claims from the United States would not work, and that I had to decide whether I wanted to stay or go. “Go.” I responded.”I just wanna get out of the hole.” She wrote down a list of homeless shelters for me along with some phone numbers on a yellow piece of paper. She folded it delicately and placed it into my hands. I crumpled it into the pocket of my blue polo. “Thanks ma’am.”
The hearing was quick. Five minutes. There were two individuals in the room and my lawyer with the nice eyes. The man at the front said some thing about me wandering into Canada and violating some law about not being examined. I was banned from Canada for a year. I was told not come back without permission, or something like that. They decided they would continue to detain me until I would leave Canada in the matter of hours. I was immediately escorted back down.
When I went back, my cell was empty. All the other detainees had left. It was me. I was told to change into my regular clothes.
“Border Run time” – an Officer came knocking on my door after I got about ten minutes of much needed rest.
“What’s a border run?” I stammered back.
“Time to go home for you.” he answered.
I was put back in my handcuffs, for the last time. There was two with me. One driver in the front. One Officer to my side. The windows were tinted but it was still daybreak.
The route was different this time. It was beautiful – Is this Vancouver? The maple leafs were falling off trees, gently moving in the wind.
I saw mountains, park, children playing baseball in a park. Where I grew up it was all flat. All hood. Kids had nowhere to go but to the corner to serve as human pawns for the trade. I got really good at spotting police cars and undercover agents. I wish I was better at spotting the one that woke me up from my nap on the park bench. The plan was to pan handle a little so I could get my burger and fries. I guess it was too late. By the time I responded “who are you” I was already rolled to the concrete pavement with my hands behind my back.
This started what today is being ended – my brief trip to Canada. My brief stay in Vancouver.
I know I told this story without a beginning, middle, and end. Kind of like where I am at today.
I get dropped off at an office. The Officers receiving me have U.S. flags sewn onto their uniforms.
Like many, I woke up this morning to the shocking and devastating passing of Anthony Bourdain.
I never met Anthony Bourdain in person, but like many, I religiously followed his shows, read his books, and planned countless travel itineraries (including busing hours) to visit spots that he had been to. Because of him, I was inspired to go to Singapore, to the Philippines, and most importantly, to better understand my own roots and Chinese origins.
He was one of the first writers to truly put everything on the line – cut all of the bullsh*t and tell us how he really felt. That honesty, I feel, by osmosis, landed into my own life. His ability to tell stories, his verbage, and “Bourdanisms” morphed into my own vocabulary. I write, speak, and talk like Anthony did.
While he inspired me to get up and go, he also inspired me when I was at lowest points. Challenging days at the office or at school would often be solved by late night time with a rerun of No Reservations that I had probably watched a hundred times. I would re-read passages of Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw as a way to get a better night’s rest. He was a cure to depression for many of us in ways I wish we could have only told him now.
I am a foodie – because of you. I wandered into the unknown – including to Chongqing, China where I met the love of my life – because of you. I appreciate my city more and use your storytelling tips in my everyday work – because of you.
Thank you. May you find peace, adventure, and what you are seeking in the afterlife. I trust God to take care of your family and the rest.
First week officially in the books. I look around at my office, out at Victory Square through one clear and one not so clear glass window (there’s a story behind this – for another day, no less), I feel as if I have finally settled in.
I am grateful to have landed in a place of compassion and learning. I love it here. From having a brilliant office manager who I can already tell is a special soul to the equally brilliant colleagues I have. Everyday is filled with discussions about the law and doing good.
This journey won’t be easy. I’m shifting from what I will readily admit to now, a “business man practicing law” to a “lawyer who happens to operate a business.” The stakes are also much higher now as is the level of knowledge and finesse required. The clients that I have started to and well be starting to see often find themselves in vulnerable places, subject to an immigration system that increasing feels turned against them. Every conversed word and every step must now be more calculated than every before – often with lives and families hanging in the balance. It is not enough to simply show a client meets the requirements of a certain permit.
Learning to push myself yet be patient at the same time will itself be a process. Beyond myself, I need to put my faith in God and those around me. My heart is ready and the mind is making it’s way there – it has to overcome.
Over the next little bit, I will revive this blog – with a little bit of law and lot of love. Like the elephant being held up by balloons that sits in my office room I hope to take the heavy burdens in stride and focus on how much support I am grateful to have.
To the mentors who helped me make this decision, I am very thankful to each and every one of you. Now – let’s get back to the grind and do it for the people.
Growing up I used to play a game. A game, I will sheepishly admit that I still play to this date.
As soon as the light goes green - in fact, the split second it does - I rush to take the first step from the street corner on to the road. If I am in a car at a stoplight I press hard on the pedal as I were some Formula 1 Driver waiting for the light to turn green. I used to be a huge Greg Moore fan.
Today, I was walking along Burrard. At night. The kind of cool November night that you are grateful for - no rain for the first time in was seems like an eternity. I am exhausted by the late minutes of Monday monotony. Head swimming with too much commotion and perhaps not enough emotion. The high of a great day coupled with the reality of not enough done. Again. Just like every other day.
As I step into the gates ready to play my little game again, I hear two voices. Voices of wisdom and sage, older voices, but also one a youthful exuberance of a type of conversation I rarely have anymore unless a phone is against the side of my face. These two were playing the game with me today. I had competition.
Listening to them carefully, I watched as one figure put out their arm so the second one could use it as a railing to step off the ledge. "Thank you ma'dear" said the second silhouette, the challenges of the task ahead apparent. Slowly, slowly, slowly they made their way across the street. At this stage I was already miles ahead.
I rush forward. I miss my bed. I worry about work. The usual. Yet, I'm pre-occupied with this couple behind me. The green figure with two legs turns slowly into the red hand but the two silhouettes are still moving along solely. Easy comes as easy goes. My shoulder check tells me they've cleared my visual angle.
As I stare back and think forward, my brown dress shoes go straight into the curb as I stumble awkwardly, catching my balance at the last second and attempting to gracefully make it appear I am choreographing a routine for a local ballet house.
The two silhouettes walk past, leaving me with cellphone dangling in my hand like a rotten carrot. "You were listening to your music weren't you" one silhouette asks, shaking his head at my lack of grace.
I try to laugh it off but the truth was my earphones were not blasting music - although for most of the day they were playing Mariah Carey's Christmas album. I was not reading my cellphone (or was I) - these lines pretty much are blurred just like if I am working or not at any given minute.
No. I was distracted by the million lights and sounds of a busy street, in a busy city, during a busy time and a million more thoughts. Yet these two bastions of stability were thinking only of each other. Crossing the street, not in a manner that required them to do so - the so called "street-rules", but only when both of them had made it to the other side. Together.
Damn.... I thought to myself - this is where I want to be with who I want to be 40 years from now.
Crossing roads not because of the time it takes to get to the other side but in order to get there with the right person by my side.
I picked up phone and dialed my love.
Her weathered eyes tell me she’s seen some things;
Her neatly knitted red hat each stitch each seam;
She speaks not it seems in complex phrases;
She could have been here three decades but to you she’s the same as;
That Chang that Chong, too many Wong’s its wrong;
Like her only place at the table should be slurping Wontons at Hons;
You worry about your own backyard, call her the product of an invasion;
You paint her with the same brush, like all calligraphy must be Asian;
She wants nothing more than to say hello and have you smile back:
She tired of you saying go home, like she’s a pre-1960’s black;
Her wrinkled hands washing white rice, but to you it’s crack;
But she ain’t going nowhere, homie I’mma assure you of that.
Cause her nose has smelled the burning of bodies on the street;
She’s been through so many medical treatments, she’s immune to all disease;
She knows the games you playing when you raise up all your fees;
She’s dealt with enough shit, from fleas to trynna flee;
She doesn’t need you debating whether she still a refugee;
All she needs is you to tell her that her presence fills a need;
That her picking up your cans, truly helping clean our streets;
You might never know her name, but her story can’t be washed away;
She’ll wake up every morning, cause every morning it’s the same;
Maybe for a minute stop and say how goes your day;
Cause tomorrow when she doesn’t show up for work, you’ll be regretting what you didn’t say.
I am proud to officially launch my new label – IMM (Inside the Migrant’s Mind). For many of us Canadian immigration starts with an IMM form. We are proverbial monarch butterflies. Our migrations around the world form the greatest natural phenomenon on earth.
Stay tuned as we explore the poetic power of our immigrant pasts, stories of love for our past and hope for our future.