The Lee Smile
July 17, 2009 § 42 Comments
Yatfai Lee has something to smile about.
I found him hanging around with his pals in Columbus Park in Chinatown, sharing a joke in his native language. He seemed animated. As I walked towards him tentatively, with my camera ready to shoot, he looked up and smiled again.
When asked what made him so happy, he burst out into an infectious guffaw:
“I am retired!” he explained.
“Oh, really!” I said, smiling back. “So how long have you been retired?”
“For fifteen years!”
“For fifteen years?” I repeated like a moron.
Incredible. How could a celebration last that long? Is it just Lee or is retirement really the panacea I have been looking for?
“Yeahhhh,” he beamed at me, “It feels gooood. I come to the park everyday, to talk to my friends.”
“Mr. Lee, if you don’t mind my asking, how old are you? You don’t look…”
“I am 74 years old, ha…I was in the restaurant business…Where are you from?” Mr. Lee shot back with disjointed, yet rhythmic sentences.
“I am from India,” I supplied, and zoomed in on him again.
“Oh Indiaaaaa! Do you know Bombay?”
I nodded in congenial affirmation.
“I was in Bombay once, with my boss…His name was Mehra. Do you know Mehra?”
“Yeah, I do. Mehra is a familiar Indian last name. When did you travel to India?”
“Ooooh long back. Then I moved to the U.S.”
“You’ve traveled quite a bit then! Did you like your stay in India? What was it like?”
“Verrryyy good! I was in Bombay,” he repeated.
At this point, I realized that we could converse meaningfully in short sentences only.
“So, when did you move to the U.S.?” I persisted.
“Before you were born! Ha ha!” Mr. Lee doubled up laughing.