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.

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§ 42 Responses to The Lee Smile

  • Haha! What a lovely fun post. Made me laugh too when I read ‘Before you were born’.

  • Satyam says:

    This was beautiful. Short post, but, the picture and the narration was … beautiful… exuded happiness … dunno how to put it.

    • The Juicer says:

      You’ve put it just right!
      Lee exuded happiness, and through our conversation, I was trying to fathom his reason for joy.
      Turns out, one doesn’t really need a rationalization to understand happiness. It can be sensed, just like you did.

  • Meigha says:

    I loved both the Lee and the Childhood summer snaps. They were beautiful. The images seemed to speak for themselves….I loved that you penned down the conversation with Lee…i could almost imagine it :) Bravo!

    Get well soon…
    Love- Meigha.

    • The Juicer says:

      Thanks Meigha!
      To be honest- I can feel my vision taking a nebulous form. Yet slowly, and somewhat unconsciously. Eventually, I am just giving in to my instincts, as they come, with each post.
      And I agree with you, the last two posts speak my mind so clearly! Clear as a bell- and I can see:))
      Ah, I am enjoying this journey! Discovering myself too. Glad you are here, along for the ride!

  • bip mistry says:

    Love seeing people of New York City photographed, it’s kaleidescopic!
    When I was photographing in NYC lots of people came up to me an chatted about photography or waht i was photographing. It’s a great way to meet people and seemed to happen all the time in NYC.

    • The Juicer says:

      Bip- you are right. New Yorkers have been extremely supportive for the most part. And are an inspiring bunch!
      It’s an illuminating experience, the more I talk to people, the better results I get. Even if I am not photographing them, I tend to converse and share with them. It’s almost always great learning.

  • Phil says:

    What a great story! You inspire me to have more courage to take pictures of people.

    • The Juicer says:

      Phil…thanks for visiting! It took quite some courage and persistence:)
      Wasn’t the best of my days as far as photographing people is concerned. Some happy old people turned into aggravated canon balls the moment I approached them and I was beginning to feel low! Then I met Mr. Lee and didn’t look back:)

  • Som says:

    LOL ….. is this gentleman releated to BRUCE LEE….:)

  • f a i z u L. says:

    love your photographs! (:

  • Justin says:

    hey buddy!

    thanks for dropping by my humble photoblog… man love your photography… do u do a lot of manual selection for your aperture, iso, shutter speed etc?

    im still in the auto mode or cheating with a 1.8f lens and setting it to A and leaving it as 1.8 haha…

    but u seem to capture the type of photography i aim to capture… just things as they are in life =D

    • The Juicer says:

      Thanks for the lovely feedback Justin! Life as it is, is art in itself.
      Yes, I am clicking all pictures in manual mode:) But that’s just technicality, isn’t it? You’ll get there soon enough.
      To have the perspective-that’s what matters. I really enjoyed yours!

  • shirley says:

    Great blog! Love this intro to Mr. Lee…your photography is super and the energy is even better. Thanks for your comments on my blog…you said it better than I could’ve said (about what I was trying to illustrate)…amazing! All the best to you from the other side of the country (CA). : )

    • The Juicer says:

      Thank you Shirley! Mr. Lee is about to become an icon! :D
      Do keep visiting!

      Your illustrations are simply beautiful, and my words really don’t do justice! Thanks for acknowledging them, nonetheless. That I identified what you were trying to illustrate, says so much more about your art :)

  • Tom Hardin says:

    Juicer ,

    I hope you are feeling better now and having done such great photos of Mr. Lee, you are getting back into the swing. Sounds like some park shots are in the coming…..
    Can’t Wait.

    • The Juicer says:

      Hey Tom..good to see you again. Mr. Lee thanks everyone for their kindness!
      Yeah am getting back into the swing, you may say:) On the horizon: some interesting impressions from Chinatown!

  • Images and words…my favorite things. Nicely rendered on both counts. 8)

  • Musie says:

    What a beautiful picture! I can imagine him perfectly. Columbus Park is actually one of my favourite places for people-watching… old Chinese men hanging out are AMAZING.

  • Peter Yao says:

    Keep it going!!! In a very good way I am disappointed to see the conversation end…What a fantastic opening to build the character, I can already picture a documentary…There’s something unique in this conversation…Something about this guy reminds me a lot of Bhagavad Gita…

    I have terrible memory and I can’t quite pin point a quote from the book to sum it up…but the idea that Krishna does not make a clear distinction on his point of view, his verses simply jumps from his own individual perspective to the perspective of the soul that cannot control the actions of his body…it may seem like a paradox or a state of confusion to a regular human being, but to someone who is enlightened, someone who knows something we don’t, it makes perfect sense…Because to that person he/she does not see the difference between the lives of two different human beings…very very dramatic.

    Do you know Mehra? Now I’m dying to meet Mehra!

    • The Juicer says:

      Peter! :D
      A delightful note you have here! And the rest of us can chew on it for a while.
      I think you have summed up Krishna in a very interesting way- I would need to go back to the book to completely agree or disagree with your analysis. But I do remember that Krishna was a bundle of contradictions, oscillating between what is considered divine and mortal :) You seem to be on the right track there…
      What’s even more interesting to me, is that you brought up this analogy. Yes, Lee seemed to know much more than I did. Knew what was trivial, and what didn’t deem a response :)
      At first encounter, he seemed too simple and contradictory, but something nagged me until I wrote this piece down, and then I knew exactly what he was saying. He was truly happy, as perceived.

      Maybe I should get Mr Mehra’s contact# and interview him too? Ha ha. The idea is tempting :)

      • peter yao says:

        Ya I think there’s lots of potential for a story in there (could lead to a short story, or even novel), character is very defined, it’s just so strange, such an interesting conversation! I’m so glad you kept it alive and not let it become just another day in the city.

        • The Juicer says:

          It simply stayed alive in my head! Perhaps because it is a bit strange, that the conversation turned out to be so interesting:)
          I like the idea of a short story, maybe I will give that a shot!

  • Amit says:

    Mr Lee defines life of joy ..and you’ve captured the essence of it !

  • Lovely Black and whites! Really made me smile.

  • mamajulie says:

    What fun pictures!

  • Allison says:

    What a beautiful post! His happiness is so moving. I want to live everyday like that! Thanks for sharing!

  • Shanty says:

    Beautiful. Very nice.

    You need to compile your posts and write a book – sort of day in life… give it some twist to connect your posts and Wallah… you would have a best seller. T. will quit his job, and you can start world travel for your next book… arpita and i will join you as your assistants…

  • shikha says:

    hi – great experience of meeting such a lively man. Felt like I read a novel titled ‘lee smile’

  • Neil Reid says:

    Hey Shipra, Now that I have (briefly) access to a fast internet I’ve remembered to do some catching up! (Big photo posts are somewhat difficult to do on my home system… slow, slow, slow… and then some just don’t finishing loading at all. But boo-hoo aside…) On to what matters here!

    Wonderful, wonderful. A great portrait AND conversation here. And I do like it when you write! I’ll take you either way – or best – both. Whatever pleases you.

    • The Juicer says:

      Thanks Neil- isn’t Mr. Lee just adorable?! :) Hard to go wrong with a portrait such as his.
      (Boy, am I glad you got high speed internet now! I should probably upload lesser pictures per post to make it easier for readers to upload a page. Hm, I will think about it. It will definitely need better editing on my part)

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