For a few months I've been chatting occasionally with Li, the evening janitor at KQED. She's a 55-year-old Chinese immigrant from Guangdong Province who speaks very little English but who is always so friendly when she comes around that, despite the language barrier challenge, at a certain point I couldn't help but get to know her. (I should state here for the 'record' that I'm not usually someone who shies away from getting to know someone -and I've never once seen her as any different than my other co-workers just because she's a janitor- but the nature of her job is "in-and-out," and that's made it difficult to have any lengthy exchange.)
I wanted to know what her home is like, how frequently she gets to go back, how she is finding the U.S., whether or not she has a lot of family here, and, most importantly, if maybe one day I could have the privilege of joining her on her weekend trip to San Francisco's Chinatown so I could finally know what all that weird dried stuff in those bins is and how the heck you use them for cooking.
So we made a plan: October 14th. Every week since early September we'd remind one another that we had a 'date' for Saturday, October 14th. Plans began finalizing with the exchange of phone numbers (and when I broke her phone trying to enter my number and then had to try to explain that I didn't actually 'break' it; that you just have to take out the battery); the rudimentary map to my house that I drew since she offered me a ride; the Sharpy-ing of our big day into my day planner.
The date approached quicky and in the meantime I had rounded up some peeps to join me. After about ten phone calls that morning, Li found her way to our place and we got in her car and right as I was about to introduce everyone, I laughed out loud at the linguistic ridiculousness that was about to transpire:
"Li, this is Leah. Leah, this is Li."
"Li, this is Leigh. Leigh, this is Li."
"Li, this is Jeffrey. Jeffrey, this is Li."
Once we all were able to stop laughing at the irony of Jefflee, we made our way through the city to Chinatown.
She was an awesome guide and took into some stores I probably wouldn't have even known to visit. She told us all about the dried sea cucumbers and black fungus...and why we should eat them. And how.
She told me not to buy that wok because, at $12.99, it was way overpriced.
She took us to an amazing restaurant and ordered us our own personal buffet of Dim Sum.
She expanded our horizons.
I've been to Chinatown many times, but it wasn't until this time that I had actually been to Chinatown. Thank you, Li.