It’s a typical day for Jim at
the café. He’s up at the crack of dawn serving breakfast like
he’s done most of his life. I track him with my Steadicam as he
goes about his routine.
On most shoots, I’m to listen, react and
document like a fly on a wall. But it’s hard not to interact
with Jim. He would shout at me the odd times like when he wants
to know how I want my eggs. But most of the time, he’s totally
non-self-conscious and very natural. He makes me feel like I’m
just having a nice visit with my long lost uncle. I can tell
this is gonna be a great shoot.
As I follow Jim around, it dawned on me that he is someone I’ve
aspired to be. A chameleon, a Cowboy, a Chinaman, a Canadian,
sometimes a Native American or just some dude from Hong Kong.
Jim walks his own theatre of life. He can be anyone he wishes to
be at any given moment. He can be so Chinese one minute and be
one of the good ol’ boys the next. I wonder if his secret is “by
treating folks the same regardless of where they came from…
they’ll treat you the same”.
We take a drive to Rosedale Cemetery in Moose Jaw with Jim and
his bobsie twin Chow Fong. They look like Almer Fud from the
Looney Tunes with their floppy Canuck winter duds. Their
funny-cartooned chatter of broken Chinglish will probably need
some hardcore subtitling.
Death has a strange dichotomy in our culture. I’ve had this
experience with my own parents. They’re obsessed with the
preparation of it but don’t wanna talk about it. Jim is no
different. I thought it would be a bad idea to confront him
about death at the cemetery. But Cheuk wanted the footage. It
worked out OK and was actually quite amusing the way Jim kept
dodging Cheuk’s questions and running away from his father’s
grave and the camera. Sure was cold though! My camera was still
frozen when we got back to our pit stop in Moose Jaw.
We stopped in Moose Jaw on the way back and visited the Quan's,
friends of Jim that run the National Café. While we were there,
I heard fragmented tales of secret tunnels with hidden
passageways from Chinese businesses along the main drag leading
into the old CPR station. These tunnels were apparently built by
early Chinese railroad pioneers and later taken over by the
infamous American gangster Al Capone when he was on the run from
the FBI. I am curious of their fate. Why did these Chinese built
the tunnels? Did they leave on their own or were they massacre
by the notorious gangster in their plight? This piece of history
was so tight that not even “the walking encyclopaedia of Chinese
Canadian history”, Jim Wong-Chu, had any tips on it.
We leave for Toronto this morning. I felt this in explainable
melancholic sadness… the same feelings I get when I say goodbye
to my uncles in China like I might not get to see them again-uncles that I’ve only spent a few days with… but those few days
felt like a precious lifetime.