First day of the odyssey and my
first shoot with Cheuk. Not sure what to expect. Just doing what
I do best… going with the flow.
Big blue Western sky… Endless fields of wheat… A perfect Neil
Young album cover shot. Even with the gorgeous warm amber
prairie light, it’s so freakin’ cold that I can see my own
breath inside the car as we make our way on a two-hour drive
from Saskatoon airport to the town of Outlook.
We take our time stopping along the way to grab beauty shots of
the prairie landscape. It’s magic hour by the time we arrive in
Outlook. We drive down the main drag like two modern day
gunslingers rolling into the sleepy prairie town. All that was
missing were the tumbleweeds and the Chop Suey Western sound
track. We arrive at the New Outlook Café, home of “Noisy Jim”.
I’ve been looking forward to meeting this old Chinese Cowboy.
My mum nicknamed me Ngow Jai, which has a double meaning, Cowboy
or Little Cow. It was old village superstition to hide the
identity of the eldest son moi, from the demon so no harm would
come to me. Some families gave their number one son female
names… but my mum got creative and decided to disguise me as an
insignificant Little Cow.
Everyone including my close friends find my whole cowboy
obsession odd and eccentric because I’m Asian and not White.
Yeah… I don’t look anything like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood,
but the whole cowboy spirit has little to do with race. It has
more to do with a state of mind, a pioneering spirit of risking
the unknown against all odds. Since my ancestors risked the
unknowns to build the railroad that eventually connected these
wild Western frontiers to the rest of the country, I feel a
kinship and birthright to their cowboy spirit. I’m the
quintessential Banana Kowboy.
The gregarious cowboy, Noisy Jim, and I have a lot in common. He
came to Canada as a “paper son”, as my father did. His adopted
dad Chow Yun paid the Head Tax to get into Canada and worked as
a houseboy serving rich white folks as my Great Grandfather did.
We both came from a long line of family-run Chinese restaurants
and speak the same singsong village dialect from Toishan County.
I feel a warm familiar déjà vu like a long lost son on his home
coming sojourn as I enter the New Outlook Café even though I’ve
never been there before.