Eyes Wide Shut

On a starry-night in 1997, I was walking with two female friends (Martine and Pam) down the French Quarter in New Orleans, a young smiling African-American came to me and said, “If you go 20 steps in this direction, there is House of Blues, and if you go in this direction…………” Rightfully so, he expected a tip, but I was a poor graduate student then, and I had no money in my pocket. He got flustered that I did not even tip him a dollar. A few minutes later, he saw me and the friends I was with, and he shouted in jest, “Ladies, dump this Chinese guy, he is no good.” I am not Chinese but Indian in ethnicity. We all laughed.

I do not know whether he survived the grinding poverty of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. We may remember him fondly even today and my friend Martine reminds me of the incident quite often but was he just a comic or a real human being to us?

Another starry-night in 1993, I sat on the floor next to the feet of some of the greatest Jazz musicians at the Preservation Hall in French Quarter. Between playing jazz, they would talk to all of us in thick N'Awlins accent seasoned with age that I barely understood. Sitting next to somebody’s feet in Asian culture is a mark of respect.

However, no matter the respect I showed or laughed with the African-Americans, I met in New Orleans for a brief moment – I failed, I failed miserably. When I walked past a project in New Orleans countless times, I never stopped and thought – how they were dancing with death, mired in poverty, violence, and dreams laid waste. Amongst all this, there is also a little, happy kid running with his pet dog who wants to be an astronaut.

After Hurricane Katrina, I better learn to keep my eyes and heart open. This time, I have seen their pain.

Note: Also, cross-posted at Asian Writing Club.