We had a significant plane delay at LaGuardia airport, New York, but we were in a hurry to get home to Cincinnati. The four of us decided to take a taxi to Newark airport a few hours away, to catch another flight. We got into the taxi, and I sat in the front. I like to chat with taxi drivers, since I usually find them quite informative and entertaining, but to my surprise, the driver actually was Cantonese, and from Hong Kong, which is not that common for New York taxis. It was a rare treat for me to chat in Cantonese (a language I am fluent in) with a taxi driver, so we had a lively conversation.
Within a few moments, he turned to me and said, out of the blue, with no apparent reason, “do you know Rev. Smith?” After figuring out which Rev. Smith that he knew, it was actually Rev. Hugh Smith, my father’s best friend in Hong Kong! The driver continued, “He used to come to speak at our church in Kowloon City, Hong Kong, and he used to sing very well.” That was quite a shock to me.
过了一会儿，他转向我，毫无征兆地说:“你认识史密斯牧师吗?”在我搞清楚了他认识的是哪位史密斯牧师之后（他实际上是休·史密斯 Hugh Smith牧师，我父亲在香港最好的朋友!），司机继续说:“他过去常到香港九龙城我们的教堂讲课，他也很会唱歌。”这着实让我大吃一惊。
In fact I told him, to his surprise now, “I just had lunch with Rev. Smith in Philadelphia last month!” For those not familiar, New York and Philadelphia are close, within a few hours driving from each other, but my home is 2 hours flying time away, so quite a distance. But here we were discussing Hong Kong, Philadelphia and Cincinnati like these were neighborhoods of each other.
By that time the driver and I were “old friends,” and since the traditional Chinese expression is always “have you had a meal? which in Cantonese is “你食咗飯未呀lei 5 sIk 6 dzo 2 fan 6 mei 6 a 3 ?” (or in simple mandarin, Chi le mei you 吃了没有?), obviously the subject came up. He enthusiastically suggested that we go to an “excellent Chinese restaurant” that he knew very well, which was sort of “on the way to Newark”: all Chinese know which is the best restaurant in town, and good food is always just conveniently “on the way to somewhere.”
He reassured us that we could “easily” have our lunch there, he would pick us up one hour later, and we could safely reach Newark. Indeed we soon arrived at the restaurant in Manhattan Chinatown, New York, and all of us piled out of the car. Our luggage was in the car, and my three non-Asian doctor friends were getting a bit nervous about this whole adventure. I told them that the taxi driver would come back in one hour, and reassured them, “we’ll just leave the luggage in the car.” When they still hesitated, I made the deal breaker comment, “don’t worry, he knows Rev. Smith!” My three colleagues didn’t know whether they should laugh or be really worried.
We had a great lunch there, as promised by our “guide,” and as we came out of the restaurant, the taxi driver arrived, at exactly the right time, presumably with all our luggage intact: no one really checked that, since we knew “he knew Rev. Smith.” But, everyone breathed a sigh of relief, and we went quickly on to catch our flight at the appointed time, with our luggage and a good story to tell.
Indeed I really had “just had lunch with Rev. Smith,” one month before the taxi event, after many years that I had not seen him, at a Chinese (of course) restaurant in Philadelphia. We were reminiscing about old times, when he suddenly overheard at the next table, full of excited Chinese, people speaking in a southern Chinese language, Chaozhou. Rev. Smith knew this melodious language well, so his (literally) big ears perked up; he instantly shot up and walked over to the table. So here is this big pinkish white balding guy with stereotypical generous nose, speaking fluently and dramatically in their native language. It seemed that they physically “fell off their chairs.” Their wide open mouthed shock was just wonderful to behold, and I can still remember the scene vividly.
In fact Rev. Smith told me that not too long before that, he was attending a ceremony in Boston, and he noticed that one of the young men on the platform was listed as having a surname of Tsang, which is mine also. So he made a comment to the couple sitting next to him, that his very good friend, (my father), also had this surname. The man next to him said, “we just flew in from Hong Kong, and you must be Rev. Smith!” He continued, “Your very good friend is my father’s brother, and the young man in front is my son.” The man speaking turned out to be my childhood buddy and cousin, Gerald. It’s a very small world indeed, especially if you know Rev. Smith.
事实上，史密斯牧师告诉我，在那之前不久，他在波士顿参加一个仪式，他注意到告示板上有一个年轻人的姓氏是曾（ Tsang 香港广东话“曾”的发音），这也是我的姓氏。所以他对坐在他旁边的一对夫妇评论说他的好朋友(我的父亲)也是这个姓。他旁边的人说:“我们刚从香港飞来,你一定是史密斯牧师!”，并接着说，“你的好朋友是我父亲的弟弟，前面那个年轻人是我儿子。”说话的人原来是我儿时的伙伴，也是我的我的堂兄振釗。这是一个多么小的世界啊！尤其是如果你认识史密斯牧师的话。
Rev. Smith lived in Hong Kong at a time when there were less than 5 million people living there; still a formidable number, but there are now 6 to 7 million people in Hong Kong. The highly efficient subway there, called MTR, is packed full with people, but it is always amazing to still “bump into” people unexpectedly, out of one in 6 to 7 million chances.
One day when I was visiting Hong Kong, I “just happened” to sit next to a distinguished looking woman, and suddenly realized it was another cousin’s wife, Barbara Fei, a very famous singer in the city. We had a great but brief chat about the decades that we had not seen each other. And then we both disappeared into the teeming crowds, and I have not seen her since. What are the odds, I have often wondered.
Another time at the MTR, I saw coming towards the train, a very good friend from Cincinnati, thousands of miles away, Bill, who just happened to be visiting Hong Kong; I loudly shouted out his full Cantonese name, to his utter surprise and delight. And indeed, during another totally separate trip, as I was walking onto the train, I bumped into Bill’s wife Josephine, who was also just visiting Hong Kong. “Just visiting.” We are never really alone, and it is so much fun to meet someone unexpectedly, one in 6-7 million, even if it isn’t Mr. Smith.
Photo 2: Busy MTR, considered the most advanced and efficient mass transit railroad by many: just use the famous Bak Dat Octopus Card anywhere you go, and you might meet a familiar Smith or Bill or Uncle Reggie.
图二:繁忙的港铁，被许多人认为是最先进、最高效的地铁。只要你到任何地方使用著名的八达通卡，你可能就会遇到熟悉的史密斯、比尔（Bill）或曾叔叔（ Uncle Reggie）。
Sometimes I really don’t want to bump into anyone (except the esteemed Reverend?). I was in San Diego giving a talk. I was so very busy with my academic papers, and I had so much work to catch up, I told no one that I was in the city, even though I had nearly 30 relatives there, so I could have some peace and quiet. As I was working in my hotel room, suddenly the phone rang, and a young man said “Uncle Reggie, is that you?” It was my nephew Caleb, so I quickly asked him, rather abruptly, “how did you know I was here?”
Caleb explained, proudly, “I was attending a meeting in the next hotel, and I happened to stroll over to this hotel. I saw that the topic of the meeting held at the hotel was pediatric nutrition. I asked one of the attendees casually, “do you know Reginald Tsang?’” The attendee exclaimed, “Yes of course, he’s a key speaker at this conference!” “So I just called from the lobby of your hotel, assuming you would like this surprise.” I did not dare express my “real feelings”, and awkwardly told Caleb, “Don’t tell anybody I’m here! I’ll come right down and have lunch with you.” So I was successful in hiding, but only partly. You still might bump into someone that you know, even if you did not want to.
Life is full of “bumping into,” “coincidences” or, I like to call them sometimes “divine appointments” or “tian yi” in Chinese. I have had innumerable tian yi experiences in life, certainly a great reason for me to tell all my uncle Reggie stories! For example, I feel it was really through several such tian yi that I was able to help start an exciting more than 10 year program of visiting scholars to our hospital, which I will write about one day. You just never know whom you might meet, in whatever place and whatever circumstance; often unexpectedly or even unwanted. And unexpected surprises can be pretty inspirational.
It is undoubtedly fun if you “bump into” someone “who knows Rev. Smith”, or even better, Rev. Smith’s Master. Certainly I know Rev Smith very well. But I also know his Master personally, as do all the names in this story. I certainly hope indeed, by the greatest tian yi, you are one “who knows him” also.