Teach A Man To Fish

My handsome father bent over the park sandbox next to the Empress Hotel in Kowloon. My brother and I were trying to do something. I remember that when I finished my task; my brother was starting to make noises of disquiet. I attempted to help and my dad said, “Give him the chance to learn.” He looked at me with those blue eyes of his. If it was important he would stare right at you to say something.  

In many ways I think my father enjoyed his time in Hong Kong very much like my brother and I did. I can only imagine what my mother thought when Dad morphed into a 40 year old preteen. The three of us viewed the crowded steam venting streets being worked for subway tunnels as an industrial Disneyland. Nothing ever completely went quiet in Hong Kong. Men swarmed up and down bamboo scaffolding. We snaked our ways along the queues for the old red double decker buses that bumped their way around Kowloon, flying by neon signs on its route. Every other corner had a vendor selling roasted chestnuts, steamed dumplings or small fried treats dusted in sesame seeds or coated in sticky honey. The noisy amusement park near the zoo and the Chinese Opera were our fondest memories.

When we were taken on a secret/surprise excursion, that amusement park was what we hoped for. Out of the blue, Dad would take our hands and say, “Off to Star Ferry!” and that meant another microadventure for us kids. Travel was always new experiences. And the premise was there: give someone the chance to learn, find it on the map, look it up in a guide book but do it by yourself.

My brother had red hair and blue eyes. In British Hong Kong it was a rarity back then. People not used to the combination tended to fawn over him. It made me jealous. The waiters in the restaurants would stop and take his chopsticks from his 5 year old hands and feed him at the table. I was proficient in using mine and I received not even a nod of recognition. My brother would sit like a baby bird waiting for his next bite. The waiter would catch food and bring it to my brother’s mouth.  My father would thank the waiter, take the chopsticks and hand them back to my brother. You could see the “Why?” in my sibling’s face. You could almost hear the “Because” in my father’s glance over the clatter of mahjong tiles behind the screens in the corners of the restaurants.

Give a man a fish and you feed him one day. Teach that man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. It is an old Chinese proverb my father took to heart.

There were no forks offered in Hong Kong. There were only chopsticks. Eventually less food went on my little brother’s napkin bib and more ended up in my brother’s happy tummy. Within a week or two he was as good as any little native Hong Konger of the same age.  

My dad making us learn to give ourselves a chance was the foundation of building our resilience in Hong Kong. It gave my brother his ability to face the changes he experienced and adapt to them. It was pretty impressive for a 5 year old. Forty years later he’s still got skills with those chopsticks.