the unexpected

The line looped and looped and continued to wrap around the side of the museum building. Though it was an hour wait, it didn’t feel as long as it should have because LA is a bustling city. There are so many things to observe, it’s impossible to get bored. It also didn’t feel as long because I bought myself a large container filled with fresh fruits such as mango, papaya, pineapple, and watermelon from one of the fruit stands.

At one point while waiting in line, we stood near a cylindrical, metal trash can filled with scraps of food, water bottles, and probably other things you would put in the trash.

Minutes before entering the museum, an old lady walked up to the trash can and began to dig inside. She wore a blue, striped, button-down shirt, black pants, and a large bucket hat to protect herself from the beating LA sun. On her hands, she wore blue rubber gloves that extended up her forearms–the kind that you wear to wash the dishes. And in her hands, she held a filled, black trash bag.

The old lady didn’t just dig, she plunged her arms into the bin and sifted through everything. She was looking for plastic bottles.

The museum staff who tended the doors ignored her, as many of the other people waiting in line did. No one seemed to pay attention to her except my family and I.

Before my she left, my dad went up to her and found that she only spoke Chinese. To her, and my, surprise, my dad started to speak in broken Mandarin (he worked in Taiwan before I was born).

After their conversation, my dad told me that he had offered the old lady to buy her food, but she politely declined because she had already eaten. So, my dad just gave her some money and wished her luck. She’d tried to tell my dad other things (also adding hand motions and pointing) but because he could only understand conversational Mandarin, he wasn’t able to understand the other things that lady had said.

To this moment, I wish we were able to understand the other things she had said; to this moment, I wish we were able to help her more than the little help we already offered.

My parents always tell my sister and I that we are incredibly fortunate to have what we have and to be where we are. And though I knew it, and though I believed them, I never believed them more than in that moment.

I came to the museum to find something to change me. But I didn’t even need to go in.


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