We were missing Filipino food even though I got here four months ago, so we took an Uber to the land of the Filipinos—Daly City. The city is known for its high percentage of Filipino community and is about an hour’s drive from home. A man from the airport recommended that we visit a restaurant called Max’s Fried Chicken.
Seriously, they have a Max’s here. It’s one of my childhood favorite restaurants! Not too long ago, I googled if there was, indeed, a Max’s restaurant in San Francisco but got a different result. I felt my mouth water as I pictured that juicy, crispy chicken dipped in banana ketchup.
We were in the car with another woman who, ironically, worked for Uber! Our conversation started with the usual small talk—a remark about the current weather. Then the topic floated around food. She told us where to go for good Chinese food. I assume she brought up Chinese food because we looked Chinese and probably thought we loved Chinese food. She was right.
She was Chinese herself. “My parents are from Taiwan!” she said enthusiastically, turning to us from the front passenger seat. Jeremie mentioned Din Tai Fung, one of our favorite restaurants in Singapore. For a second, my Filipino food craving was overridden by the delicious taste of Xiao Long Bao.
“You know, it also hasn’t been long since I arrived here in America.” The quiet driver began to talk as soon as we dropped off the woman.
It immediately dawned on me that we’d been so rude not to include him in our conversation. It never occurred to me to ask him a question or at least let him be part of the conversation. I felt my face turn hot. Often, we forget about the quiet drivers who take us to our destinations.
“How long have you been in this country?” I asked as I searched for his face in the mirror. All I could see from my perspective was his thick, curly hair and the back of his head.
“About a year…” He hesitated to finish his sentence. There was silence for a few minutes.
Out of curiosity, I asked, “What brought you here?”
“I came here because of my job in Afghanistan. I was an interpreter and translator for the US government.”
Jeremie and I turned to each other waiting for one of us to ask the next question. It took a moment for me to process his words. Meanwhile, he adjusted his phone that displayed the map to our destination. He apologized and said he recently just started working for Uber and was not familiar with the city. We told him it was no problem at all. We were new to the country too.
“It was becoming too dangerous for me in Afghanistan. I was getting threats from people that wanted to kill him and his family because of his job.. A dark feeling swept over my body. Images from recent articles about the war floated in my head.
“They called me a traitor. The government brought me here and gave me an apartment. I’ve been living here for a year now.”
“Did you bring your family with you?” Jeremie asked.
“No, they’re still there.”
“Are they safe?”
“Yes. They relocated to the province. I’m planning to bring them here but not now. I will bring them after I graduate.”
“What are you studying now?”
“Film.” I still couldn’t see his face but I sensed a smile in his voice when he said it.
“Because I have so much experience, you see, from the war. I have seen so many things. I want to turn them into movies so people will see them.” At that moment I was speechless. Here’s a man faced with so much adversity, driven out from his home, and flown to the other side of the world. He had to leave his family not for the sake of getting a better income, neither for the sake of chasing his dreams, but because he needed to survive. Yet, he was incredibly optimistic about his situation. He didn’t even sound afraid.
Our destination was getting close so I asked him one last question before we went back to being strangers; before we stepped out of the car and never see him again.
“Do you miss home?”
He says he misses the food and the community. “In my hometown, everybody knows everybody. There is a tight community. We help each other. If there’s a party, everyone is welcome. The whole neighborhood is invited.”
The map told us that we had arrived at our destination. I wanted to ask him more questions, but there was no time left. We said goodbye and thanked him for getting us to our destination safely.
We stepped into a restaurant that had that familiar warmth of home. A room full of Filipinos happily enjoying their dinner. And for a moment, we forgot that we were in San Francisco.