Jackson Heights Gems
49% of traveling is eating. So I’ve started to get to know a place called Jackson Heights: land of abundant, delicious and cheap foods.
It started out as a halfway meet up point between my sister and I, but it’s grown into so much more. Last night, we had dinner at Friend’s Corner Cafe, a little restaurant on Roosevelt Ave. that blends into the background of all of the other Tibetan spots on that main road. It’s casual, no frills dining. When it started getting busy, the server asked if we could share our table. My first, American gut-reaction was “No! That’s weird!” It’d been so long since I was in that kind of communal environment and I’d almost forgotten that people share things like tables. But of course we said yes, and then sat down two, young Tibetan guys in their early twenties. I made a joke and drew an invisible line and said, “Just stay on your side!” [So over the years, I’ve learned that some people I try to play with give me stone face and aren’t into me joking around with them cause they ain’t playing. Luckily these guys were chill and were like, “Okay!” and put up an actual barrier with their video games, keys and phone and we all had a big laugh about it.]
After they ordered, the one next to me turned and inquired, “So do you guys come here often?” Whaaaat I’d never actually heard someone use that line before. But it wasn’t a line. It was a legit question. We told them that it was our first time and they told us about other good restaurants around. We asked the standard questions, “Where are you from?” and all that— I’d been extremely curious about how and why Tibetans ended up in Queens so I asked.
They told us about how oppressive they are in their OCCUPATION. The aunt of the one next to me had a friend whose husband was killed for having a picture of the Dalai Lama— just a few months ago. And that it was and still is very terrible there to be under China’s rule and that’s why a lot of people had to leave. Protests have been increasing over the last few years and more people are setting themselves on fire. It’s not getting any better there.
One was from the province of scholars and the other from warriors. These two had been childhood friends and were even in the same refugee camp in India together when they were ten. They separated there and arrived to America by the time they were 15. One went to the Bay Area and the other to Connecticut. They hadn’t seen each other for about eight years until they bumped into each other at a party in Queens and have stayed friends since. Talk about a reunion.
We talked about cultural differences and they told me about how normal it was for two boys to hold hands and how shocked they were to learn that it was “gay” here. They weren’t even aware of sexual categories until they got here. The one across from me was dumbfounded at how much discrimination there is for homosexuals. I could only say that Americans are pretty puritanical and that there’s a lot of bs here. But of course, nothing like what happens in Tibet. Their two worlds are so different; some things make sense and other things don’t. But they were glad to be in America because “there’s more freedom.”
They talked about their experiences learning English (one hid in the bathroom the first few days of school cause he couldn’t speak or read English and couldn’t find his classes) and how a lot doesn’t make sense (“why is there a k in ‘knife’ when it’s silent?”). We joked around about how they met up to have dinner and that they had to keep the bromance alive. They even shared their delicious momo with us.
They finished eating before us and left— we didn’t exchange names or anything and kept it at “It was nice to meet you.”
It felt like one those really wonderful, serendipitous moments in life where you meet strangers and your worlds collide for a few minutes to learn something new and connect on an almost spiritual level. That’s what I love and cherish most out of traveling (other than food and beautiful scenery, of course). It’s a chance to exchange life experiences and positive energy between humans.
I wish those wonderful young men well, and their beautiful people and culture— coincidentally, today marks the 55th anniversary of the Tibetan Uprising Against China where thousands were killed. I hope that they will be freed from the horrible hand of their oppressors soon.
I’m very grateful they shared their amazing stories with me and have opened up my world a little more.