Los Angeles Train Trip Into China Town
*September 24, 2006 was the date when I wrote this reflection about traveling into Los Angeles Chinatown on the Metro Link when I was going to school in La Mirada at my university. This article was a project that was about using the trust building in interactions with complete strangers and to make notes about the cultural exerperiences I interacted in. Building trust opens the door wide for personal evangelism on the streets. On this trip I did not do evangelism since I was new to it and still afraid. This trip was basically a practice run. I was partnered up with a female student in my Intercultural Adjustment class.
Here is my reflection:
I recently went to downtown Los Angeles on the Metrolink Train with my classmate Kathryn for a school project we were partnered up to do. We went to Union Station and then walked to Chinatown. We had a few interesting interactions with people along the way.
First off on our journey we started at the green line station and were trying to figure out how to buy the train tickets with the machine and a black girl came up to us and helped us buy them. She was very kind and eager to help us. During the trip I was thinking about how I was going to build trust to open up conversations in all the interactions that day. When the black girl came up to help us it was as though instead of us instigating trust, the Black girl was building trust first before for us. When she helped us it felt like she built a trust bond between us even though she left right away after that. I thought about this and how I could do similar things.
Later, on the train it took us awhile to get to downtown so we just sat and observed people. I noticed that we were obviously the only white people in our part of the train. I heard a lot of different accents of English as well as totally different languages like Spanish and Chinese. I even heard Ebonics. It looked like everyone was pretty much going about their lives and traveling to different destinations. Then we made it to Union Station and walked a few blocks to Chinatown.
During the entire trip I saw practically every kind of culture and class of people. Most of the people were Mexican or Asian. There were a lot of Black people too. I even saw a few Indian and Arabic people as well. Social class-wise I saw a lot of types. I saw the down and outers in downtown L.A. begging for money and living in small tarp like tents with shopping carts on the sidewalk. I even saw more of the low class families up to the higher middle class people too. I did not see any really rich people my entire trip that I could point out.
Different types of subcultures of people were around too. I saw a lot of skateboarder kids, but the interesting thing about them is that they were all Hispanic youths. Back where I grew up in Oregon, skateboarding was a very White thing. It’s interesting to see that other ethnic groups are embracing it as well. I saw at least one punk with a Mohawk when I was in Chinatown, and I saw a lot of gangster/thug hip hop type people. Two girls who really stood out to me when we were traveling towards downtown on the Metrolink were two Asian girls. They looked very dazed and drugged out. Their eyes could hardly stay open and they walked in such a slow and uncoordinated way. They were definitely on some type of drugs. The entire time when I saw people like this: the bums begging, the drugged out people, and just people in general my heart sank for them. I wanted so badly to somehow reach out to them, but I didn’t know how. Especially when I saw bums asking for money and I couldn’t help them. I could not give them all of my money because I would then be broke and stuck in downtown. While I thought about it, I knew Jesus would have walked up to them and talked with them, but I did not know what to say because I did not want to be bothered for money or harassed. I do not know if this is a wrong feeling to have, so it bothered me. Somehow, I think as a Christian I am required to interact with these people, but at the same time I don’t know how far I can spread myself out and even how to be effective with it.
There are definitely types of people I would choose to reach out to if I was given a chance, like the two drugged out Asian girls, the skateboarder kids and the other families around. The people I do not think I would choose to talk with are the bums living on the street. The only reason being is because I don’t have enough money to give to them. I do not want all of them to come up to me and be aggressive with me and beg for it. This has happened to me a lot in the past. A lot of times I did give them money, but now I am a little more cautious about it than to just hand it out to anyone who asks. One time I was in downtown at night with the Hispanic Club from the university and many bums were extremely aggressive, and dangerously abrasive when asking for money. It was not good to be out there, it was not safe. This is the only reason I did not intereact with the bums on this trip. The bums in downtown Los Angeles are extremely aggressive and some are dangerous. It is not like other places I have lived.
On this trip I felt many different kinds of emotions. At first I was a little afraid to go on the train since I am not used to doing that. I did not know what to expect. I was nervous about traveling in a new city and being alone as well as having a fear of getting lost. But when I got my ticket I was very excited and really happy to be there. This feeling really lasted a long time. I think the entire trip it never went away. I do not feel like I had much culture shock. I know that I was only out there for a few hours, but at the same time usually people have ups and downs when they haven’t done something before. I know that before I left to go on this trip I was not too happy about it. I felt as if it was inconvenient to have to make this trip. And as I mentioned before, not knowing the train system was a bit intimidating too. Possibly I experienced my culture shock at the start of the trip or even before I left, and then my emotions went high up on the scale to feeling confident and happy right away. This is a feeling I am going to make note of for my future trips to places. (It is also a feeling I had when I was in the Philippines and going through Metro Manila on my internship).
If someone was to ask me if I had any surprises or irritations I would have to answer both. The surprises were not anything that made me feel negative, but were positively exciting. Being able to bargain with the merchants in Chinatown is really fun. Kathryn bought a hat for work and bargained with the man selling hats and talked the price down. In American culture we are not allowed to do that at stores. We are so stubborn with money and most of the shops are owned by bigger corporations who have a specific price and are not allowed to sell it for less. I observed more bargaining with Filipinos in a shop that sold bootlegged DVDs and toys and internet access. I noticed how industrious Asian people are.
A lot of the people in downtown are very easy to talk to if you just try, especially the bums who are begging for money. Getting over the intimiation factor with bums is easier than I thought at first. So getting interactions with all kinds of people was not as hard as I thought it would be. The only irritation I had was the bums who wanted money because it made me feel depressed and guilty for not helping them. Another irritation was some of the smells in the area, such as a strong smell of urine behind a bus stop.
After the trip I felt that overall I had a good experience trying to build trust in order to open the door for conversations with people and that I could apply it in future evangelism. During the entire trip I was actively assessing and modifying my thoughts and behaviors to build trust. I will keep doing this as I establish future relationships in life as well. I can remember when I was heading to Union Station on the red line, there were two Asian men sitting in the seats across the aisle from me. I asked one if this train was headed to Union Station and he looked really nervous that I was talking to him. Then he said “What?” So I repeated the question and I smiled and then he smiled back and told me “Yes.” At first he was nervous then when I smiled to let him know I am okay and not dangerous, it established a trust bond in our interaction and he was happy to help. Through all of the unfamiliar settings I entered, I feel like I am able to keep in mind the various aspects of “The Trust Bond” in interpersonal interactions with others.
I talked to several people during this trip, but four of the interactions I want to highlight:
The first one was when me and Kathryn went into this $1 Chinese deli. As we were looking at the food and deciding what to get a young Mexican man walked up to me and asked me for fifty cents. He did not make a lot of eye contact, and he said he needed it for the phone. I took out fifty cents and gave it to him. Before I did that he looked very low and humble before me. He seemed like he did not expect me to give him any. He acted like he really needed the money too. When he saw that I gave him the money he was very happy and smiling and looked me in the eyes and let me know that he was very thankful. When I responded nicely, even before I gave him the money I felt like I already was establishing the trust bond with him. He walked away very happy.
The second guy was also in the Chinese deli, and he was a really big, tall and heavy Mexican man about in his 30’s. He began to tell us about all the food and about how he trains in a Chinese martial art called Wushu. He was very easy going and he initiated the interaction. He showed a lot of acceptance towards us and was talking about how great the Chinese martial arts masters are. He was very excited and when he got his food he walked towards the door, but before he left he shook my hand and said “Have a good day brother!” I was really surprised and thought it was so cool a guy I don’t know was being so kind and talking to us.
The third interaction happened in one of the market areas where a young hip Filipino man was selling bootlegged DVDs, ran a small arcade with video games and also sold real estate in the Philippines. I talked to him about a Jet Li movie he had for sale on DVD and was still only in theaters in the U.S. This was the movie Fearless that just came out during this time in the USA. This opened up an opportunity to just chat with the guy. I talked with him a lot and as Kathryn walked up he told us all about his life and where he has traveled and what he does for fun. He basically told us his philosophy on life. We had a nice conversation that lasted for about 45 minutes and before we left he gave us his personal phone number if we ever wanted to talk again. We really established a trust bond with this man. It was so cool to see how easy it is to have good relationships with total strangers and make new friends. This made me feel so happy.
The final interaction I had was the highlight of my day when we were on the train going back to La Mirada. I pulled out a Jet Li DVD I bought from the Filipino man and a Black college student my age commented about it. He struck up a conversation with me and I began to ask him where he is from and about life in downtown L.A.He was from the ghetto. After awhile of talking I found out he was also a Christian like us! It was so amazing to randomly meet another Christian. He did not have a home church so I invited him to mine and got his phone number and everything. I feel so blessed by God to be able to help out this kid. It was encouraging to know there are others out there who live in downtown L.A.who are living for Christ.
I feel that this trip overall was an awesome intercultural experience and I am so glad I was able to go. I feel like doing these things is really going to prepare me for the intercultural communication I will be experiencing when I go overseas to be a missionary.