Strange Encounters: An Interview with a Stranger

There is a quaint video game shop located between a Mexican restaurant and a yoga center in the University Center that I visit from time to time to get my boyish, adolescent video game fix. In my half a dozen visits, I always saw the manager, but never spoke a word more than a polite, “Hello. How are you?” A face I recognized but could not put a name to. What was his story? On a cloudy Tuesday afternoon, I ventured to find out. I walked across the Watson Bridge and walked through the door into the black walls of Play ‘N Trade. He stands alone at the register, a few, short stacks of cash and change on the counter, writing in a binder. He does not notice my entrance until I announce myself.

“Hello. I was wondering if you had a few minutes.” I enquired.

“Sure!” he said, enthusiastically, hoping to make a sale.

I told him that I was a journalism student and that I had an assignment to interview a stranger and to get a brief overview of their life. Immediately his demeanor changed. His hope of making a sale was dashed and became skeptical about the strange boy inquiring about his life story.

“How long it will take?” he replied curtly.

“Just a couple of minutes. I promise.”

He reluctantly agrees. I ask him his name. He takes a few steps and retrieves a business card from the opposite counter, magnifying his caution and skepticism towards me. Brij Prasad was what was written on the card. I wasn’t familiar with his name so I asked him where he was from.

“An Asian country.”

He obviously was not interested in my prying. “Which country is that?”

“Myanmar.” To be brutally honest, I had no idea where Myanmar was. (I looked it up afterward. Mr. Prasad was referring to the Union of Myanmar, now known as Burma.) I ask him why he decided to come over to America.

“For the opportunity. I wanted my daughter to have opportunity.”

After a few questions about his daughter, he revealed to me that his daughter attended Orange Coast College and now has a job researching human diseases and that she loves her job. I told him my parents were immigrants as well and came to America with much the same intention of allowing their children to have opportunity. Then he said something unexpected.

“I came to America so my daughter could have opportunities. It’s too late for me.”

Though it was not the first time I heard this argument, I was surprised that he admitted his hopelessness for his own opportunity to the strange boy standing on the other side of the counter. I empathize with his situation as my father has the same defeatist outlook on his own life and his only desire is to see the success of his kids. It was at that moment that I realized how important my success was to my own father. The story was horribly cliché but profound, nonetheless.

I ask him how he came to work at the Play ‘N Trade in Irvine. He revealed to me that he had landed in Los Angeles when he came from Myanmar and stayed in the area all his life. I ask him why he left Myanmar and his posture changed immediately.

“Well your parents are from China. You should know,” he retorts, as if the world knows of his hardship and his struggle. I told him that I was not familiar with the state of Burma in the 1960s. What he said afterward struck me.

“It was chaos.” There were only three words but his eyes said more than enough. Myanmar was in a police state when he left. I ask him how he got the visa to come to America and he revealed something that I did not expect he would to a stranger.

“My family and I won a lottery for a visa to America. Only about 60,000 people from various other Asian countries were included in that lottery. China wasn’t one of them. I was very lucky to win the lottery…but I am never allowed back to Myanmar.”

It was all or nothing. Sink or swim. He was never to return to his mother country, his place of birth. I looked for sadness in his eyes but it was not there. His posture and defiant voice revealed that he had no regrets, no qualms about leaving Myanmar. He was happy. He had seen the success of his daughter.

A customer walks in. I had taken enough of Mr. Prasad’s time. I thanked him for his time and help on my assignment. I shook his hand and as I was walking away he said, “Do you have enough?”

“More than enough,” I replied with a smile. We exchanged our friendly goodbyes, no longer strangers. As I walked to the bus stop, I smiled to myself with the ecstasy of my first interview, albeit a short one, and realized that perhaps my dreams of being a journalist were not that farfetched as previously thought, though I knew I had fathoms to go.

Interviewed: Brij Prasad

4255 Campus, STE B-146, Across 24HR Fitness
Irvine, CA 92617
(949) 865-2100

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