A Fusion of Friendship by Manuel Rodriguez ('17)

Making a last minute decision is not always an enjoyable situation as this one was for me. Before I discuss the Chinatown dinner that I had the privilege of attending, I would like to point out that it was a very memorable experience that I enjoy telling people about again and again. With that in mind, I would like to provide you with the following dialogue:

Juancito: Why have you come to visit me at my house, Manny? Is it because you need to know something from me or because you miss seeing me with a giant textbook in the SJC Brooklyn library?

Manny: Not quite. I am here because I need your help. 

Juancito: Tell me then; what has caused you to leave your place to spend your time here in the quiet neighborhood of Riverside? You are surely not here to waste my time, right? 

Manny: I am not here to waste your time my good friend. In fact, I need a favor from you. 

Juancito: That is what I want; I want you not to waste my time! Go ahead and take a seat on the Oak Amish chair, next to the TV.

Manny: It was about time! My knees were trembling. 

Juancito: Now tell me what kind of a favor you need?

Manny: Come on, Juancito, stop questioning me so much and let’s get ready to hit the road! It’s 2:00 o’clock. The time for the Chinatown dinner taking place tonight is roaring down the pike, and that should be the time I get the chance to share a beautiful moment with my ACES community. I surely will inform them all of my plans for the summer and for the fall. More importantly, I am interested in knowing more about Chinese culture. Tell me then, my admirable old friend; are you ready to send Professor Larson an email to try to persuade him so he can include me on the list for dinner tonight?

Juancito: I am ready for sure! Perhaps what makes you think I might not be ready? Have you lost your mind, Manny? I would love to see you there with us! Besides, I am a good friend of yours; a friend known to have knowledge, philosophical thoughts, and more importantly, a social conscience. 

Manny: It is amazing, Juancito, you seem to make yourself available and willing to help me. If you have full knowledge of how things work, share your opinion.  

Juancito: Yes, Manny, and you shouldn’t be surprised. 

Manny: You are right, but I honestly have no other way of reacting. What should I do instead?  

Juancito: Nothing! Just relax! Let me take care of this.

Manny: Go for it.

Juancito: You know Manny, it has always been part of my pleasure to encourage people to investigate other cultures. In this way, when a specific event is taking place and they have knowledge about that specific culture, it helps them to enjoy the event even more and thus have a memorable experience.

Manny: Event of what kind, my dear old friend?

Juancito: Don't be silly. It can be any kind of event. The world is round and big. You can find activities everywhere. It's something similar to the qualities of art. Do you know anything about it?

Manny: Not quite. I should not be surprised as you said!    

Juancito: How do you mean? 

Manny: I shouldn’t be afraid to admit that "I don’t know" what you're talking to me about. Now explain yourself with clarity.

Juancito: Just think about it. Does it make any sense to classify art into different branches to find the meaning and aspects of human existence? 

Manny: It certainly does. But right now I don't feel like going too deep into that subject. That's something I already did in Professor Meehan's class two semesters ago. As a matter of fact, can you tell me what did Professor Larson say about the dinner? Am I going? 

Juancito: You surely are, Manny. I knew all along what his answer would be. He's a great professor with a good soul and that's something you already know; I just didn't want to give you a hint. Now let's get ready to hit the road. Time is moving so fast…  

 

As soon as we got into the train, everything felt different. It was like a magical transformation. Neither my friend nor I seemed to be in a rush anymore. And surprisingly, there were no worries after all. Was it because we didn't have control of the situation anymore, or maybe because the driver was driving the train too fast? "Well, I'm not sure about that." My friend said. "I believe what kept our confidence active was a cultural influence; we all know that it's usual for any Dominican lad to arrive late to any event. The reason for this is that [we love to show off]." I am pretty sure that this was not my intention.

After about twenty minutes, we decided to switch to the N train at 42st Times Square. In here, we found a Chinese guy that made our train ride the most memorable train ride ever. He was standing in front of us, while trying to sleep. At the same time, he was hogging the silver pole; otherwise, he would have fallen to the train floor. He was extremely tired; we could see it on his face. Every five seconds or so he tried so hard to stay still, but that did not work out. At first, it was like his eyes were having full possession of his entire body. But then, he would wake up immediately and I guess it was because he wanted to be aware of the train's environment as well. At one point, he even tried moving into a different spot but that didn't work out either. He just couldn't resist the temptation to being either awake or in a deep sleep-mode. This was for sure a cyclical and repetitive pattern, which did not end until we finally got off at the 8-ave train station in Brooklyn. Thus, this train ride gave us the sensation that what was yet to come could be something great and unforgettable. 

While figuring out our way to Pacificana, a Chinese restaurant located in Chinatown, we found some familiar faces in our way. Because of that, we pretty much knew we were walking in the right direction. By walking in this town, my friend I felt great. We felt great because most of the stores were having their products sitting in the outside area and that was somehow familiar to us. That made us feel as if we were walking on the streets of Santiago de los Caballeros in the Dominican Republic.

Even though we were feeling great, there was only one little thing that made the road complicated for us to follow: the language. Compared to our natural environment, this town has almost everything written in Chinese words. Believe or not, there are a lot of weird signs. Even the CHASE bank is written in Chinese words, which I refused to use “to avoid” confronting some issues. To be honest, the only store that is not quite translated into Chinese words is AT&T, but sure I wasn't traveling that far from home to just make a phone bill payment. Instead, I was there to find Pacificana. As we proceeded toward Pacificana, we noticed that most of the streets were full of people just like in Santiago de los Caballeros. Before entering Pacificana, we also noticed that most of the stores were pretty much selling the same merchandises and that we could tell because of the traditional smell of the fishes and crabs, which was inevitable. 

As soon as we stepped foot into that place, everything felt different. It was something magical; it was as if our world got turned upside down. Just by reading the name of the place hanging on the wall, we were able to gain confidence. Even though the name of the restaurant may sounds in Spanish, there was nothing in there to prove that it was a Spanish restaurant. The calm environment that surrounded us at that moment allowed us to proceed. Then, our goal was to find the rest of the ACEScrowd. So, we walked the stairs to the second floor. It only took us about twelve to fourteen steps to get to there. Suddenly, we saw the face of our trustworthy professor. As expected, it was Professor Larson. Because of his presence, we felt something different inside of us. We honestly didn't know exactly what it was; but whatever it was we knew that by sitting next to him, he would help us to understand the experience we were about to have. 

After siting next to him, I immediately saw the mysterious and profound bamboo chopsticks on the table. The process of grabbing the chopstick is so complicated for me. It has always been a moment of failure and disappointment. Since I was kid, I’ve been taught to eat food with a spoon, fork, and knife. However, eating with chopsticks at Pacificana was totally different. Believe it or not, everyone at the table was anxious; they really wanted to see me eating food with chopsticks. I just couldn’t understand why! Right then, I knew I had to control my nerves to learn the  technique of using chopsticks. As soon as we got “steam shrimp dumpling” as the appetizer, Professor Larson immediately encouraged me to try the chopsticks not only to see how bad I was at it, but also to make me understand that by trying something new, I could easily gain the courage to adapt to a different culture. At the moment I didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, I heard people’s whispers such as: ”hold the upper chopstick like a pencil…place the second chopstick against your ring finger…but you also have to hold the second one with the base of the thumb.” I tried doing all of that at once, but still didn’t do it right. I failed. Thanks to Professor Larson and the notions of Albert Camus, I was able to understand the process of struggle. By trying so many times to use the chopsticks, I was like Sisyphus: the fact that I was able to struggle made me feel happy. The struggle itself is more than enough to imagine that you’re a happy person. The struggle has made of me a conscientious person today. It is the struggle perhaps that makes me strive for success. To me, happiness comes from the challenges that life puts in my way. However, those challenges have pushed and motivated me to strive for excellence. 

After the struggle with the chopsticks, many dishes such as: Garden vegetable fried rice, Roasted duck with bread, seafood soup, Sofo food, eggplants, beefsteak, spaghetti with baby shrimps, and sweet black bean soup were served to our tables. I made sure to try every single dish before other people devoured them. After having tried all of them, I wanted to pick one as a favorite. But, my enjoyment of all wthe food didn’t allow me to pick one as a favorite. So, if someone ever tries to ask me about which one was my favorite dish; my answer most likely will be: all of them!

After we finished eating all the food, we took some time to walk around not only to see the restaurant itself, but also to take some pictures and keep them as memories on our cellphones. My admirable friend and I stood next to the golden dragons that were hanging on the wall. To us, they symbolized our obsession with Dragon Ball Z back in our childhood. With that in mind, we both agreed to take a photo while "making" the fusion similar to the one that Goku and Vegeta did to become stronger and save planet Earth from their enemies.

That day, I learned that if you really want to enjoy any cultural event fully, you must be willing to accept other people's backgrounds as how they are and then you gain courage to understand the importance of values, family, and culture. After having attended this dinner outing, I realized that the importance of making a connection with another person is not only to become wiser, but also to build strength, dignity, and perseverance for a long lasting friendship.