When I moved to Hollywood I bought a two-day pass for one of those hop on – hop-off tour buses. I didn’t know the city and thought it would be a good and safe way (see previous blog entitled ‘LA: The City of Angels’) to see it.
The first day I went to Santa Monica beach and Beverly Hills. I made small talk with the tourists who were mainly from back east, Europe and Canada. I was the only local until a young lady named Han got on the bus at the Grove. Han was 22. She had moved to Las Vegas last year from Mainland China. She was trying to finish her studies and working full time in property management. She loved to talk and I enjoyed listening to her stories. I had to pay close attention, sometimes even missing words that were too heavily disguised in her Chinese accent.
Near the end of the tour I learned she didn’t have a hotel to stay in. She said it was too expensive in Hollywood; she was use to paying only $2 for a hotel – or less.
“Two dollars?” I asked.
“Yes, in Thailand you must sh*t in a hole in the ground and shower on the street in your bra and underwear but it’s only $2 a night” she said.
I was speechless, she continued, “It’s not really a hotel but there’s water for shower and a place to sleep – with other people, but it’s safe, you would like it”
I would? I offered her my couch but she insisted on sleeping in her car. The last stop was Grauman’s Chinese theatre on Hollywood boulevard. It was late so I offered to walk with her.
“Where did you park? I asked.
“I don’t know, somewhere on Hollywood Boulevard” she said.
We spent the next two and a half hours walking through full parking lots. She clicked her key ring while I looked for flashing lights. When we finally found her small car we said goodbye. I could see blankets and pillows in the back seat; at least she had come prepared.
The next morning I hurried back to Hollywood boulevard to board the 10 AM Downtown Los Angeles tour bus. In front of Grauman’s theatre I saw Han again, who looked a little disheveled from sleeping in her car. She too had purchased the two - day pass. We boarded the bus together and took seats in the open-air upper level. I wanted to hear more of her travel stories, only today she didn’t want to talk about showering in public or holes in the ground. Today she wanted to talk about dreams, a recurrent theme in Hollywood. Once she started talking she didn’t stop. I listened.
“I live with my aunts in Vegas. I hate them. They tell me I waste my time with school, tell me not to take job, to go back to China.
“My ex boyfriend, he American, he teach English in China and play video games, that’s it. He never travel with me, he do nothing with me, just play video games. He tell me ‘nothing in America, you stupid to go there’. I leave him and come to Vegas seven months ago.
“My family disappointed in me. They tell me to take job in casino as a dealer for the Chinese. I say no, I want office job, I want to sell property, I can do that. They tell me I’m stupid, no good, no life for me here. The library it closes at 5:00 and not open on weekend. I want to learn, to study the culture of America and the history. Vegas is surface, I know that, I need depth. But now I work so can only go to library on my lunch hour. The books are no good but I keep looking, some are ok. I work hard, the money it comes now, but slowly.
“This is my first time out of Vegas, my aunts they tell me not to travel – nothing to see. I know they are liars, I know America is great country. My mom she has government job in China, she cannot leave. I do not know where my father is, he didn’t want a daughter, and I don’t care about that. My mom told me to go. 'Go chase dream,' she said, 'it won’t chase you, it will whisper to you, it will wait for you to chase it then it will hide. It will disappear then reappear but keep chasing it. One day you will catch it.' So I chase my dream here, in America, because this is where my dream is hiding.”
When she finished there were tears rolling down her face. Her words were broken, at times hard to understand, but the emotion she spoke with made them sound like ancient Chinese wisdom.
I have no idea where the bus went that day. I paid no attention to anything other than the courageous and brave young lady who sat beside me, hanging on every word she spoke.