GONZALEZ: Hey everybody, I’m Ana.

NUNES: I’m Alex. And you’re listening to Mosaic.   

GONZALEZ: Alright, Alex. So we’ve talked before about language barriers, specifically in our own families. 

NUNES: Right. Like having an extended family and not everyone speaks the same language, because everyone’s in America but they come from different places.

GONZALEZ: Yeah. But when you’re an immigrant and you’re still learning the dominant language in your new country, you find other ways to connect with people.

NUNES: Right. And in this episode of Mosaic, we meet a Chinese immigrant who does it with food, fun, and a little bit of fishing.

KAI ON: [Sound from fishing at oceanside] Big.

NUNES: Big one?

KAI ON: Yeah. Big one.

NUNES: Alright! [Laughs]


NUNES: [Narrating] I first meet Kai On at a place called Literacy Volunteers in Westerly, Rhode Island. He and his wife Yau Mui are here for English classes, and I’m looking for people who want to record lines for the montage you hear at the beginning of all our episodes.

NUNES: [Enunciates slowly to group of people] Mosaic. 

GROUP OF PEOPLE: Mosaic.

NUNES: Kai On is a particularly good sport.

KAI ON: [Laughs then says “You’re listening to Mosaic” in his language.]

NUNES: We finish and I pack up my stuff. But before I can leave, Kai On comes up to me with a yellow sticky note and a phone number scribbled down on it. And he says, “I’m gonna take you fishing.” I’ve only been fishing a couple of times in my life, and I have never caught anything. So I eagerly take Kai On up on his offer.

Kai On chooses Watch Hill Point for our outing. It’s his usual spot. He arrives in a Chevy pickup, and he comes prepared.

KAI ON: One for you? Fishing pole.

NUNES: One for me? Yeah. I’m going to fish too.

KAI ON: [Laughs] OK. Good. 

NUNES: Watch Hill is the swanky section of town. We can see Taylor Swift’s mansion off in the distance. Beyond that is the luxurious Ocean House hotel. And when we look straight ahead, we see ocean, ocean, and more ocean.

We hop down over a retaining wall and walk over big granite slabs and rocks to find a spot. Kai On tells me the tide will be good for fishing for a little while longer.

KAI ON: Today, the tide is small for one hour, one hour.

NUNES: Kai On and his wife moved to Westerly eight years ago from Hong Kong. They wanted to be closer to their daughter and grandkids. Kai On is 67. In Hong Kong, he worked as a janitor for the housing department. In America, he has a job a few days a week at a local grocery store. When he’s not working, he likes to be here, fishing. 

NUNES: Kai On’s fishing technique is pretty simple. We’ve got two big fishing poles. He’s got a container of chopped up squid and a bucket of these little live crabs that he hooks right onto the line.

NUNES: [To Kai On] You put on gloves to grab the crabs?

KAI ON: Yeah. Crabbers. Wow!

NUNES: Gotcha?

KAI ON: Yeah. [Laughs]

NUNES: [Narrating] We cast off, wiggle our rods into place between some rocks, and then wait.

NUNES: [To Kai On] Still sending. 

NUNES: [Narrating] We take some selfies and share them with each other. 

NUNES: [To Kai On] Service can be kind of bad here.

KAI ON: Yeah. Very slow.

NUNES: [Narrating] We talk a little but stumble trying to find a topic we can both get into.

NUNES: [To Kai On] Oh, a crow.

KAI ON: Yeah.

NUNES: I like crow birds. I like those birds.

KAI ON: Yeah, crow bird. [Silence]

NUNES: Umm. [Silence]

NUNES: [Narrating] I take out Google translate on my phone so Kai On and I can talk a little about fishing.

NUNES: [To Kai On] So this is it. Translate.

NUNES: [Narrating] I ask him when he began fishing.

KAI ON: Twenty. In Hong Kong, a lot of ocean. Yeah. The people go together.

NUNES: [Narrating] Kai On explains that he grew up in Southeastern China. Back then, he and other people in his village did net fishing in ponds. He moved to Hong Kong in his twenties, and that’s when a friend there introduced him to sea fishing. Kai On says he likes to fish for a lot of reasons: it’s good exercise. It’s a source of food. And it’s fun for him to take pictures of his really big catches and show them to friends. Now that he’s in Rhode Island, fishing is also a way for him to connect to the natural elements of his new home. 

KAI ON: Yeah. I like the ocean very good. The air very fresh.

NUNES: Very fresh.

KAI ON: Yeah. Fresh air.

NUNES: Breath it in and enjoy it.

KAI ON: Yeah, enjoy it. [Laughs]

NUNES: [Narrating] After about 20 minutes of waiting, we get a tug on one of our lines.

KAI ON: Take a picture. Got a fish here.

NUNES: Kai On starts reeling it in.

KAI ON: Big.

NUNES: [To Kai On] Big one?

KAI ON: Yeah. Big one.

NUNES: Alright! [Laughs]

NUNES: [Narrating] The fish comes flapping out of the water, and I’m not sure exactly what we’ve got. Kai On calls it a Boller fish, but when I look that up on my phone, I can’t find any fish called Boller fish. The thing is over a foot long. It’s greyish, brownish, bluish, and it’s pretty fat. But Kai on says it’s not big enough to keep. 

KAI ON: This small.

NUNES: [To Kai On] You think that’s small?

KAI ON: Yeah.

NUNES: [Narrating] So it’s back into the water for this little guy.

KAI ON: Ohhh!

NUNES: [To Kai On] Nice throw. [Laughs]

NUNES: [Narrating] We toss a few more lines out but don’t get any more bites. So we pack up and head out.

GONZALEZ: Congratulations on your first catch, Alex.

NUNES: Thank you, Ana. Although, I have to admit Kain On did most of the work. 

GONZALEZ: So, it’s interesting to me that you guys both had a really good time, but you also couldn’t really communicate that much with each other, at least through words.

NUNES: Yeah. And I think that’s probably a familiar thing to people who are immigrants or people who come from immigrant families. Some people are new to a place and they can’t quite carry on a conversation yet, but they still have this desire to connect with other people.

GONZALEZ: Right. So they have to do it through other ways, like cooking, sharing, music, even sports...like fishing.

NUNES: Exactly. And if you talk to people who know Kai On, they’ll tell you he likes to do all those things.

NUNES: [To Kai On] This is your garden?

KAI ON: Yeah. Yeah. Get this this one. They very good.

NUNES: When you visit Kai On and his wife, they don’t want you to leave without something from their garden. Neighbors come over here for squash, peppers, green onions, cilantro. It’s like a little produce section of a grocery store in their backyard.


NUNES: [To Yau Mui] Nice to see you again.

YAU MUI: Hi! [Laughs]

NUNES: [Narrating] Yau Mui starts filling me a plastic bag with a striped bass that Kai On caught, two squashes, and herbs from the garden. She also gives me a few helpful cooking instructions.

YAU MUI: Peel, peel. Cut, cut.

NUNES: [To Yau Mui] Peel, peel, cut, cut?

YAU MUI: Mmm.

GONZALEZ: So why do Kai On and Yau Mui like doing this?

NUNES: I think they’re super generous people. They’ve got food, so they share with neighbors and friends. It’s also a way to connect and show kindness to other people.

GONZALEZ: And they’re also probably able to share parts of their own culture by saying things like: “This is how we make this dish or prepare this vegetable.”

NUNES: Right. So after that visit, Kai On and Yau Mui aren’t done with me yet. A couple days later, I get an invite: Kai On says a bunch of his friends are coming down from Boston for a party. He says I should come and bring anyone I want.

GONZALEZ: Sweet.

NUNES: I get to the party with my son Julian, and the first thing we see is there is tons of food.

FRIEND: Dim sum very good. Peanut inside OK? 

NUNES: There’s pork, duck, spare ribs, chicken wings, chicken legs, sea bass, sushi, salad, and all these different desserts I don’t recognize. And a bunch of people want me to try everything.

WOMAN: Try a little bit?

NUNES: [To woman] Yeah. So this is tea?

WOMAN: Chinese tea.

NUNES: Very good.

WOMAN: Oh, thank you.

NUNES: [Narrating] There are about 20 or so people here. We’re gathered in the kitchen and living room, and people are watching the New England Patriots game on TV. Kai On and I sit down on the couch and show Julian pictures from the day we went fishing.

KAI ON: Opportunity to go fishing?

NUNES: [To Kai On] You want to take Julian fishing?

KAI ON: Yeah.

NUNES: When are we going to do it?

KAI ON: Four or five o’clock.

NUNES: [To Julian] You wanna go fishing at four o’clock?

JULIAN: [Responds quickly] Yes. [Kai On and Alex laugh] 

NUNES: [Narrating] It’s still a few hours before the tide is going to be ideal for fishing, so there’s time to enjoy the party. We make our way outside onto the back patio, which Kai On says he built a few years back. People are setting up the grill to cook even more food. Kai On is up dancing a little to what I’m told is 1980s Chinese music. Most of the people at this party know Kai On through a Buddhist center his wife goes to in Boston.

KAI ON: That’s Teresa.

NUNES: [To Kai On and Teresa] Teresa?

TERESA: How you doing? Nice to meet you.

NUNES: A friend of theirs named Teresa tells me the group’s main purpose is to promote international peace and oppose nuclear weapons. She says they want to see people around the world be more compassionate and less self-centered.

TERESA: It’s not about me, me, me. It’s about world peace. It’s very important. So this is very important that we have to love each other. It doesn’t matter what color you are. It doesn’t matter where you come from or whether you’re poor or rich. 

NUNES: Kai On says daily chanting and visiting the Buddhist center is more Yau Mui’s thing. But he has a similar philosophy to his wife and their friends. We talk about this outside for a little bit while Teresa helps translate.

KAI ON: [Teresa translates] He thinks it is very important to be kind to others. Like moneywise is not everything. This is how he thinks it is better to live your life. Fullness. To be kind to others. To be nice, and to be humble all the time. And this is what he wants to offer himself to people around him.

NUNES: Can you ask him why he thinks it’s nice to share with people?

KAI ON: [Teresa translates] He says that although his English is not that good, but he really appreciate that he landed in America, and the people in America are very friendly, and it’s very important for him at this age to do good things for other people, for his family and for society.

NUNES: [Narrating] We wrap up our discussion and Kai On tells me that one of his friends has brought his violin and everyone’s gathering up on the patio for some music. 

It’s a lovely way to end an evening, but Kai On reminds me there’s still more fun in store. It’s a little past 5 now, and Kai On says the tide is good if Julian and I still want to go fishing. 

NUNES: [At oceanside, to Julian] See the crabs?

JULIAN: Yeah.

NUNES: Now he just hooks them like that.

JULIAN: That’s pretty cool.

JULIAN: [To Kai On] Can I try throwing it?

KAI ON: You throw it?

JULIAN: Yeah.

KAI ON: One, two, three. Ooohooo!

NUNES: [Narrating] We toss out a couple lines, but the fish keep nibbling on our bait and swimming away. Kai On thinks this is funny. But Julian does not. We’re about to pack up, but Kai On says one more try to see what happens... So we toss out the line and cross our fingers.

JULIAN: Oh, I think I caught something.

NUNES: We reel and reel and reel.

KAI ON: [Laughs loudly]

NUNES: Nothing!

KAI ON: Go home?

NUNES: Yup. 

JULIAN: Sadly.

NUNES: Pack it up. Catch one next time.

JULIAN: How do you know?

NUNES: [Narrating] I tell my son it’s the experience that counts. When you’ve had a good time with good people, it doesn’t really make a difference if you catch or fish, or not.

GONZALEZ: Mosaic is a production of The Public’s Radio, edited by Sally Eisele with production help from James Baumgartner and Aaron Selbig. Our original music is by Bryn Bliska. Torey Malatia is the general manager of The Public’s Radio. I’m Ana Gonzalez.

NUNES: And I’m Alex Nunes. Thanks for listening. 

Support for this podcast comes from Carnegie Corporation of New York, supporting innovations in education, democratic engagement, and the advancement of international peace and security at Carnegie.org.