Sage Life Advice, Served On a Plane Over an Empty Seat

Control tower and jet as we taxi toward the runway in Hong Kong

Control tower and HongKong Airlines jet as we taxi to the runway in Hong Kong, headed for San Francisco

Traveling back home from a week in China,  between Hong Kong and San Francisco, I sat near a 69 year old man who grew up in the northwest part of India which was eventually was turned over to Pakistan in the late 1940’s. Knowing the sensitive political nature of that issue, I just nodded when he asked if I was familiar with the story. When his Hindu family emigrated amidst the violence, they ended up as refugees in absolute poverty with no expectations of bettering their lives in Bombay (Mumbai). In his late teens, he followed his brother to Hong Kong and eventually, in his mid-twenties came to America as a business man. He’s raised 3 daughters who are attending (or have graduated from): Columbia (2 of them) and Berkley. Two of them work at Google right now.

As you know, the flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco takes several hours (11.5) and our conversation started before we even left the ground in Hong Kong. His stories were long, but so very interesting for a curious teacher to listen to as we settled in with an empty seat between us. I got to hear all about his family, his business, his early life, and even more.

Within a couple hours into our conversation I paused and wrote down two things he kept saying:

“Life is long. Prepare and get yourself set up for the long haul.”

I loved that piece of advice so much because I grew up hearing from society that life is short; that we should milk from it as much as we can, as quickly as we can, in every way we can. But I guess if extreme poverty is your only expected plight, then yes, life has got to seem darned long. And the best advice to your young ones would be to get yourself set up for the long haul…even if the number of years are expectedly shorter than those with easier lives.

The second thing he repeated in our conversation was that there are 3 keys to success: Determination, Education, and Opportunity.

  1. Without determination, you’ll never survive. Nor will you know where you’re going.
  2. Without education, you’ll never be prepared to do what you aim to.
  3. And you have to keep your eyes open for opportunity at every turn. Opportunity is not often seen and when it does come near, you must always say yes.

I’m still ruminating over our conversation on that flight, connecting our hearts with our words over airline food with the empty seat between us. I never caught his name and I didn’t take a picture of him. But I will never forget him.

Misty Hong Kong mountains as we're taxiing toward the runway and San Francisco

Misty Hong Kong mountains as we’re taxiing toward the runway and San Francisco

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Written by GingerLewman

  1. What a way to start a new year! I have been a firm believer in the idea that God puts people in our lives to help us along our journey. What a blessing that experience was for you! And thank you for sharing t with all of us! Peace to you!

  2. I’ve been honoured to meet a number of people on that long haul flight to Hong Kong. My first trip ever to HK, I sat by a gal who was visiting her birthplace for the first time in 10 years. She showed me how to use chopsticks.

    Her words to me: “By the time we get to the noodles, you should be able to pick out the little pieces of corn.”

    My hands cramped with the first five hours of practice, but she was right.

    Have a great New Year and enjoy the CNY!

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