Chinese Breakfast: A Lesson in Compassion

“Would you like American or Chinese breakfast?” the flight attendant asked as we winged our way from New York to Thailand.

“American,” my husband confidently pronounced.

“Chinese,” I replied with a scoff. I hadn’t come all this way to eat the same thing sitting in my fridge back home. I’d come to embrace adventure – culinary and otherwise.

My husband lifted a brow. “You sure?”

“Chinese breakfast, please,” I reiterated. It’s hard being the most cultured person in the family.

The Chinese breakfast did not disappoint. An intricate bento box revealed a feast for the eyes and the tastebuds. In one container, a freshly steamed fish fillet basked on a pristine bed of white rice. Two thin green disks of dried seaweed shimmered in the overhead light. A second box revealed a small white roll accented with a neon pink swirl. A parcel of minuscule packages adorned in indecipherable Mandarin contained a rainbow array of spices, crunchy clusters, and sauces. I feasted smugly on my bounty of culinary delights.

Meanwhile, my husband happily ate eggs, sausage and hashbrowns. Poor guy, eating the same old thing, I thought.  

Forty-five minutes later, the Chinese breakfast had morphed my stomach into a Hangzhou hot pot, with barely enough warning to launch for the sick sack. As the entirety of my cultural experience emptied into the small satchel, I debated telling my husband I’d licked an airport toilet, rather than admitting that my Chinese breakfast had been a poor choice for my clearly American stomach.

Pass the cornflakes. 

But then, I felt his warm hand gently rubbing my back and was overcome with gratitude that he not only chose not to lord his superior decision-making over me, but to comfort me in my most disgusting and admittedly sweat-soaked moment. I gingerly wiped my mouth on the back of an airline napkin, rolled the barf bag closed, and turned to thank my spouse, who I found nestled into the airplane window, enjoying a post-breakfast nap. 

This begged an important question, as I sat holding my tepid take-out: if it wasn’t my husband, who was rubbing my back?

Through a Holmesian process of elimination, I turned away from my slumbering spouse and discovered an elderly Oriental woman sitting to my right.

The woman smiled at me, ran her hand once more around the circumference of my back, and patted it twice. Then she gently lifted my right hand (I shifted the puke parcel to my left) and tenderly pressed her fingers into the pressure points of my wrist. She was magical. And despite my generalized American anxiety, I didn’t feel the need to flee her touch or avoid her gaze by faking an incoming text.

As she worked up my arm from one pressure point to the next and pressed gently against the base of my neck, I felt a surge of love for this woman who I hadn’t even realized was sitting next to me. I didn’t speak her language – couldn’t even have begun to guess what it was – and she didn’t speak mine. But she reached across the cultural divide to care for a fellow human in need, with no possibility of benefit and no concern for herself. I would have been too worried about contracting international plague germs to touch a vomiting stranger … or even remain in my original seat … but she wasn’t.

Just as quickly as she had started, she was done. She rubbed her hand across my back twice more, smiled again, and opened a book. She didn’t even covertly apply hand sanitizer.  

It was the most selfless act of compassion I have ever experienced but it reinforced what I already knew to be true: this world is full of wonderful, kind and caring people. They make me want to be a better person too – even if it means I have to lend a hand the next time someone orders an ill-fated Chinese breakfast.  

Published by Andrea

Writer and avid explorer of all things.

4 thoughts on “Chinese Breakfast: A Lesson in Compassion

  1. Such a great story! Well told. Quite an adventure. Nice to know there is such kindness in the world.

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