by Joe Capkun
Spring 2003 found Toronto, Canada’s largest city, in the midst of a serious SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak. Thousands of people had been quarantined and several had died of the disease. SARS had a ten-day incubation period, so people could be contagious long before showing symptoms. Paranoia gripped the city. People stopped going to public events to avoid the disease.
In this atmosphere of fear the greatest damage was inflicted upon people of Asian background; the disease had originated in China. Chinese businesses, stores, and restaurants were shunned, leaving them mostly empty.
My wife and I are children of white European immigrants who fled their Communist homeland for a better life in Canada. One day in the middle of this, my wife was leaving the local shopping mall into a heavy rainstorm; thankful she’d driven that day. A middle-aged Chinese gentleman approached my wife. At first she was taken aback because he was Chinese. SARS-related thoughts raced through her mind. In extremely broken English he asked which bus route to take to a particular part of town. She told him, he left, and she was relieved that he was gone.
Driving in the downpour minutes later, she spied the same gentleman standing at a bus stop, but he was standing at the wrong bus stop! She thought of driving on but she’s always had a soft spot for “wet puppies”.
That’s our term for people who’re having bad luck… picture a puppy outside on your doorstep, whimpering, soaking wet, cold, and looking up at you for help. It’s always seemed to us that “wet puppy people” could sense my wife’s concern for other people’s wellbeing and would somehow find her.
It was obvious this gentleman was completely lost and no bus would fix that. So she turned the car around, pulled up to the bus stop, and motioned the soaking-wet Chinese man to get into the car.
She managed to get his destination address from him and away they drove. He revealed that he’d been in Canada less than ten days and that he was staying with friends, about a half-hour drive in the opposite direction, towards the eastern edge of the city.
Navigation skills are not my wife’s strong suit but she thought she knew where to go. Just to be sure, she called me to ask directions but didn’t say why she needed to go that part of town. When they pulled up to his friends’ house he told my wife that he was extremely grateful for her kindness. Since coming to Canada he’d experienced only cold stares and even colder shoulders. He was surprised how strong the paranoia was.
In the midst of an epidemic of fear, with people going out of their way to avoid people of Asian ethnicity, my wife demonstrated that day her strong conviction that people were still people — and “wet puppies” should still be brought in out of the rain.