Article and photos by Jonathan Foong
A shivering man, bundled in winter attire, stands in the dark, under the light of a lamp post next to an old SUV. Patting his body and pockets, he gropes for a key ring, an iPhone, then a wallet. He’s carrying a plastic bag with a container of Ritz crackers and a back belt—both essentials for what will be a 12-hour workday, most of it behind the wheel of a delivery truck. Kin Weng Foong, 60, makes deliveries for a wholesale supplier to Chinese restaurants. He’s also my father.
My father wakes up at 4:00 a.m. sharp. He drives from his home on Staten Island to his company’s warehouse in Maspeth, Queens, finds parking, and goes up to the office to pick up his orders for the day. The bookkeeper also hands my father an allowance. He goes to his assigned truck and helps load the cargo–freezing raw cuts of chicken, pork, and beef along with fresh produce.
At 7:30 a.m., he goes to Chinatown to pick up fresh tofu, eggs, and noodles with the allowance to fulfill the orders. By 8:45 a.m., he is off on his route, which today includes New Jersey and Upstate New York.
Even though I know the answer, I had to ask, “Wouldn’t you rather be at home celebrating Thanksgiving with your family?”
He replies, “Thanksgiving means nothing to me and Mom. No work. No pay.”
I wondered if my father was compensated for working on a national holiday. He replied: “I used to get double pay for working holidays, but not anymore. The boss gave us a small raise instead, but we don’t get paid for any day we don’t work.” Sundays are his only day-off.
His hands appear blistered and rough as cement on the steering wheel. His eyes are heavy and slightly swollen staring at a long road. He blinks slowly and he puts on his favorite compilation album, Ultimate Bee Gees, swirls his finger in the air and fidgets his head toward the melody of Stayin’ Alive.
We arrive at the first restaurant in Monticello, NY called Dragon City. The clock reads “11:02.” The restaurant owner steps out and greets my father with a hearty laugh. My father jubilantly shouts, “Oi! Ah-Loong!” My father has been delivering to Ah-Loong for the past 25 years every week.
The one burning question I had for Ah-Loong was, “Why open on Thanksgiving? Americans eat turkey, not Chinese food.”
Ah-Loong responded: “They eat turkey… but only for dinner. What about breakfast and lunch? Takeout food is food for anytime of the day, anytime of the year.”
I thought that expenses for keeping the store open would exceed sales, but he argues otherwise, adding: “Many times, people come in to eat late night because the turkey wasn’t edible.”
My father and I lifted the last 100-lb bag of sugar down onto the dolly, and strolled through the then-still-empty dining area into the kitchen. Dragon City is the only restaurant that provides my father lunch free of charge.
Chicken is the cheapest cut of meat while broccoli is the cheapest vegetable; so, we ate the usual chicken with broccoli over rice in brown sauce, the staple dish in American-Chinese cuisine. We collected the balance from last week’s invoice, and left for the next destination.
My father’s routes are different each weekday. Over 90 miles north of the city is the farthest he will travel. There are frequent stops along the way, so my father drives up to seven hours every workday.
We repeated the same procedure for the other restaurants. We finished at 3:45pm, and it was time to start our journey back to the warehouse.
I asked my father, “Do you like your job?”
He replied: “That’s a dumb question. You know I do.” Since he speaks English, I just don’t understand why he never went to college or tried to find a job with an American company. He couldn’t give me an answer; he just believes that everyone makes his or her own lifestyle choices.
My father had to drop out of high school to provide for himself and his mother. He came from a small Chinese suburb in Ipoh, Malaysia, in 1982. He once tried opening a wholesale business, but failed. He’s been working as a delivery driver ever since. It’s all he knows, and it’s what he’s good at.
At 6:30 p.m., we returned and my father would get the hose to thoroughly rinse out his truck of all debris. He also dropped off the cash collections. It was too late for my mother to cook, so we went out that night, instead, to eat a conventional Chinese dinner in the second Chinatown, in Brooklyn, Bensonhurst. My mother asked my father as she ordered, “What about a broccoli dish?”
He answered: “Anything… but broccoli.”