I am a common air hostess from China East Airline. Ihave not worked many years, nor have I encounteredanything grand or unforgettable. Every day I give tea orwater to passengers. There is no inspiration. Life hasbeen dull until today, June 7, 2008, when one thingchanged my view of work and life.
Our aircraft was packed with passengers today going fromShanghai to Beijing. An old farmer was among the groupgetting on the plane. He was not in any way standing outfrom the crowd, carrying a huge sack, smelling typically likethe Kang of the countryside. Greeting people at the door,I thought that economy nowadays is truly so strongthat old rural men can afford air tickets.
When the plane was moving steadily ahead, we started toserve beverages. I came to the 20th row and saw this oldman. Sitting bolt upright, motionless and nervous, helooked like a fish out of water. He was holding his sacktightly, which seemed a globe, sticking up like a statue.When I asked him what he would like to drink, he keptwaving his hand and saying "no". I wanted to help puthis sack into the luggage compartment, but he declinedimmediately. I had no choice but to let him hold it tight.
A little while later, we started to serve lunch, and Isaw him sitting there like before. He still appearedvery nervous. I handed him the lunch box, but again hewaved his hand to refuse. The chief attendant wentover and kindly asked if he was sick. He said in a humblevoice that he wanted to go to the toilet, but was unsureif he was allowed to walk inside the cabin, and he wasafraid of damaging something in the aircraft.
We told him that it was all right, and asked a maleguard to take him to the lavatory. When we servedbeverages for the second time, I saw him licking hislips as he was looking at other passengers, who weredrinking water. I did not ask and put a cup of hot teaon his tray table. And just then, he got scared and jumped upfrom his seat and said, "No, no." I said, "please takesome water as you are thirsty." Then he shocked me bypulling out a stack of notes from his pocket, all inyuans and cents. He tried to thrust them into my hand.I told him that the tea was free. He did not believeand said that nobody had given him water when he wantedto ask for something to drink as he felt thirsty walking inthe street. He got driven out like a unwelcomed person. He went on to tell me that, to save money, he had tried toavoid taking a bus, and had actually walked a long waybefore he caught a bus going to the airport. He did not havemuch cash and had to ask for water from roadside restaurants.But most of the time he was mistaken as a beggar anddriven out.
We continued to tell him that he did not have to pay inthe aircraft. At long last he was convinced, sat downand started to drink tea slowly. We asked him if he washungry and if he needed to have lunch. He insisted thathe did not need. He said that he had two sons, thatboth did not let him down and went to college. Theyounger son was in his junior year in college, and theolder one had landed a job. He was on his way toBeijing to see his younger son. The working sonwanted to move his parents to live together with him,but they were not used to life in the city and went backhome. On this trip he was going to see his younger son. The older son did not want his dad exhausted froma long travel. He bought an air ticket for him. He was afraidthat his dad would get lost as he had never flown, so he hadrequested to fly with him. But however hard his son hadtried, this old man refused because he believed taking anairplane was way too expensive.
He finally agreed, but would never allow his son to flywith him. He insisted that he go alone. He carried asack of sweet potato chips for his younger son. At thesecurity check, the airport staff asked him to check inhis luggage, but he strongly objected. He was afraidthat his chips would be broken and his son would notlike them. We told him that it is safe to put the sackinto the luggage compartment. He stood up and studiedthe compartment for a long time before putting it in.During the flight, we poured water into his cup for manytimes, and he was always very polite to say "thank you".But he still refused to have lunch, despite the fact that heseemed starving. When the aircraft was about to land,he timidly asked us if we could give him a small bag,and if we would put his lunch into that bag for him totake away.
We of course agreed. He said that he had never seensuch delicious food. He would take it to his younger son.We were once again astonished. The common lunch thatwe saw every day could be so precious in the eyes ofthis rural old man. He would rather stay hungry to saveit for his son! We were so touched that we wanted togive him all the rest of the lunch boxes. However, heimmediately looked anguished and refused to accept. Hesaid that he only wanted his share and should not takeadvantage of others'. I was deeply moved. It was ofcourse no big deal, but I was profoundly educated.
I had thought that all was over when he suddenly didone thing that I would never forget all my life! Hesuddenly went down on his knees and kept kowtowing. Tears welling up in his eyes, he said, "You are so nice.You are so nice. I live in the countryside and onlyhave one meal a day. I have never drunk such sweet water,or seen so fine lunch. You did not despise me and wereeven so warm to me. I truly do not know how to thankyou enough. I hope you will have good luck. You aregood people." He was kowtowing as he spoke and cried. We helped him get to his feet and kept consoling him. We asked a ground attendant to take care of him beforegoing back to finish what's left to do.
To be honest, I'd worked five years as an air hostessand had seen many different passengers, extremely rude,violent as to beat people, and crude and rough, but I'dnever seen one kneeing down for us just to say 'thankyou'. We do not deserve such gratitude from this old man.We simply poured water to his cup for a few extra times,and he was willing to knee down for us! Plus, I saw himcarry the huge sack of sweet potato chips, refuse to eatso that he could save a meal for his son, and notwilling to take more than his share of food. I trulyfelt ashamed for myself. I must learn to be gratefulfor others. It was this old man who taught us how tolive a life of goodwill and integrity.