The moment the old man and the girl stepped in, Wendy could tell that something wasn’t quite right. The man had a look of desperation on him. There was also something sorrowful about the way the little girl clung to him.
Instinct told her to keep a close eye on them. Wendy couldn’t quite tell what it was but something about them gave her a very uneasy feeling.
Wenjuan Chen was born in Beijing to a Chinese mother and Thai father. When she was 3, her family moved to Bangkok. The change was a little jarring but as her dad was a native of Thailand, she adjusted and learned to accept her new home.
As she grew, Wenjuan (or “Wendy” as her friends knew her) showed an amazing talent for art. However, she soon learned that following her dreams wasn’t going to be that simple.
Recognizing her amazing talent, Wendy’s school teachers and parents encouraged her to follow her dream of being an artist. As she got older, it became clear that the most prestigious art school she could attend was the Poh Chang Academy of Arts in Rattanakosin, Bangkok.
Unfortunately, tuition at such a school didn’t come cheap, and being from a working-class family meant Wendy’s dream was placed in jeopardy.
Not one to give up on her dreams easily, Wendy realized she needed a plan to fulfill them. After graduating high school, with the help of her art teacher, Wendy managed to secure a partial scholarship.
With most of her tuition covered and further help from her parents, Wendy only needed to cover a small portion. She realized there was definitely a simple way to make her dream a reality now.
Wendy immediately began looking for a part-time job to help her earn the rest of the money she would need. After a tedious search, she was delighted when she was given a job as a waitress.
Between art school and working part-time, Wendy knew that she would need to burn the candle at both ends. However, she also knew that this was the first step toward achieving her dreams and was determined to do it, no matter how hard it got.
The Shabu-Shabu restaurant where Wendy worked was a diner-style eatery that specialized in Japanese soups and other Asian cuisines. It was a popular place for families and Wendy enjoyed working there.
Attending the Poh Chang Academy meant her time was really stretched but Wendy stayed upbeat. Things were going well until she was suddenly thrust into a situation that would affect her deeply.
The day in question started off as an ordinary one. It was a Saturday morning and the place was still empty. The staff was still setting up the tables and chairs and were not accustomed to customers coming in that early.
However, on this day, a man and a little girl showed up. Wendy was the first to notice them. As she greeted and tried to seat them, Wendy could immediately tell that something wasn’t right about the odd pair.
Wendy couldn’t help noticing the contrast between the man and the little girl. He was dressed in ragged clothes, looked disheveled, and had grease stains on his arms and clothes.
On the other hand, the little girl, who looked barely 6-years-old was beautiful, with neatly cut short hair, and wore a cute little outfit. Despite their difference in appearance, the child seemed very timid and the way she clung to the man seemed almost strange.
Wendy had only had good experiences in Bangkok since moving there. However, she was acutely aware of what an unsavory reputation the city sometimes had. It was well known that Bangkok could be a dangerous city for kids to get lost in.
Keeping these unsettling thoughts in mind, Wendy decided to stay alert and keep a close eye on the pair just in case.
The other staff busied themselves with setting up while Wendy attended to the customers. When she tried to seat them, she grew more concerned. The child stuck close to the man who seemed to have a look of desperation on his face.
He refused to let Wendy seat them and instead chose a booth right at the back of the diner. Wendy knew that this would make it harder for her to keep an eye on them.
Wendy offered to get them drinks but the man just asked her to take the girl’s order. The child ordered a kiddie’s meal and a milkshake. The man said he wasn’t going to have anything and quickly looked away.
As Wendy walked toward the kitchen she heard the child speaking in an animated voice while the man tried to speak in hushed tones to keep her quiet. Staying close to try and listen better, Wendy was distraught by what she heard.
Wendy immediately felt guilty about her initial judgments and was heartbroken by what she heard. The man was actually the little girl’s father and it was her birthday. Unfortunately, it seemed the man only had enough money to buy a meal for her and not himself.
Now the child was refusing to eat unless he ate too. His hushed tone and attempts to keep her quiet were due to him feeling ashamed about not having enough money for them to both eat.
Speaking to a colleague about them, Wendy learned even more. The man was known in the area. He was a single dad, desperately poor, and worked part-time as a mechanic whenever he could find work.
He had been seen working late the day before and again that morning when he took the child into a clothing store to buy her a new outfit for her birthday. Suddenly, the man’s grease stains and shabby appearance in comparison to his daughter’s well-cared-for look made more sense.
Now that she knew the full story, Wendy was deeply touched. She immediately knew she had to do something. Speaking to her boss, she begged him to help and even offered to pay for an extra meal for the father herself.
Her boss was also moved when he heard the story. He decided to go the extra mile and put together something special for the father and daughter.