He says he was overweight and depressed, having gone through some significant life adjustments, but his dislike wasn’t limited to his physical self. He needed to make some changes.
Later, during a walk in Regina, Sask., early one spring, Hai noticed a puddle next to a crumbling curb. The dirty water was completely still, and Hai saw the one bright spot in the grey sky, the spot where the sun was attempting to break through the clouds, reflected in it.
Life was all about perspective, he realized. Dirty puddle or reflected sunshine — it’s all in how you choose to look at it.
Hai put the theory to practice and changed his own life as well as the lives of others.
Now living in St. John’s, Hai regularly posts in classified groups on Facebook.
“This coming Saturday I would like to donate a few hours of mine and my children’s time to help someone who needs it,” his most recent public post reads. “If you or someone you know in the St. John’s area needs a hand with something, please let me know! Maybe it’s hauling stuff around the house or yard. Maybe your senior relative lives here alone and wants some company for a cup of tea and a chat. I’m pretty flexible!”
He’s entirely genuine and there’s no catch. All he asks is people pay the good deeds forward.
“I love people,” he says in a coffee shop interview with The Telegram. He’s wearing a bright pink shirt with “Free Hugs” written on the front, from a project in Regina in which he and others offered free hugs to strangers. His smile is sincere and contagious.
“I think people are generally good and inherently beautiful beings, and we cover that up and we make things complicated when we don’t need to be. I just want to do good things. I like being able to talk to a stranger and say something nice and maybe being able to change the trajectory of their day with some small act I did. More so, I want to inspire others to do the same thing.”
Hai, a father of three, posted an open invitation on Facebook around Thanksgiving offering to share his family’s Thanksgiving dinner with anyone who found themselves alone for the holiday. Two families took him up on the offer, and he met them for the first time when they rang his doorbell.
“I was at Colemans picking up the last couple of things I needed for Sunday for my kids and I, and I was thinking, I’ve lived in many places where I didn’t know anyone, and there were many holidays when I was alone. Later on, as I made social groups, I got invited to things, but I knew what it was like to be alone. I just thought I’d post it somewhere, thinking maybe someone will join us, but maybe they won’t because it’s weird,” he says, smiling. “I’m just this random guy inviting people to my house, but two families did join us.”
After dinner, Hai made plates for a dozen other people who had contacted him, and dropped them off. The next day, he gave his leftover turkey and vegetables to a man standing at an intersection with a cardboard sign saying he was hungry.
The usual responses to Hai’s kind actions are appreciation and a little confusion. People ask if they can tip him. When he politely declines, they often wonder if he’s affiliated with a church.
“It breaks people’s brains a little bit there,” Hai says. “That’s the sad thing, the fact that it’s such an alien concept that people don’t understand why others would give without wanting anything in return. We’re trained not to understand simple kindness anymore. In fairness, there are scams all over the place, and inviting people into your home can seem threatening. People don’t know me, I’m just a random guy and I’m not from here. But almost always, people are very positive and very thankful.”
Hai hopes to inspire others to do kind deeds, and is establishing a group of like-minded people that he calls Project Kindness NL. Through a Facebook page, he has started campaigns to prepare winter care packages for clients of Stella’s Circle and Choices for Youth, and another donation project for the Gathering Place. He’s hoping others will want to join the group, either as regulars or casual members, participating in random, unadvertised pay-it-forward activities or other co-ordinated projects.
One of his goals for the future is to address issues of food security by encouraging micro-gardening; another is to work with food establishments to take food that would otherwise go to waste and get it into the hands of people who could use it.
Overall, he wants to build a stronger, more engaged community made up of people who are, simply, nice to each other. Everyone can help, he says, and money isn’t necessary.
“There are a lot of people who are shy or who can’t walk up to a stranger and do something there, but they can give anonymously. Volunteer your time. If you have the means, donate things,” Hai says. “Just look at people as people. If you go to order a coffee or if you’re ordering fast food, talk to the person. See them as a human being and ask them about their day. If they’re giving you good service, commend them on that. Reach out to them and connect with people in some way.”
When you train yourself to think of others and how you can brighten their day, opportunities will present themselves, Hai says. Everything counts.
“When it comes to stuff you give, if you buy a person a coffee, they’re not going to remember what the coffee tasted like, they’re going to remember the fact that someone took a moment other than for themselves and they were the recipient. Even the smallest thing can make a difference.”
To connect with Hai, visit www.facebook.com/projectkindnessnl .