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26 March 2021
Mr Xaing (right) with Bryce Davies – at home with a culture of friendship and trust
Words Bryce Davies
Major Bryce Davies is a Salvation Army officer (pastor) who has worked for many years with marginalised communities in Queensland and New South Wales. In the final of a four-week series, Bryce continues to share the stories and struggles of people he has come across while serving in the often-troubled suburb of Villawood in Greater Western Sydney. This week we hear about Mr Xaing – some of the unique challenges he faces, and how he is connecting with his community with the support of his friends at the Salvos. Story printed with permission.
Mr Xaing is an 84-year-old Chinese man who lives in one of the units at Villawood.
He speaks almost no English but has been a treasured member of the Salvos community here for the past few years. He has one of the warmest smiles and the kindest faces you could imagine, is quite frail and walks very slowly. He is a very vulnerable person in a quite dangerous neighbourhood. His first interactions were to join us for a meal. It was here that we established a culture of friendliness and safety. He learned to trust us.
When the table tennis table came out, we asked him with sign language if he played and, of course, he had played all his life. So, we had a game and sure enough, even though he can’t really move around the table, his traditional Chinese ping-pong bat grip was still effective, and he can sustain a long rally if you hit the ball straight back to him. There is no language required in ping-pong, and we would laugh and hoot at good shots or lucky net winners. Our relationship warmed even further. At one stage, he came to me with a Chinese friend who spoke some English and explained that his home internet needed to go to the NBN. So, I helped sort out a plan for him. Then he needed to update his expired passport.
One time during a meal, I complained about a sore elbow and found out that Mr Xaing is a Chinese natural therapist. He uses manipulation to heal, and he started pressing into the sore muscle area of my arm. It was excruciating, but he seemed to know what he was doing and was quite confident.
I went to his unit to get a second treatment not long afterwards, and he showed me his extensive array of qualifications and published journal articles. It was impressive. The classic moment, though, was when I hurt my back and he told me to lie down on a table. He proceeded to whack my back with what looked like a long-handled hairbrush. It hurt like nothing else, but the blood was certainly arriving in the sore area as it was burning hot. Everyone fell in love with this ‘smiling assassin’, who was loving every minute of the fun and banter. Well, almost everyone – I was the one getting flogged!
Mr Xaing loves playing games, including UNO and frisbee, and he always joins in our bocce games and laughs with great enthusiasm.
Mr Xaing showed me a video the other day that his son had made for him on his phone, with Chinese music and a whole heap of photos. There were maybe two photos of his family and all the others were of his Villawood Salvos friends. He pulled out his wallet and showed me the picture he keeps in there – a picture of us.
We all love Mr Xaing, and he is a wonderful and rich part of our community, where our aim is to share the love of Jesus. But if he gets his back-whacker out again – I may just give it a miss.