Hàoyú was playing violin on the F train. He was playing Paganini. His fingers danced across the fingerboard wildly, playing “Caprice No. 24.”
Nobody was paying attention to the virtuoso. Nobody even looked up from their phones. Except for one idiot tourist with red hair and a prominent overbite.
A few of us applauded him. He took a bow.
The violinist was Chinese. He was originally from Chongqing. He was easy to talk to. He was dressed in a fast-food employee uniform. He was quiet.
“I study violin since I was three,” he explained. “I was to be a concert violinist someday, but this plan did not work out.”
Namely, because the classical world is tough. Many classical musicians are about as much fun as a routine colonoscopy. Still, he tried. He studied with the right maestros. He played concerts. He kept his pinky up when he drank tea.
At age 20, his mother died in a car accident. Six months later, his father died of a broken heart. The young man has no brothers and sisters. He was alone.
“So I quit school and I decide to try something crazy. I come to New York.”
He got a job working in a New York restaurant by day. He rode his bike to and from work.
“Everyone shows you their middle finger when you ride a bike in New York.”
Then, one day, while riding his bike, he was struck by a car. The tendons in his left forearm were damaged. He broke three ribs. He broke his leg. The paramedics said he was lucky he wasn’t playing the harp.
“I could not play the violin anymore, I thought life was over. I went through a very bad place.”
Because of his injuries, he lost his job; he couldn’t hold a teacup without using both hands. Funds ran thin, he was kicked out of his apartment.
Soon, he was living in a hostel. His possessions were on his back. He got a job working construction. He was a jobsite cleaner-upper. He’d waltz into recently finished renovations and spend all night vacuuming, sweeping, and mopping.
Eventually, he rented a little apartment with his Latino coworkers. Six of them lived in one tiny room. They shared one toilet. Hell hath no fury like sharing a toilet with other males.
One day, one of his Mexican roommates introduced our hero to his kid sister. The young couple went out for a date. They hit it off. She taught him to say “por favor” and “gracias.” He taught her to say “请,” and “谢谢.”
It was meant to be. They hung out often. One night, she wanted to hear our young hero play his instrument. He told her he couldn’t. She begged him to try.
“请?” she asked nicely.
So he did. The young man played his violin poorly, but not as badly as he expected. His fingers, to his surprise, actually worked. It was a light at the end of a long tunnel.
“It took a lot of practice and hard work,” he said, “but I began playing my violin again. Little by little. And I have her to thank for it.”
At some point, she encouraged him to visit the subway to play for people. To keep his hands limber. To perform before audiences again. To regain his confidence.
So that’s what he does. He plays for people who ride trains. He plays on his way to work. He plays for strangers. He plays for her.
They were married last year. And, as of last week, the young Latina woman who brought him back to life again is expecting their first child.
When our train arrived, the conversation finished, I tried to tip him cash. But the young man did not want money. He simply smiled and said, “Welcome to New York, it really is quite beautiful.”
You aren’t so bad yourself, Hàoyú.
JKate - February 12, 2023 7:15 am
Sean, I love you ability and desire to ‘see’ people everywhere you go. ❤️
Tina - February 12, 2023 10:29 am
Beautiful and inspiring- thanks for getting his story.
Lander - February 12, 2023 11:06 am
Beautiful story. Beautiful that you listened.
Joann Thompson - February 12, 2023 11:11 am
I love the way you can draw people out. Thanks for the lovely story.
Joy Jacobs - February 12, 2023 11:48 am
Dolores - February 12, 2023 12:18 pm
I’m enjoying my trip to NY… through your eyes. (I would never go otherwise.) Thanks for shining a light on its multi-faceted people.
MissusMux - February 12, 2023 12:21 pm
What a blessed story. Thank you for taking the time to hear his story and share it with the rest of us. Nice that you seek and find the beautiful.
Bonnie Danard - February 12, 2023 12:34 pm
Tim - February 12, 2023 12:43 pm
The sound of violins
Better than the sound of violence
any day of the week.
George Robert Leach - February 23, 2023 4:02 am
Let’s cut out the violence. We don’t need any.
Julia - February 12, 2023 1:24 pm
Thank you Sean
EPGregg - February 12, 2023 1:30 pm
What a heart-lifting way to start a Sunday morning!! Thank you♥️
mccutchen52 - February 12, 2023 1:31 pm
That young man could change my opinion of New York.
Pubert Earle Bozemann - February 12, 2023 1:47 pm
You got a real nose for this stuff Pone!
Gàn dé hǎo, jiānchí xiàqù
That’s easy for you to say!
Linda Lewis - February 12, 2023 1:48 pm
Oh, what a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it with us. Your stories make my heart happy. They make me smile.
Connie - February 12, 2023 2:02 pm
Take the subway to Brooklyn and walk 2 blocks to the Brooklyn Tabernacle. The choir is outstanding! Beer drinkers are welcome. 😊
Marsha Hamby Savage - February 12, 2023 2:04 pm
Wonderful… so glad you were there!
Jennifer - February 12, 2023 2:56 pm
Thank you for seeking out the beauty in the world, Sean, and pointing it out to the rest of us❤️
David in California - February 12, 2023 3:15 pm
And now I am humbled (for lumping all New Yorkers into my preconceived notions even though I know that’s not true).
Patricia Gibson - February 12, 2023 3:38 pm
wfsuga - February 12, 2023 4:00 pm
Awesome! Wouldn’t it be terrific if more native-born Americans had this kind of work ethic?
Jeff - February 12, 2023 4:07 pm
Really great story. Thanks.
Gigi - February 12, 2023 4:25 pm
Thank you Sean for another inspirational and heartwarming story ! ❤️
Jerry - February 12, 2023 4:52 pm
There was a time when I was sitting in a public area reading a book, I’d become irritated if someone sat next to me. Then I started reading your blog. Now I close my book and try to strike up a conversation. Now if I could just write the stories. Thanks Sean!
Charaleen Wright - February 12, 2023 5:41 pm
Nan - February 12, 2023 5:49 pm
Beautiful, hopeful story. Sometimes I have a really hard time finding/seeing hope in life. Thanks to you Sean, I do see see/read about it in your blog posts. ❤️
Stacey Wallace - February 12, 2023 6:23 pm
Sean, thanks for this sweet story. Love to you, Jamie, Marigold, Otis Campbell , and Thelma Lou.
Bill - February 12, 2023 6:30 pm
Awww , you’re forgiven Sean . You made up for your last trashing of New York City . Thank you
thouse1001Tim House - February 12, 2023 6:39 pm
Absolutely beautiful tale! You bring out the best of what you see in everyday America, the heart and aspirations in so many of the, what some may see, “little people”, the ones that are truly the Strength of the country!
Eve - February 12, 2023 6:58 pm
Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 is widely considered one of the most difficult pieces ever written for the solo violin:
We are blessed to have you here in America. ❤️
Gayle Wilson - February 12, 2023 7:29 pm
Sean, I think you and Jamie should travel around the country and find the “Annas” and “Haoyus” to write about. You already have a good start! I think a book compilation of “salt of the earth” Americans could maybe turn the tide in the country where all we get from the mainstream media and the talking news heads is how bad everyone is, how corrupt everyone is, and that it is only getting worse! What a blessing for people in this country to find out that, “hey, there is still the milk of human kindness and once they see that, and your stories put a smile on their faces, who knows. They may even turn off the one eyed monster and the radio to start spreading the movement. The first story should be about you and Jamie rescuing Marigold. I mean who is NOT going to read a story about Marigold?
Debbie g - February 13, 2023 2:59 am
I like that idea Gayle. Go for it Sean. Love to all. Pass it on
George Robert Leach - February 23, 2023 4:00 am
Did you mean the fake news is never good. It has been around since the 1960’s or longer. The real news never gets published except for people like Sean.
Linda Moon - February 12, 2023 8:25 pm
New York has its Superhumans. We of the South pay attention to Sean and other creative, talented, and beautiful people like Haoyu. He could ride his bike and never see a middle finger unless it’s attached d to the other nine that are waving to him!
David Britnell - February 12, 2023 9:02 pm
Another beautiful story
Trent - February 12, 2023 10:25 pm
Sean of the North? Nah – don’t work for me LOL. Come back to the light soon, but until then keep finding the good for the rest of us.
Barbara - February 12, 2023 10:43 pm
I love NY and am happy to read this uplifting story about this young violinist who has persevered to share his music and begin a wonderful family in the city.
pattymack43 - February 13, 2023 12:06 am
Robert Chiles - February 13, 2023 3:49 pm
Have had several visits to NYC. A great city. Great people. Great experiences.
Gloria Miller - February 13, 2023 4:45 pm
Wow – just wow…
Karen - February 13, 2023 11:28 pm
Thank you for such a wonderful story.
John A. Berry - February 21, 2023 4:55 pm
Sean, you are a force of nature! You can find the most beautiful human beings wherever you go!! What an amazing story!
George Robert Leach - February 23, 2023 3:55 am
Life of an immigrant is tough. Then we have idiots who don’t like immigrants. If you want to be grossed out by men and toilets try sitting in a barracks toilet beside other GI’s, no partitions, and carry on a conversation. Yuck!
Harriet White - March 2, 2023 1:19 am
Beautiful story. I am glad to hear New York is beautiful