The Story of A Ningbo Legend |宁波传奇人物故事
Written by (作者): Vincent R. Vinci 魏文深
Photos by (图片来源): Ningbo Focus 《宁波聚焦》, James Cosio
There are many people in Ningbo’s expat community that everyone seems to know, people who could be considered part of the city’s story, legends of some shape or form. One of these legends is four-year
Ningbo resident James Cosio, a Filipino-American who came to China after living in California, Mexico and Japan, and whose myth has grown with the amount of time he’s stayed in Ningbo. Before I even met
James, everyone told me of his amazing dumplings, that he could speak 5 languages, and he was skilled at pool and musical feats. Its often that myths don’t always live up to their name, but even if some of the stories of James are tall tales, he makes up for it with an understanding and kindness that embodies the heavily multicultural experience of expats here in Ningbo.
James has lived most of his life surrounded by people from different cultures, shaping him into the person he is today. Born in the Philippines in 1981, he immigrated to California with his family in 1987. Living in?the suburbs of Los Angeles he was forced to adapt to a new life. Even though he attended a Catholic school with many Filipino-Americans, he didn’t quite fit in, a first generation outsider amongst second generation kids who were used to living an American lifestyle. Instead of taking one for the count, James?adapted. We spoke over tea at an E-Kaffe near Gulou. The man speaks with a vibrancy echoed in his constant smile and laid-back attitude. Laid-back in that he could tell someone who until a few moments ago was a perfect stranger his life story, engaged while relaxed on white padded s eat s near a?window over looking the bustling Zhongshan Road below.
“I grew up in a Chicano neighborhood rather than an Asian one,” he tells me, pausing?to think back to his early childhood. James became more at home with the Latino community instead of his own, sending him on a trajectory that would form the first myth. Through interactions with people?mainly of Mexican descent and learning Spanish as a second language in high school and later university, James decided he wanted to become a teacher of English, to help other immigrants coming into the US to learn the language and to feel comfortable in their newly adopted country.
Growing up though, James didn’t quite fit the bill for a teacher “I took one of those personality tests, what do you call it, the Meyers-Briggs Personality Indicator,” he laughs, “and it said I was an INFJ which meant that I could be characterized by introversion, intuition, feeling, and judgement.” These?were traits most common for a “Counselor”, someone who enjoys helping others reach their potential. It is the rarest personality type that occurs in less than 3% of the population.
Building on his experiences growing up in California, James joined AmeriCorps NCCC, a group which sent teams of about 12 people around the United States to help with service projects, organizations, and?those in need. He renovated homes that had been damaged in hurricanes, provided disaster relief following 9/11, mentored underprivileged kids in Louisiana, worked in exotic species removal in Tennessee, Habitat for Humanity in Kentucky, and eventually wound up teaching ESL to Mexican migrant workers in Charleston, South Carolina.
It was this last project that embedded in him a desire to teach others and help them out, and it would eventually propel him across the world to teach English.
After AmeriCorps, James studied abroad in Guadalajara to keep up with his Spanish studies and, upon returning, took up a job at the Cheesecake Factory. Personal interactions seem to be one of James’ strong suits. He thrived on the situations in the Cheesecake Factory, noticing the little quirks?of the restaurant. “Cheesecake Factory was the fancy restaurant to go to if you were aspiring?middle class , ”he laughs . He started working in the cushy front of the house where “everyone wore?white and had to smile”, but then moved into the kitchen where the immigrants worked.
No matter where he was in the restaurant, he made friends. Before moving on from the restaurant industry, he had a going away party. It surprised his mother that her once quiet son had such a large group of friends that she had never seen before. It was this group of friends that wished him well on his first stint in Asia: teaching English in private and public schools in Japan.
The first myth about James regards his linguistic prowess. All the people I spoke with before the interview told me he could speak at least 5 languages. This was laughed off, and James confessed he could speak only two languages with relative fluency: English and Spanish. This didn’t mean he didn’t understand the languages of the countries he resided in. While in Japan, he was already familiar with basic Japanese, learned some calligraphy and started studying Chinese. Because the Japanese used traditional Chinese?characters, James found it helpful recognizing the simplified characters used in mainland China.
It was also in Japan that James interacted many people of South American descent, namely from Peru and Brazil. With his bulky exterior he was often seen by others as a Brazilian rather than Filipino and?thanks to his familiarity with the Mexican community, many people he met thought that his accent was Mexican. He began to pick up a knack for accents as well. His immigrating to a multicultural society at a?young age and travel throughout his life led to his inadvertent ability to code switch, meaning he could change his accent, vocabulary, and/or grammar while talking with people from dif ferent regions and?countries to make speaking with them more comfortable.
The Dumpling Master
Thanks to working in the kitchens and “baking” at the Cheesecake Factory, James picked up a love for cooking and food that traveled with him from Japan and remained with him in Ningbo. While in Japan, he fell in love with gyouza, the country’s fried dumplings. “I ran into a student one day at the supermarket and saw him picking up these dumpling wrappers” he laughed. “I had never seen them before, and was so excited when I found out they were already premade and just ready to be filled with whatever you could imagine.” With this new discovery, he embarked on learning how to make his favorite dish and perfected it.
Before James left Japan, he had become frustrated with the lack of flavorful sausage in East Asia, and he actively sought out to create a dumpling with the same consistency of various flavors as that of Western sausages, even adding cheese into the mix because after all “everything tastes better with cheese.” While this author has yet to try these dumplings, there’s no doubt they’re amazing considering the amount of positive reaction that accompanies a mention of them.
The Pool Player
Another aspect of the myth that’s well-known around these parts is the fact that he can play a mean game of pool. “Most people know me as ‘the guy who plays pool’” he tells me. It all started way back when he entered the weekly pool tournament at the legendary LBB Bar, which at the time was one?of the only foreigner-friendly bars in Ningbo. Much to his surprise, he won the tournament and was hooked. “Before I entered that tournament I had never won anything in my life,” he tells me.
He eventually began going every week before taking over the running of the tournament when the original organizer left, quickly becoming known around the city as “the guy who does the pool tournament.” James spread his love of the game to other bars, starting the pool tournaments that at?both the Pit Bar and Stix.
“Someone once told me after deciding to stay a second year here that ‘it’s the second year where everything starts happening.’” It was this mindset that got him focused on the pool tournaments as a way to introduce people to the city, to show them there was a way for people to get out and have fun.
James had met too many people during his time in Ningbo who, all through their first year, would keep to themselves and wouldn’t get out.
The tournaments at LBB, the Pit Bar and Stix were a means to an end, and they became big. “Ningbo is?one of those places where if you’re looking for a scene but it isn’t there, you’re going to have to create it,” he explained. These pool tournaments, then, were his first real big mark on the city.
Although competing in tournaments has since taken a back seat, word of his skills at pool already spread “as far as Shanghai,” he laughed. Needless to say, he is modest and denies that he is good at pool, “certainly not the best”, which a great many people would have you believe otherwise.
The final myth I heard before my encounter with the man himself was that James was a skilled musician who could play quite a few instruments. This was met with another laugh. “I actually don’t play any instruments,” James chortled “I used to be able to play the trumpet with just my mouth, but now I think?the best I can do is the tambourine, or maybe the egg shakers! I can play any instrument that’s the equivalent of ‘if you could clap your hands then you can do it.’”
What James is good at is singing. A few years back, he was in a small group of friends who would meet up just to just to let the steam off and play music. The group, lovingly called the Ningboners, occasionally busked in front of people but they also enjoyed playing in odd, secluded spots around the city.
“I was surrounded by people with real instrumental talent…we didn’t write much, we just played, and I sung.” Singing came naturally for James and eventually led him to his next project as the lead singer of the Faculty, which he started last year with a group of teachers he knew from around the city.
Out of the group, James carries the least amount of equipment, only carrying a mic and a tablet. “What I like about singing: I grew up an immigrant, I picked up the American accent. I remember as a kid I could?copy cartoon voices very well. There was a popular group when I was younger called Boyz II Men, and I’d copy their singing, and I realized copying singing was the same as copying voices and singing itself.” He used his ability with accents and copying sounds to his advantage, becoming good at the?adopted art.
The Man, The Myth, The Legend
Having lived in Philippines, the US, Mexico, Japan and finally winding up in Ningbo, James has made a home for himself in this city by the sea. Not only is he a myth, but he is one of the easygoing people who make this city great, and who embody the expat spirit here in China.
Over the years, James has retaken the Meyers-Briggs personality test to see if his results had changed. Thanks to his new experiences that had forced him out of his comfort zone over the years, he had changed by one letter to an ENFJ, the “E” for extroversion meriting the “Teacher” classification, a perfect fit for his chosen profession and his changed mindset.
“I think the reason why may people think I’m more competent and more capable than I actually am,” James told me, “is because I like to share what I have learned myself. It is easy to share in a city like Ningbo because of its size.” It is this small size, James tells me, that brings people closer together. “I like?being able to bring people together who have nothing in common, who would normally never hang out with each other. I like communities like that, like what we have here.”
This is what we have in Ningbo, James preaches, it’s a community with a lot of people -locals, migrants,?foreigners- who are brought together even though they may have little in common, and they have the?opportunity to look pas their differences and interact and share with one another. James is just another?colorful part of the city that is Ningbo, and he has enjoyed every year of his time in this great city.
詹姆斯擅长的是唱歌。几年前，他有一小群朋友，每次见面只是在一起即兴演奏、释放压力。这个组合有一个很亲切的名字— — 宁波人。他们偶尔会在人前表演，但更喜欢在城市中奇特、隐蔽的地方演奏。
在这个组合中，詹姆斯需要的装备最少，只有一个麦克风和一个平板电脑。“我喜欢唱歌的原因是：我成长于移民家庭，我学会了美国口音。我记得小时候我可以很好地模仿动画角色的声音。在我青少年时期，有一个很火的乐队叫 Boyz II Men，我总是模仿他们唱歌，我意识到模仿唱歌和模仿口音是一样的。”他充分利用这种才能，变得很擅长学习音乐。