Feeding Flying Rats / by Arthur Hsu

Someone told me that pigeons are like rats with wings.  I tend to believe that rats are pretty smart, so maybe it was meant to be a compliment.  Either way, I can't help but to notice all the pigeons loitering around town, especially when there is a crowd of people or food source nearby.  The little buggers like to beg for food when you are standing near them.  They hop in front of you and look you right in the eye.  Perhaps they are unaware of their lack of telepathic communication ability to tell you they would like some grub.  I often wonder about their survival ability in harsh weather conditions.  They must be doing alright since they are always roaming around.  Perhaps the pigeons are able to survive due to the food they receive from people.  I find the feeding phenomenon to be rather interesting.  I am sure you can already picture their little beaks pecking at the food scraps like an avian jackhammer.  What I find more intriguing is the people who are feeding these pigeons.  I observed many people feeding the birds and some even appeared to be homeless.  It made me wonder why these people, a number of them are in dire need of help themselves, decide to feed these pigeons that other people would consider to be a complete nuisance.  

One day, I was simply checking the time on my watch when a couple of pigeons landed on my arm.  I was surprised to say the least, and I wondered why they would even do such a thing!  It all made sense later when I saw a couple of people feeding the birds out of their pockets and allowed them to eat off their hands.  One of the men gently spoke to the pigeons to encourage order and to remind them to peck the food instead of his hands.  The soft-spoken man tries to feed the pigeons once a month.  He had a name for most of the more unique looking pigeons and he fondly told me the pigeons' individual characters.  Sometimes one of the pigeons would land on top of his head, and he would quietly remind the pigeon that his head is a no-go zone.  The pigeons were particularly fond of the bird feed that the gentleman purchased in the US for this specific purpose.  

A soft-spoken man who named some of the more easily identifiable pigeons

Another man scattered his food evenly on the ground for the pigeons.  Chinese food appeared to be his feed of choice when I saw him.  As he returned to his bike to retrieve more food, three seagulls swoop down and pushed the pigeons aside as they devoured the large pieces of tofu.  The gentleman rushed back into the middle of the seagul food robbery and chased them dick birds away.  After the departure of the robbers, he dumped more food on the ground and did something surprising to me.  He methodically crushed/teared all the large chunks of Chinese food on the ground into tiny, pigeon bitesize pieces with his feet.  Once he was satisfied that the food could be consumed easily by the pigeons, he rode away on his bike.  During his pigeon feeding, he was talking and yelling aloud about random and imperceptible things the whole time.  Witnessing this raggedly dressed man, with a Jesus salvation/doomsday message plastered on his bike and clothing, piqued my curiosity regarding his motivation, especially when he appeared to be in need himself.  Over the coming weeks, I saw him around town on a number of occasions, but I was never able to have a conversation with him until recently.  

It was easy for me to have preconceived ideas about this man before speaking to him.  A man so different from everyone else around him, a snap judgement could easily be made.  He appeared to have his worldly possession stored on his bike, and he was constantly rambling and talking to himself out loud.  The tightly written message on his bike, hat, and jacket are difficult to read without any actual effort and they might as well be invisible to all the passerby on the street.  If I were to use one word to describe him, it would simply be "crazy".  As I tried to look for an opportunity to speak to the man, I wondered if he would be open to speaking to a stranger.  Would he understand me or would he simply behave unpredictably?  I think everyone has their opinions or beliefs about a man like this, and their opinions are often plainly visible as they walk by him in the street.  I did my best to suspend my preconceived opinions as I approached him on Granville Street on a sunny, winter day.  

Jacob was pacing back and forth on the sidewalk and talking aloud when I approached him.  He turned around when I greeted him. and I saw a man with some hard years behind him; it was finely written in every wrinkle on his face.  A tired smile appeared on his face when I asked to take his picture and he happily obliged.  Much to my surprise, Jacob told me that he saw me taking a picture of the sign on his bike earlier.  I thought I was stealthier but maybe my squeaky clown shoes gave me away.  Jacob was happy to talk to me and he was very receptive to my prying questions.  Jacob, in his own words, is about 70 Earth-years-old.  He believed strongly in afterlife and scoffed at all the lies surrounding the modern society.  In his mind, everything around us is a constructed lie or illusion that is ultimately inconsequential.  Jacob thinks that people build up their materialistic possessions in this life because they are unable see past their current existence.  He was displeased with all the land developments which resulted in "cutting down the trees".  Jacob told me that he that he scavenged for his meals everyday from the garbage bins around the city, and he saw no need to buy food when he could survive on the wasted food.  I was quite interested in finding out his reasonsing for feeding the pigeons especially when he could use the food himself.  Jacob said that he wanted to feed the pigeons because they "don't know any better", so he felt like it was the right thing to help them.  I asked him why he was spreading the message written on his hat, jacket and bike.  Jacob said that, much like everyone else, he was living a lie.  He had two near-death experiences that made him abandoned his old lifestyle and drove him to spread his message.  I asked him how people treat him on the street, and he was quick to say that received a lot of abuse.  Since he saw this world as a human-construct, I asked what he thought of the man-made rules, like the law, that he is subjected to in his daily life.  I was wondering why he doesn't break the rules to make his life easier.  He discounted the idea of breaking the law and prefer to simply follow them and suffer through them if needed.  Jacob said he was tired and weary of this life, and he believes true freedom comes after you leave this world and he was not afraid.  For now, he will continue and take on whatever comes along his way.   


Jacob and I spoke at great lengths that day. I made the mistake of not taking notes as we spoke to better capture his world view.  It's clear that his ideas are largely driven by religion, but I still feel like they are valuable life lessons.  It is certainly easy for me to attach a label to just about anyone, including Jacob, without any actual first-hand knowledge of the person.  By simply believing that someone is acting "crazy", it would be much easier for me to ignore the person.  It is much harder to make an effort to understand and humanize someone.  What I will take away from Jacob is his resiliency under hardship.  Not once did he blame anyone for his misfortune; furthermore, even with nothing to lose, he saw no reason to break the rules to benefit himself.  He did not believe in splurging on himself, even with food; instead, he would rather help those animals who can't help themselves.  It would be easy to discount the existence of the likes of Jacob, who are surviving on the fringes of our society, but they are far from futile.  What Jacomb has to offer is something that is priceless and often lacking in the world.  I saw a man with nothing to give but love... lucky for those flying rats.  

Another man feeding the pigeons next to Vancouver City Centre station