After leaving the living room, Mr. Light contacted Mr. Smith, whose videos were going viral. “He sent me a cold email out of the blue,” Mr Smith recalled. “He’s like, ‘Hey, I’m a black guy and I speak Mandarin really well, and I learned that working at a hairdresser in Flushing.’ And I’m like, ‘What? This is crazy!’ They filmed themselves walking through Flushing together, ordering spicy duck neck and lamb skewers down the street.At a hair salon (not MG Hair Artistic), Mr. Light, speaking English, asked the barber for a faded. As the buzzer brushed his head, he switched to Mandarin. “So,” he said, “have you ever cut a black man’s hair before?”
This video – “Black & White Guys Shock Chinese Hair Salon With Perfect Mandarin” – has been viewed 4.2 million times, launching Mr. Light’s career on YouTube. Within months, 100,000 people had subscribed to his channel. Six months later, that number had doubled. Some viewers quibbled over his pronunciation of certain words, or accused him of clickbait trafficking.
But the response was extremely admiring. Commentators praised it for “breaking down barriers” and for its “universal message of inclusivity and positivity”. A fan who identified herself as a teacher in Cleveland wrote that she showed her videos to her students. “The fact that they can see other POCs thriving, speaking other languages has been really cool,” she remarked.
About 600,000 people speak Yiddish. About a quarter of them live in the metropolitan area, according to Kriszta Eszter Szendroi, professor of linguistics at University College London. Still, finding a willing Yiddish speaker on the streets of Hasidic Crown Heights, even during Hanukkah, wasn’t easy. A guy throwing a yo-yo outside a kosher grocery store sounded promising for Mr. Light, but it turned out to be French. A man distributing religious pamphlets spoke Russian.
Several members of the neighborhood Hasidic community have suggested that Mr. Light might have more success in Williamsburg, home of the Satmar, a group of Hasidim who avoid unnecessary contact with strangers. The Chabad-Lubavitch of Crown Heights, on the other hand, believe they can hasten the coming of the Messiah by bringing secular Jews into the fold. One consequence is that many members come from non-Hasidic backgrounds and therefore generally do not speak Yiddish.
Another consequence, however, is that they welcome opportunities to engage in religious discussions. On the way to Crown Heights, Mr. Light had feared that they would take offense at his presence; if anything, the opposite seemed true. Here’s a telegenic youngster showing interest in his culture, potentially in front of thousands, if not millions, of viewers. One particularly exuberant man insisted on showing him around the Mitzvah Tank, a truck used to spread the teachings of their late leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. An Israeli yeshiva student taught him the seven laws of Noah.