“I call my language ‘chop suey language.’ It’s all mixed up,” admits this 82-year-old retired waiter, who speaks Cantonese, English, and Spanish. He left his native China after the war, travelling first to Cuba in 1949, where he helped in his father’s grocery store in Havana for 10 years before escaping to the U.S. He settled in the Richmond district of San Francisco.

Untitled by  ai Cuan
“Untitled” by Kai Cuan

Kai worked for 40 years at the famous Trader Vic’s restaurant, where his favorite memories include the Post-Big Game banquets of Cal and Stanford fans. He takes great pride in his family–his wife Linda, who still visits him daily, two daughters and a son. 


He has studied art for many years, especially landscape and portrait painting, and one of his proudest accomplishments is to have produced portraits of his own grandparents from photos.

Kai Cuan Photo by Guy Poole


Kai wears a smile on his face, something he learned from his profession. “When you’re a waiter and you have a long face, customers don’t like it,” he explains. But he’s also happy to have escaped from the killings and hunger in his homeland. “I hate war,” he declares without a smile.


See Mr. Kai Cuan’s work here

Artist Spotlight: Kai Cuan
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