Comments & Curiosities: Giving back with a passion

Are people really nicer at Christmas?

I think so. I know I am.

Most of the year, I just know that if I see another story about the Kardashian sisters, I'm moving to the smallest village I can find in Moldavia. But this time of year I tell myself, "Know what? I have no idea what they do or why they're famous, but just go with it. It's Christmas."

But there is at least one man in Costa Mesa who is not only super nice all year long, but even nicer at Christmas, which is funny, because Christmas is not exactly a red letter day on his calendar.

His name is Surat Singh. He came here from India in 1982, politely introduced himself to the American dream, and they have been good friends ever since. From the first moment he arrived in these United States, Singh embraced the concept of giving back, even when he didn't have much to give back, or forward. Now that he does, as the owner of Angel's Auto Spa in Costa Mesa and other ventures, Singh gives back with a passion.

For years, he has sponsored a Thanksgiving feast at the Costa Mesa Senior Center for almost 200 fully mature people who have nowhere else to celebrate the big T-Day. This year, Singh is sponsoring the Center's "Breakfast with Santa," again, for a group of women and men for whom Christmas Day wouldn't be much different than a week ago Tuesday if it weren't for Singh's extremely large heart, which is not to be confused with an enlarged heart, which is something else. As a keepsake, everyone who wants one gets a picture with the Big Jolly Guy with the Red Suit and the Ho Ho Laugh.

According to Aviva Goelman, the Senior Center's executive director, as holiday stories go, this one is not only fun but very international.

"Our seniors get a wonderful 'Breakfast with Santa' on Christmas Eve, thanks to a devout Sikh from India, arranged by a nice Jewish girl from Israel by way of Montreal, which would be me," Goelman said.

As if sponsoring the Christmas Eve breakfast weren't enough, Singh also provided the live tree for the Christmas lighting party at the Center.

"Most of the regulars at Angel's Auto Spa only know him as 'Angel,' but to all of us at the Center, Mr. Singh is a real angel, and we are very lucky to have him."

Anyone who takes the time to get to know Singh Singh is in for more than a few surprises. Singh is a very gracious, soft-spoken man, but at 6-feet-6, he is hard to miss. Originally from the state of Punjab in India, Singh was a sergeant in the Indian Border Security Force and, at the same time, a nationally-ranked volleyball player for India. He later became a volleyball player/coach in Germany before making his way to the U.S.

In 1996, Singh joined the security force at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, where he supervised security for visiting dignitaries. He received a commendation during the Olympics as a "First-Class Ambassador for the U.S.," which would make perfect sense if you ever meet Singh in person. And our very own Dana Rohrabacher, as in Congressman Dana, honored Singh as a "true United States patriot." Not bad for a volleyball player from Punjab, if you ask me.

Singh says his most important influences in life were his father and mother, who taught him honesty, integrity and a strong work ethic, and of course, his religion. According to Singh, he tries hard to live by a basic tenet of the Sikh religion — "Aad sach jugaad sach."

I have no idea how to pronounce it either but it means, "Nothing else except the truth."

But Singh's strongest desire is to see India and the United States grow even closer as allies, business partners and leaders in the pursuit of peace around the world — not bad as Christmas wishes go.

I think that's it then. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or the Sikh festival of Baisakhi, Singh wishes you nothing but glad tidings, good fortune and peace. Or, as they say in Punjab, "Aad sach jugaad sach ... and to all a good night."

I gotta go.

PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs Sundays. He may be reached at

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