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Cover Art by Madiha Siraj, “Saffron” (Mixed Media, 2009) Kartika Logo Design: Ben Hwang © November 18, 2009 by Kartika Review

Kartika Review publishes literary fiction, poetry, and non-fiction that endeavor to expand and enhance the mainstream perception of Asian American creative writing. The journal also publishes book reviews, literary criticism, author interviews, and artwork, turning its focus on works relevant to the Asian Diaspora or authored by individuals of Asian descent.

KARTIKA PRESS San Francisco, California


FALL/WINTER 2009

“World Map” Madiha Siraj. 2009 Mixed Media

In this Issue: Alka Khushalani. Cedric Yamanaka. Chang-rae Lee. Heidi Woan. Iris A. Law. J.D. Ho. Jamie Ford. Katherine Lien Chariott. Lee Minh Sloca. Lynne Connor. Madiha Siraj. Mary Chi-Whi Kim. Nami Mun. Robert Aquino Dollesin. Vuong Quoc Vu. Wendi M. Lee. York Wong.

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MISSION STATEMENT Kartika Review serves the Asian American community and those involved with Diasporic Asian-inspired literature. We scout for compelling Asian American creative writing and artwork to present to the public at large. Our editors actively solicit contributions from established virtuosos in our community in hopes their works here will inspire the next generation of virtuosos. We also showcase emerging writers and artists we foresee to be the future powerhouses of their craft. Ultimately, Kartika strives to create a literary forum that caters to and celebrates the wordsmiths of the Asian Diaspora.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS ISSUE 06 Board of Editors

2009 Pushcart Nominations

5

Editorial

Jennifer Derilo

Dear Readers

7

Fiction

Cedric Yamanaka

What I Have to Tell You

Fiction

Alka Khushalani

This Side of the World

15

Poetry

Iris A. Law

Stoichiometry

26

Poetry

Wendi M. Lee

The Captain

27

Poetry

Mary Chi-Whi Kim

Pyongyang Phantom Feeling, 1952

28

Poetry

Lee Minh Sloca

Just[ice] Please

29

Poetry

Vuong Quoc Vu

The Hmong

30

Art

Madiha Siraj

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32

Non-Fiction Katherine Lien Chariott

Crash Winter, 1976

38 39

Non-Fiction Lynne Connor

Chosen One

40

Non-Fiction Robert Aquino Dollesin

Symbiont

47

Non-Fiction J.D. Ho

Years of the Ox

54

Non-Fiction York Wong

Laps

70

Art

Heidi Woan

75

Interview

Nami Mun

with Christine Lee Zilka

80

Interview

Jamie Ford

with Byron Wong

88

Interview

Chang-rae Lee

with Christine Lee Zilka

95

Contributor Notes

102

Board of Editors

106

“Al- Rahim” Madiha Siraj. 2009 Mixed Media

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“Complicity” Doreen Han. 2009 Photography

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2009 PUSHCART PRIZE NOMINATIONS In addition to assembling the strongest issue to culminate 2009, we nominated the best that Kartika has published this year for the Pushcart Prize. We reread numerous pieces and revisited our initial reactions to those pieces, experiencing much heartache, head scratching, and hemming and hawing. We had only six nomination slots. Please join us in wishing our nominees the best of luck! All of our contributors are in stellar company, and we hope to see more of their names twinkling in the future.

2010 Nominees FICTION Cedric Yamanaka, “What I Have to Tell You” Issue 6, Fall/Winter 2009 POETRY Kenji Liu, “Letter To Myself” Issue 5, Spring/Summer 2009 Ocean Vuong, “Dear Vietnam” Issue 5, Spring/Summer 2009 NON-FICTION Akito Yoshikane, “The Nikkei Yellow Line” Issue 5, Spring/Summer 2009 J.D. Ho, “Years of the Ox” Issue 6, Fall/Winter 2009 Katherine Lien Chariott, “Crash” Issue 6, Fall/Winter 2009

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“It Ain't Over til the Fat Lady Sings-- Awake Sun at Tai Shan” Heidi Woan. 2009 Photography

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EDITORIAL Jennifer Derilo Dear Readers, Issue #6 of Kartika Review is finally here, and I am proud to present it to you because not only am I making my debut as the Creative Nonfiction editor, but this issue is simply rife with spectacular CNF pieces. I do not know if it is coincidence or if it has anything to do with “6” being my lucky number or with the general sex appeal of CNF. (Yeah, I said “sex”; it sells!) Nevertheless, I am excited that I am ushering in serious APA talent that is in line with the caliber of work Kartika has promoted since its first issue. I know you will enjoy the startling structure of York Wong’s “Laps,” a meditation on a father-son relationship that is at once vital and traumatic. There are intense, stark images lovingly wrought by Katherine Lien Chariott in “Crash” and “Winter 1976,” two flash narratives that when read together form a complex portrait of a family dealing with change, vulnerability, and death. Then there are the more traditional works of Lynne Connor’s “Chosen One,” and Robert Aquino Dollesin’s “Symbiont,” which quietly shake you as they tackle separation/reconnection and identity/selfhood when retracing and redefining the contours of family. Lastly, J.D. Ho’s “Years of the Ox,” is an expansive exploration of her maternal grandfather, a man you have never met but will never forget, enmeshed in the geography of Hawai’i. Of course, the CNF talent is only the beginning. Vuong Quoc Vu’s poem, “The Hmong,” is a story of survival and the preservation of history that is carried by lush tropes of sea, land, and migration. “The Captain” by Wendi M. Lee is an elegy about growing up but also a love letter to youth and uncharted dreams. Iris Law’s “Stoichiometry” is a deftly balanced musing on avocados, childhood, her father, and numbers, which reads more like a gorgeous meta-poem. Lee Minh Sloca introduces us to a speaker who is playful, bitter, and sympathetic in “Just[ice] Please,” a visually spare piece that starts and stops where you least expect it. In “Pyongyang Phantom Feeling, 1952,” Mary ChiWhi Kim drops you into a corporeal and ravaged landscape, gripping you as you watch the speaker’s aunt flee it as a young girl. For fiction, we have selected Alka Khushalani’s “This Side of the World,” and Cedric Yamanaka’s “What I Have to Tell You,” which both touch on similar themes of family, abandonment, and love. In “This Side of the World,” our narrator Almona, a successful career woman and recent divorcee, takes a chance on a tryst with a younger man who works under her and leads her to an undisclosed location that 7


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becomes more and more suspicious as we travel with Almona through dark Bombay streets and hallways. In “What I Have to Tell You,” its main character Orion Wong falls out of love with his wife and struggles with telling his young son, Kona, the bad news. But just as Orion is on the cusp of confession, the boat that they are on is suddenly caught in the middle of what can only described as a magical moment out at sea. We are proud to showcase the art of two talented women whose names you should take note of—Heidi Woan and Madiha Siraj—and to share three interviews with three very generous, inspiring authors: Nami Mun, Chang-Rae Lee, and Jaime Ford. And we are certainly beaming to mention that Randa Jarrar, one of the featured interviews in our Winter 2008/Issue 4, just had her debut novel, A Map of Home, released in paperback by Penguin, and Nami Mun recently won a Whiting Award for her novel, Miles From Nowhere. In closing, I want to thank our contributors and the editorial board for making this issue as dazzling as it is. I look forward to reading more submissions come spring. (Hint: Please submit! Please spread the word!) Most important, I look forward to growing with Kartika Review and its supportive readership. As Chang-Rae Lee says, “We must write only what we want or can’t help but write about – often the only thing we can – and hope that the individuality and focus of that vision moves the reader, and at some point, perhaps, the wider culture.” It is my hope, then, that you, dear readers, are as moved by this issue as we were when compiling the best pieces. Warmest regards, Jennifer A. Derilo

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WHAT I HAVE TO TELL YOU Cedric Yamanaka Orion Wong looks out at the ocean off the Waianae Boat Harbor, wonders which is bluer—the sea or the sky—and asks himself how the hell he’s going to tell his son what he has to tell him. “Looks like a nice day, huh, Kona?” says Orion, to the five-year old boy. Kona, of course, doesn’t answer. “Yeah,” says Orion, starting the boat engine and steering past the breakwater towards the horizon. “Maybe we’ll get lucky today. Maybe we’ll hook up a nice ahi. Make ahi poke. With da limu kohu and da inamono. I can taste ‘em already. My friend at da garage, Bobby, he and his boy caught a hundred-twenty pounder at da Ahi Fever Tournament. We’ll catch one bigger than that, huh?” Kona gazes out to sea, eyes the color of maple syrup. Since the day of his birth, the boy has never spoken a word. He does not laugh or cry. He rarely smiles. Therapists say Kona is of above average intelligence. At home, the boy plays with toy trucks and Kikaida miniatures, reads voraciously, draws pictures, watches TV. The experts scratch their heads and call it a rare and baffling case. They do studies, write reports, consult mainland professionals. Orion and his wife Nani simply have learned to consider Kona’s silence a part of life. Orion adjusts the lines and hooks on four fishing poles and casts them out to sea. Waves slam against the side of Orion’s boat, a tiny 14-foot double hull with a 40 horsepower engine he bought second hand from the classified ads. The boat resembles a sports convertible car. There are two seats in the front and a steering wheel on the left side. Sea spray is everywhere. “This sure beats being stuck in da garage,” says Orion, breathing in the salty smell of the sea. “I’ve worked fifteen days straight, fixing car after car. It’s nice to finally have a day off. There’s gotta be a better way to make a living. I tell your Mom da place is driving me crazy. She don’t listen. She don’t understand.” Orion met Nani at the Kaneohe Body and Fender. She had a nail in her tire. Orion patched the leak. He wanted to tell her she had eyes as green as the ti leaves in his back yard. Instead, he told her the tire would run good as new. “Cash or charge?” Orion asked.

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“Uh, charge,” said Nani, opening her wallet and handing him a credit card. Just like that, Orion had Nani’s name, address, phone number. He returned the credit card and thanked her. Nani smiled, tilted her head to one side, and walked out of the garage. It took Orion three days to work up the nerve to call her. It was the first time he’d ever called a customer, right out of the blue. She answered the telephone on the second ring. Right off the bat, Orion knew it was Nani. “May I speak to Nani?” he said, nervous. “This is Nani.” “Hi, Nani. Jeez, you’re gonna think this is weird but I’m da guy at Kaneohe Body and Fender. Orion. I fixed your tire, remember?” “Yes, I do. Of course. Hi.” Orion felt relieved. She actually sounded happy to hear from him. Somehow, they wound up talking for an hour. Then Orion worked up the courage to ask Nani if maybe they could get together sometime. “This is weird,” said Nani. But she was laughing, so Orion guessed things were all right. “Yeah, I know it is. But how about it?” “Well, yeah, I’d like that, I guess. Why not? Boy, this is weird.” Orion picked Nani up the next Friday. She lived on a hill overlooking Chinaman’s Hat. She worked as a nurse in the maternity ward at Queen’s. They went out for Chinese food. She said she liked the sweet sour shrimps but couldn’t even look at the steamed fish with ginger and shoyu. One year later, they went to court and got married before a judge. Orion wore his best aloha shirt, white pants, and white shoes to the ceremony. Nani said he looked like a member of the Royal Hawaiian Band. She wore a blue muumuu and a haku lei. After the fifteenminute ceremony, Orion and Nani walked out of the judge’s chambers. A bunch of news reporters and cameramen sprinted out of an elevator and rushed past them. “What’s going on here?” Orion asked a cameraman. “A verdict in a murder trial,” said the cameraman, breathing hard.

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“Murder trial?” said Orion. “What kind?” “You probably don’t want to hear this but a guy just got convicted of slashing his wife’s throat. He caught her in bed with another man.” Orion guessed the cameraman could tell Nani and he’d just gotten married. “That will never happen to us,” said Orion, winking at Nani. They were holding hands. But the cameraman wasn’t listening. Orion steers his boat out towards the three-mile buoy. “Bull, da water is nice today, hah?” he says. Orion often calls his son “Bull.” Just like his old man used to call him. “Clear. Glassy. I should drop da boat anchor and take a dive. I bet there’s choke lobster holes down below.” Although his son never speaks, Orion often feels like he knows exactly what his son is thinking. It’s a natural talent that has developed— perhaps through instinct, perhaps through necessity--over the years. On good days, Orion believes he is on the right track with his son’s thoughts. On bad days, understanding Kona is as difficult as trying to predict the future by slicing open a goat and reading its entrails. The wind blows through Orion’s dark hair, which is slowly but surely revealing signs of gray. Kona looks out to sea. Orion remembers the day Nani told him she was pregnant. He’d never seen her so happy. They were at Ala Moana Beach Park early one Saturday morning, before it got crowded, casting for o’io. Orion brought bottles of Coca Cola that had been covered with ice and placed in a small cooler. Even though the bottles had a fishy smell from the bait, the sodas were the best Orion ever had. They were so cold, they hurt Orion’s teeth when he drank. “It’s gonna be a boy,” said Nani, blushing, hands on her belly. Her stomach was still rock hard from crunches done at 24-Hour Fitness. “I can tell.” “Do you have a name for him?” said Orion. “Yes. Kona.” “Kona? That’s the name of a town. Not a boy.”

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Nani explained. She came up with the name Kona because that’s where the boy had been conceived. In the middle of a barren lava field, under the stars one summer night, while fishing lines probed deep into the dark, belly of the sea. “Da ocean is so big,” says Orion, circling the three-mile buoy. The water is a very deep blue. “It looks like it goes on forever. I know what you’re thinking, Bull. Nothing lasts forever. What about love? You think love lasts forever? I used to think so. In fact, I was positive. Now, I ain’t so sure. Your mom says love lasts forever. I don’t know.” Orion and Nani have been married for eight years. But over the years Orion started wondering if something had been lost somewhere. He wasn’t sure what, but something that once felt so full of life had, over the years, died. Last night, after much debate, Orion told Nani how he felt. “Life has grown stagnant between us,” he said. “Don’t you feel it, too?” “What do you want?” said Nani, wiping the first tear away from her eye with an index finger, hoping Orion couldn’t see. “I’m not sure. Maybe we should, I don’t know…” “Live separate lives?” “Maybe. Just for a while.” Nani asked Orion if he’d found another girl. The young receptionist at work, a girl in a hostess bar? Orion said no, which was the truth. Nani started crying and said if that’s what Orion wanted, go ahead. Go ahead and tell Kona. “Son,” says Orion, steering his boat towards Kaena Point, sometimes following the flight of a sea bird. “I have something to tell you.” Orion has been thinking about it for a while now. When did things get so bad between him and Nani? The answer scares Orion. Things changed the day Kona was born, with the blue umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and shoulder like the silk banner of a beauty pageant contestant. Orion knows how horrible it sounds, but it’s the truth. Everything was fine before Kona. He and Nani went to the movies, just like normal couples. They ate at restaurants, danced at clubs, wore matching green t-shirts and attended UH football games. The minute Kona was born, though, the child became the focus of their lives. That hasn’t changed in five years. And somewhere, somehow, Orion and Nani focused so much on Kona, they forgot to focus on each other. 12


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At first, they waited for Kona to babble, to talk, like other toddlers. He did not. Of course, this made things even more difficult. Still, they were both so thankful. Kona was growing up big and strong. He seemed bright—aware and intelligent. And he had a good heart. But why didn’t he talk? Orion wondered if he had failed his son somehow. Where did I go wrong, he asked himself. As a mechanic, Orion prided himself on his ability to solve problems. If a car engine fails to turn over, he’ll check under the hood. A fluid leak means something else. A clutch that refuses to budge poses another dilemma. All of these situations can be fixed with the right tools and the proper techniques. It is hard for Orion to accept the truth that some things cannot--will not--be repaired. One morning, several years ago, Orion looked out the kitchen window and saw Kona sitting on a stone wall outside the house, next to the tool shed. Orion read the morning paper, finished three cups of black coffee, and repaired a clogged drain in the bathroom. When he checked on Kona again, his son remained sitting on the same stone wall, seemingly staring into space. Curious, Orion went outside. “What’s so interesting out here, Bull?” he asked his son. Orion followed the boy’s gaze. Kona watched as a tiny spider built an intricate web, about the size of a basketball, across the wooden pillars of the tool shed. The sun sparkled against the fine web, like fire reflecting off the blade of a sharp sword. The web appeared as sturdy as the strongest monofilament. “Too good, ah?” said Orion, quietly. He sat next to his son, on the stone wall. For several hours, father and son watched the spider work. Suddenly, Kona picked up a rock and threw it at the center of the web. The project collapsed and tumbled into a field of high grass. “What I have to tell you,” says Orion. The sky over the ocean is blue, but clouds cover the sun so it’s not blazing hot. “It’s about me and your mom.” But Kona is not listening. His maple-syrup eyes are wide, his mouth open as if he is about to speak. Orion anxiously follows Kona’s gaze to a point several hundred yards in front of the boat. Orion is not sure if he is seeing things. Something explodes in the water. He steers the boat towards the area. Suddenly, there are dozens of explosions all over the boat. Orion and Kona are in the middle of a school of a hundred dolphins. 13


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“Bull,” says Orion, breathless. “This is amazing.” Kona watches the dolphins. Some leap into the air, the sun glistening off their wet and smooth bodies. Others swim right up to the boat, curious. Kona, for just a second, places his hand on Orion’s shoulder. Orion is elated. It is a sign, an acknowledgement, an agreement. But then he wonders. Maybe his son had simply brushed him accidentally, heading back to the front of the rocking boat? Suddenly, a fishing line begins to scream. Orion tends to the pole. He feels Kona’s gaze shift from the dolphins to him. And this makes Orion feel even better. Orion attempts to reel in a little bit of fishing line. He can tell by the resistance that something very large, something very strong, is hooked on the other end. Kona moves closer to him. Orion can smell his son’s hair—apples, sugar, salt. “Bull,” says Orion. “Take da pole.” Kona’s tiny fingers wrap around the pole. Orion covers his son’s hands with his own. The fish boldly takes some line out. Kona lets him run and then reels in more line. The fish takes more line out. Ten minutes later, the brave but exhausted fish is just off the side of the boat. An ahi, maybe twelve pounds. Orion admires the beautiful blue, green color of the fish just before it is pulled out of the water. He knows within only a few heartbeats, the brilliant color will disappear for good.

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THIS SIDE OF THE WORLD Alka Khushalani “I want to be physically close to you,” he said. I had known Rakesh just a few days when he reached for my hand on the backseat of the company car. We were stuck in traffic on Marine Drive, also known as the Queen’s Necklace, for the lights that curved around the darkened Arabian Sea at night. Through my window I could see a man reading a newspaper in the back of an SUV. The taxi ahead of him held the shadows of a couple with a squirming baby. Outside the morning sun burned hot and horns blared, but in the cool shade of the Mercedes sedan, I let Rakesh hold my hand in his. I was in Mumbai on business, a weeklong trip I made several times a year. Rakesh was the junior associate the bank had assigned to me. I had grown accustomed to his lanky frame and broad shoulders next to me, the faint whiff of sandalwood when he got into the car, and the silence that followed. I had tried to make conversation when we first met – where did you go to school, what do you do with your time off, that sort of thing. He had responded with the information I asked for – St. Xavier’s, read, meet friends – and nothing more, until now. “Did you hear me, Almona?” he asked. “I did,” I replied. I looked down at our hands, uncomfortably entangled, then at him. He was young, not yet thirty I was certain, square-jawed, fit, not at all the type who would look twice if I were walking down the street. “I know a place we can go,” Rakesh said. “There’s someone whose grandmother died some years ago. Some friends use her flat for this purpose now.” In the front seat, the dark brown column of the driver’s neck was perfectly still, and I wondered how much he understood. I knew he spoke English. For a moment I entertained the idea that he was not the kind of person who listened to the conversations in the back, but then, what else was there to do in his line of work? Rakesh continued, “It’s a quiet place near Opera House. There’s no danger of recognition out there.”

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The car finally began to move toward another traffic light. Rakesh put his mouth on mine, a surprise. His chest held at some distance, his tongue sliding in, the sensation wasn’t unpleasant, but I pushed him away lightly and gestured toward the front, “We aren’t alone.” He smiled, his face still close, his breath, moist and sweet, “He’s seen much worse than this.” “Really?” “We can ask him,” he kissed me again, until I kissed him back. We made it through the rest of the day in much the same way as we had the rest of the week. He walked by my side, a couple of paces behind. In our clients’ offices, I spoke of rates, synergies, strategies. But in the blue Mercedes, our bodies entwined, Rakesh’s hands on my skin, I avoided any close examination of what I was doing. It was the first time I had been kissed in the backseat of a car. I knew an opportunity like this one was unlikely to present itself again to a divorced, single mother of two with a Ph.D. I had to seize it now, or let it fall back into the sea of improbable possibilities. Rakesh pulled away from me as we neared the hotel on Nariman Point. I kept my hand on his leg, “Why don’t you just come up?” “Not possible. I’m known here.” “Oh.” “I’ve been asked to accompany executives before you, and all were men. I’ve never gone up, would be noticed if I did this today. Bombay’s a small town.” The driver opened the door and I stepped out of the car. Rakesh gathered my briefcase and tote bag, still heavy with plastic bound presentation books, and handed them to one of the bell captains who came forward. We shook hands, then Rakesh said, “I’ll send the driver back for you. He’ll pick you up here, at nine.” I waited until five minutes after to go down to the carport. The lobby was bustling. My shoes clicked noisily along the veins of the marble floor, keeping me aware of my exposed legs, and the eyes on them as I walked beyond the concierge desk to the side door. 16


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I felt a chill as I stepped outside into the damp heat and saw the blue Mercedes waiting for me. “Good evening, madam,” the driver said. I got into the car, suddenly queasy. I reached for the front seat, “Do you know where we’re going?” I asked. “Yes, madam. Café Leopold. Colaba. Very popular with visitors.” We pulled over next to a wide-open verandah closely packed with foreigners. The few Indians I saw appeared to be like me, from somewhere else. The driver dialed a number on his cell phone, and on cue, Rakesh emerged from the crowd. He had changed into a t-shirt and jeans. I watched him stride toward me and open the door, the noise from the café drowning out his greeting. Music and laughter and air heavy with smoke poured into the car along with him, the plastic bag he held clanged against the seat. “Nice of you to feed me first,” I said. My ex-husband had always accused me of lacking spontaneity, imagination. I wondered what he would think if he could see me in this moment, with this boy, in this city, at this bar. I couldn’t help but smile at the thought. “I want you to meet someone,” Rakesh said. A man leaned down behind him and smiled at me. “Hello,” he said. “This is Kasim.” The man got in and shook my hand across Rakesh, “Nice to meet you, Almona. I’ve heard plenty about you. Excuse me.” He took a ringing cell phone out of his shirt pocket. “What’s going on? Aren’t we having dinner?” I asked Rakesh, alarmed. “We’re going to Kasim’s grandmother’s place. I told you. He has to tell the watchman it’s okay for us to go up.” Kasim said something to the driver in Hindi, pointing back the way we had come, toward the hotel. He turned to me then, “We’re picking up a friend. Just on the way. I hope you don’t mind.” I pushed my unease down, and spoke in the tone I reserved for my team meetings and my children, “Look, this is a company car. Why 17


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don’t I drop you both off and you do your thing with your friends and we’ll catch up another time?” “Come on, Almona. We’ll pick up his girlfriend. They’ll leave us and we’ll have some privacy,” Rakesh stroked my leg as we drove down one side road, then another. “There she is,” Kasim put his hand on the driver’s shoulder and we followed his gaze through the windshield. The headlights fixed on a tall woman with ample hips and next to her, a shorter one, thin in oversized clothes. “Shit. She brought Zakhi,” Kasim opened the door and stepped out to meet them. “I’m sorry about this,” Rakesh said. “It’ll be over very fast. Kasim will tell the watchman that we’re going in. And then….” He moved to kiss me. I wanted another drink. “What am I doing here? What do you have in that bag?” “Kingfisher. Indian beer.” “I don’t drink beer,” I said. “Indian or otherwise. Let’s pick up something else for me. Something stronger.” “There’s everything we need where we’re going. You’ll see.” Kasim returned to the back of the car. The women stood arguing with the front door open. “Just sit in my lap, Zakhi,” the tall one said. “Listen. I’m not some baccha and you’re not my mummy. We can do side-by-side, or I’ll take a cab.” “Don’t be stupid. Just get in.” “You first.” “I want to be near the window,” the tall one crossed her arms, her wrists heavy with oxidized silver bangles. “No. Sorry.” “I’ll get car sick, Zakhi.”

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Kasim pushed the button to roll down the window, “Just get in!” To Rakesh and me, he said, “I’m sorry. These girls can be annoying.” The women squeezed into the passenger seat together, the tall girl near the window. “Hey! Kasim! Whose wheels are these? Who’s she?” They both looked at me in the back. The short one had a nose ring and glasses. The tall one, who I guessed was Kasim’s girlfriend, had long hair and the soft, even features of a temple sculpture. “This is Almona, Rakesh’s – boss,” Kasim caught himself, “and friend.” “She’s not my boss,” Rakesh said. The short girl twisted around to get a better look, “Interesting. How long are you staying in India?” The tall one had pushed herself to her haunches to face the back. Their eyes moved over me in unison, my dress then my necklace, the clutch purse in my lap. “How long have you been Rakesh’s boss?” the tall one asked. I smiled, “I’m his boss’s boss. Put it that way.” The short one gave Rakesh a thumbs up, “Well done, maestro.” Rakesh leaned back and closed his eyes. The short girl asked the driver to turn on the radio. She reached down to the floor of the front seat. “I’m Zakhi. I’m a DJ,” she said. She slipped in a disc and began pushing buttons, slowly flooding the car with the kind of electronic dance music I knew I would never hear again. “Are you married?” the tall one asked. “I was, but not anymore,” I replied. “Was he Indian?” “Yes.” “He probably couldn’t handle his wife being more successful than he was –,” Zakhi started.

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“– They’re all like that yaar. Whether from here or from there,” the tall one interjected. “She must be tall, but shorter than me. She must make money, but less than me –” “– She must achieve orgasm, but after me,” Zakhi threw back her head, laughing, and gave her friend a high five. I laughed too. Music surged out of the speakers but a hush fell over the car as it snaked its way down what looked like a completely deserted street. It was a narrow passage with five to six-storey buildings crammed together on either side. I had spent enough time in India to know the mounds on the pavement were sleeping bodies. “Zakhi, turn it off,” Kasim pointed to a building on the right and told the driver to pull over. His cell phone beeped again and we waited as he read the words glowing on its screen. “Chalo. Chalo,” Rakesh elbowed Kasim out the door as he typed. “I’ll be back,” Kasim said to the tall girl. As I got out of the car, I had a vision of a woman waiting at home for the driver, small steel bowls containing his dinner in her hands. I walked back to him, and took two hundred rupee notes out of my purse, “Take them where they have to go. Have some tea, then come back here. Come back soon.” “Yes, madam. Thank you, madam.” Behind me Rakesh and Kasim stood in a doorway with the slim shadow of the watchman, their heads bowed together, voices barely audible. The girls were outside too, climbing into the backseat, but watching me. Zakhi, the short one, came forward. The word ‘Famous’ was scrawled across her t-shirt in white. She handed me a business card and a CD case, “It’s a little dirty up there. Don’t remove your shoes.” “What does that mean? What’s up there?” The tall girl joined us. “It’s okay once you get inside. It’s safe. Not to worry.” “This one’s been up there too many times to count,” Zakhi joked, putting her arm around her friend. The tall girl shook her off, “Stop it.”

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“Maybe Kasim could talk to his brother about letting you have a small cupboard for your things up there. What say, Kasim?” Kasim ignored the girls and took my elbow. “There are people sleeping. Just watch how you walk.” My eyes had adjusted to the darkness by this time, but I held on to Kasim as we tiptoed over the still, blanketed bodies. He stepped expertly, without once catching a hand or leg. I followed, and wondered which of these people worked in the apartment upstairs, readying it for us. It was a familiar feeling in Bombay, the guilt about my real life far away from this footpath, my apartment in New York, my children with their soft beds, their color coordinated sheets. They had never even been to India, had never seen this side of the world. A vague corridor led to a single light within the building, an open elevator car, and Rakesh. Kasim pushed the number three, then pulled both of the webbed brass gates shut. We lurched up, the elevator letting out a long, low moan before settling into an ascent. Each floor we traveled past appeared first as a block of concrete above our heads, then floated down in front us, disappearing quietly beneath our feet. “Who lives here, yaar?” Rakesh asked. “Only the fogeys who’ve been here since Partition.” The elevator stopped suddenly. Kasim opened the gates, Rakesh stepped out, “Are you ready?” he asked me. “I don’t know,” I said, not moving. I looked down at the card in my hand. It read, DJ Zakhi, Masti Loves Company, Inc. “Look. Those are delicate, South Bombay girls,” Kasim sighed. “They shouldn’t have said anything, and I hope you don’t mind my saying, but you shouldn’t listen to them.” “I told you not to bring them –” Rakesh said to Kasim, then to me, “– I’m sorry. We can go back. Or, we can just go inside.” Though they were half-whispering, their voices echoed through the hallway. Both Kasim and Rakesh were on the landing, but I remained in the elevator, vulnerable in their company alone, surprised I had come this far. Kasim tried the lock with a key, “You must be curious after all this.”

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“Maybe not,” I said. I could hear a humming from a high corner of the old elevator car. I looked up and saw there was a cage around the light fixture, the shadows of dead insects held within it. Rakesh extended his hand, “Come on, Almona. You’ve never seen anything like this. Believe me. This is a once in a lifetime place.” The words had a strange ring to them, as though they would be replayed when I thought of this night in the future. The blue Mercedes was still downstairs along with the driver and the girls. My hotel room was five minutes away. My children would be getting ready for school at home. My ex-husband was still unemployed, so he would be lying asleep with his new wife on our old bed. The market would close early today. All of this passed through my mind as I slipped my hand into Rakesh’s. Kasim stood holding the doorknob, “This is the hard part. We have to run through the main room to the bedroom on the right.” “It’s the only closed door. We’ll go together,” Rakesh said. “Wait. Why do we have to run?” I asked. Kasim’s phone began to beep again. He quickly reached into his breast pocket and turned it off, “There are some birds –” “– just some pigeons. They won’t harm us,” Rakesh said. “But there are plenty of them,” Kasim continued, “So we need to run fast, very fast, right? Ready?” I didn’t have time to answer. I was pulled into a concrete shell of a room. There was just enough light to allow me to see the uneven surface of floors and walls, thick and wet, like clay. There were no windows, just open cavities where they might have been, yet the air was suffocating with the stale, hot smell of animal bodies and ammonia. All around us, above and in front, perched and flapping on a table, the birds sounded the alarm and the empty room shook with their ooorh! and hiss. The floor was spongy, pulling and sliding beneath us as we ran to a closed door through the darkness. I took a deep gulp of air in the second room. Kasim flipped a switch, and we were surrounded in resplendent gold. A red bed with an ornately carved headboard was in the center. A crystal chandelier hung above it. A flat-screen television dominated one wall, while posters of Mohammed Ali and Jimi Hendrix were hung on another. There was a glass armoire full of crystal birds, cranes and peacocks. Every surface gleamed and blinked, as though suddenly awakened. 22


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Kasim reached out for a pack of cigarettes and matches lying on a chrome trolley crowded with glasses and liquor bottles. “Do you mind taking off your shoes? Make yourself comfortable.” “The toilet is there if you need to use it. There’s soap and a towel at the basin. Help yourself, whatever you need.” Rakesh sat down on the bed and removed his shoes. “Where the hell are we?” I asked. “It was my nani’s house. She died some time back, but my family’s not about to give it up. We brothers, we’re sentimental.” Kasim poured two glasses of water, handing me one, “It’s filtered.” “Just leave the cigarettes, yaar,” Rakesh told his friend. He seemed comfortable or close to it, for the first time, his hair falling across his forehead, his eyes shadowed by the overhead light. He stretched, the crimson satin bed cover slipping away from the mattress beneath him, revealing floral sheets. This was it, I thought. Fill or kill. Stay or go. I drank in Rakesh’s long body, his hands behind his head, the slim muscles of his upper arms, smooth and light on the inside. The bed was firm; it barely dipped around him. Everything looked clean, everything but our shoes, which had thin crusts of muck along the edges from the other room. Kasim picked them up and placed them out of sight on a mat near the door. “Okay then,” he said. “Enjoy.” The air in the room felt strange once he had gone, like the wind had changed direction. I set my purse on the table where Rakesh had dropped his keys and wallet while he got up and opened a bottle of beer, “Would you like one?” “I don’t drink beer.” “Right,” he said. “Tell me something,” I took his place on the bed, but remained sitting. “Have you been up here before? With someone?” He hesitated, “I used to come here with a girlfriend.” “So, what happened to her?” “What about a drink for you?” 23


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Rakesh went over the offerings on the trolley, a jagged landscape of half-filled liquor bottles. He turned the tops so he could read the labels. He looked back to me, watching him. I could see his youth now, could imagine my daughter bringing home someone like him. “I’ll take a scotch.” “Got it. Johnnie Walker Black – the choice of Indians around the world.” He poured a glass and handed it to me, sitting down near the foot of the bed. I knew I would have to move first. “So what happened to the girlfriend?” I said. “She wanted to get married. I didn’t.” “Why not?” Rakesh shrugged, “She had no ambition. And I’m twenty-eight years old. I have time. What about you?” I could see myself getting married at the age of twenty-eight, my daughter being born two years later, then my son five years after that. All while I kept my job, which became more and more demanding, as did my husband. I could still hear him saying to me, I want a wife. I want a home cooked meal. I want sex twice a week. You don’t give me these things. Moving closer to Rakesh I said, “My husband wasn’t ambitious either.” “Do you think you’ll ever get married again?” “Never,” I said against his lips.

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“Alone En La Vida” Sandy Choi. 2009 Ink & Watercolor

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STOICHIOMETRY Iris A. Law On my first morning home, I stumble downstairs to find that my father has left me a note on the kitchen table. Your favorite, he's scrawled, and beside it, he's left me an avocado, small and odd-shaped, out of season, a fruit whose name he always mispronounces, Avogadro, like the chemical constant, 6.02 x 10^23, the number of units that make up a mole. He used to tutor me on Saturdays at his lab: simple stoichiometry – the universe in balance. You could have a mole of anything, he said: of salt, of water, of apples, of moles – more Avogadro's. I went home and dreamed a sea of California fruit, dark tops turned upward, filling the room with their soft, leathery bodies the size of a giant's eggs. Today I halve my winter avocado and spoon out its pale green flesh, sprinkle it with salt, extract and save the pit. Its taste of reminds me of school, of sun baking red-tiled roofs, but also of childhood daydreams: a field sown through with a mole of moles, round orbs taking simultaneous root, my father tending a row of spear-leaved saplings heavy with early fruit.

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THE CAPTAIN Wendi M. Lee A boat of twigs and mud, the blue-flowered bed sheet from her brother’s military cornered bed: wrought-iron and bad dreams. A boat capsized, hull curved toward beach glass sky. And she is Captain, digging sand-heavy beer cans in cotton corners to keep anchored. On porches the grown-ups grow fever-eyed over guitar chords, the amber sting of age and loss. Their sadness finds her like the singing, warbled, far away. Someday she too will be cast from the shore, to live between porch slats and beer cans. But now she is the Captain. She stares into the swell and heave, charting the voyage.

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PYONGYANG PHANTOM FEELING, 1952 Mary Chi-Whi Kim For my N. Korean aunt, Bo Ok, severed from us for more than 55 years Would that I were still with you, comrade, cupping your right patella, a peninsula of flesh dangling to fill your shoe, black canvas with rubber soles, so proletariat of us. But enemy airstrikes scoured the air, Yankee planes drove down on us in Great Leader’s factory. A barrage of blasts incinerated walls, obliterated me into a crimson hail of meat and bone. One scrap of marrow flung beneath your left temple, here I whisper memories of you, child of fourteen, racing across schoolyards, first in your class until no more yard, no more school--finish line for a Southern farmer's girl while Younger Brother speeds through more. You run away from your childhood family in Daegu's starlight, forage a path through land mines, barbed wire dividing brother armies, black braid whipping your back.

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JUST[ICE] PLEASE Lee Minh Sloca the fact that Maya rejected me is nothing to boast about or the fact that me bloody ass has been laid off again or still being typecast as asexual at 45 or still cursing at having to live with me crazy mum or still can’t find a bitch with abandonment issue to adopt or still leaving bullshit comments at me poetry workshop every Wednesday nights

still me think me getting the hang of this me being an asian-american male

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THE HMONG Vuong Quoc Vu The Hmong were no boat people, arriving at refugee camps of coastal Thailand from the opposite shore, from the mountain and jungle, not from the tumult of waves, not from the sea. Their raft was of slow moving feet, shoulders to carry the young; their ocean was a vast green— Cambodia, its endless sweeps of jungle, granite mountains, undulating hills like waves. The land was no less merciless than the hungry sea— snakes in the trees, stinging nettle, poison fruit, land mines planted on the forest floor to bloom shrapnel. Near the Thai border, corpses of Hmong children peek through ferns and wild ginger, the dense undergrowth. To quiet their crying, the impatience of their young, the Hmong gave opium and carried their sleeping children for days. At the Thai border, the journey almost done some children refused to awaken, lost in endless opiate sleep— so they were given to the forest, fed to the trees. In the farming towns of central California— Fresno, Bakersfield, Merced, deep in the heart of farm fields, the Hmong now live. They are no longer mountain dwellers, yet they still keep gardens— climbing vines of beans, bitter melon, sugar cane, small plots of land tended by old women and playing children.

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Their history is American history— like Ellis Island, the slave ships, but the Hmong were no boat people..

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MADIHA SIRAJ ARTIST STATEMENT “My work tackles the limitations of painting through the use of nonwestern media and three-dimensionality within painting. Drawing from my Muslim Pakistani American identity I create paintings using media and treatments that lend themselves to all three of these facets of myself. The outcome is a chaotic surface that is anchored through the use of hybrid motifs relating to both Islamic geometric patterns and traditional Pakistani textile. Keeping in tradition with Islamic art, my work lacks figuration because it is believed that people should not imitate creation. Although for some the lack of figuration can present itself as a limitation, I chose to see it as an opportunity to stretch the continuity of what constitutes as painting. “My paintings are composed of materials like spray paint, spices, acrylics and found material that meet within the surface of the canvas. There the tactility of the materials is explored, thus creating an unexpected and singular encounter. This experience is grounded through the use of graphic elements like motifs, text, three dimensional objects and thread. Eventually I am left with a layered composition that is packed with information within each square inch.” -- Madiha Siraj

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1001001

Madiha Siraj. 2009.

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AL- NUR

Madiha Siraj. 2009.

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UNCHARTERED TERRITORY

Madiha Siraj. 2009.

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BISMILLAH

Madiha Siraj. 2009.

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REFLEXIVE IQRA

Madiha Siraj. 2009.

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CRASH Katherine Lien Chariott My father lay in the hospital bed wearing a light blue gown, the soft beige afghan my sister crocheted on the bus ride over (New York to Baltimore) pulled high on his chest. His hair was wild on his head and his eyes without glasses looked confused. I stood watching him in silence, trying to judge his lucidity by his face, without looking at his poor destroyed body. He spoke in fragments, rambling out words and phrases, names and places a decade behind us, and I thought of the past as a series of events, wonderful and tragic, that happened thankfully once for me, and which this poor man must live again in his morphine haze. I wanted to take him in my arms and protect him from those memories. To pull him from the past, and to carry him forward to the present, to this small dark room that smelled of alcohol and bleach and a broken body, where we two were alone, and I was waiting. His eyes fluttered closed and his voice became softer, a low hum, incomprehensible buzzing around me, buzzing in my ears, my open mouth, buzzing in my bones. In the buzzing, vibrating room, I closed my eyes and saw the truck coming. I closed my eyes and tried with slow, futile motions to escape. I closed my eyes and knew that I was trapped. I felt the truck hit me, crush me, pin me in the car. I closed my eyes and heard the saws cutting, scraping, the helicopter landing, whirring, the voices that screamed questions, that wanted to know who to call to keep vigil at my deathbed. I closed my eyes and mouthed my answer: No one. Tell no one. And, when I opened them, I saw that my father slept. I moved toward him: he was a tree with tube branches, some pumping things in, others pumping things out. One machine sucked garbage from his lungs; it made a soft clunking sound. I watched the clear tube pull away chunks of brown and yellow, the size of my fist, from this man who cried softly as he slept. I thought of my mother in this hospital alone that first night, when she found him after calling every emergency room in the state. I remembered her on the phone telling me that, if he made it, she would come for me in the morning. I wondered if, all alone, she had stood by my father’s bed and watched, as I did now, in disgust and awe, as this strange machine ripped pieces of poison from inside him, if the clunking sounds of body-garbage had seemed louder at night. Seeing him close, hearing the sounds of his death, I understood his decision, at last, and I left him. I went outside to sit on the sun-warmed curb, hugging my knees to my chest, and looking at the hospital, so peaceful, just one block away.

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WINTER, 1976 Katherine Lien Chariott When I was three, my family left the familiar warmth of Taiwan for the cold strangeness of Japan. I still remember the plane ride: the huge animal noises of the engines; how I hugged my mother so tightly. I remember the drive from the airport: the sharp rubbery smell and the worn plastic seats of the cab; the radio playing songs I couldn’t understand. My father sat up front with the driver, and in the backseat my mother held me next to her and spoke softly, whispering warm air against my head. I didn’t really listen to her. I stared at the outside, my face pressed against the same window as my sister’s, the two of us blowing fog onto the glass in our excitement. Those first weeks in Japan, we stayed on the American army base. My father was always away, taking care of the business that had brought us there, so my mother and sister and I were left alone in our little rented room. And, even inside, you could feel that it was winter; you could feel the bitter cold—something we three had never experienced before. To keep warm, we pulled chairs to the kerosene heater and shut the door on the rest of the world. Mornings, we spent playing cards and watching television, but, afternoons, we spent by the window, watching the snow. My sister and I were amazed by its beauty, by the sparkle and glitter of it in the air and on the ground. But our mother—raised on a farm, and Chinese, as my sister and I never could be, not even then—found the sameness of white on white, the color of death for her, frightening, and oppressive. Throughout those weeks we waited for my father, we watched the flakes pile into drifts, but my mother wouldn’t let us out the door to touch it. The morning that changed things, I woke to my mother’s happy singing. She lifted me out of bed and dressed me in thick layers. My sister, already bundled and waiting, stood next to us, stamping her feet impatiently. Then my mother took me by the hand and put out her other hand for my sister to hold. We three went outside, together; my mother led the way. Her feet were brave, stepping steadily over the snow and her hands around mine and my sister’s were firm, even though she must have been afraid to lose us in so much white. That day—which would turn out to be our last day waiting for my father, and our last day on that base—we played in the cold until we were hungry and tired and then we stretched ourselves flat to look up at flakes falling new and pure from the sky. The snow, at first a fluffy soft whiteness, grew sharp and terrible as I watched, but then I blinked and in that instant it faded and grew gentle again.

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CHOSEN ONE Lynne Connor I followed the sharp clicking high heels of a Korean social worker from my adoption agency, Eastern Child Welfare, into a locked room. We stood in front of rows and rows of sky-high metal shelves with outside markers starting with the year 1950 and ending in 2001. I stared in wonder at these metal prisons that held the secrets of thousands of Korean children who were adopted over a fifty-year span. “Year of birth?” I blinked hard. “1977.” With quick precision, she pointed to the years, going backward. 1990. 1980. 1977. We stopped in front of my year. She spun the shelf dial like she was on the Wheel of Fortune. The shelf slowly creaked open, just enough for her body to squeeze in. Not for both of us. A shiver of icy coldness shot through me, and I rubbed my bare arms. What was I doing in this sterile place where everyone spoke Korean with a monotone cadence, and the Korean block letters kept me at arm’s length from fully understanding my surroundings? A year ago when I was twenty-three, something stirred inside of me— a longing that turned into an impatient grunt. I thought I had figured out a way to make sense of being adopted at the age of 2 ½ by a strong, independent white woman who chose not to marry. She raised me with the old-fashioned belief that race didn’t matter, that love was enough. But of course, it wasn’t. So, I focused all my attention on what I didn’t have—a Korean identity. I swallowed down kimchi, I tried to learn Hangeul, and in college, I surrounded myself with Asian faces to make up for the lack of them in my childhood. With all this work on “becoming” a true Korean, however, I had ignored the adoption issue. Whenever I went to the doctor’s and had to fill out the family history section, I confidently wrote—N/A. That’s what I thought of my adoption: not applicable, non-issue, no need to address. Still, a tiny part of my consciousness knew that being adopted was intrinsically tied to my identity problem. I decided, then, that the only way to feel closure was to return to the source. Holt International, the largest agency for international adoption, organized a tour to Korea every year as part of their post-adoption services. The tour was designed specifically for adult Korean adoptees to get a better understanding of their history through planned activities, such as looking at your adoption file, visiting an orphanage, 40


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and going to a shelter for unwed mothers. I filled out the long application and waited eagerly hoping I’d get chosen. Before the trip, in my dreams I would walk on the same dirt as my people. That’s what I called them, my people. I would feel a rush of sweet air and I would breathe in a way that I never could in my hometown of Ewing, New Jersey. I thought a wave of nostalgia, of lost voices, of prisoned memories would flow out. But now that I was in Korea, forced to deal with my feelings on adoption, I wasn’t sure I was ready. Really ready. “So this is you? Eun Ja Kim?” The social worker’s penciled in eyebrows gave her a permanent angry expression. “Yes.” Early on, my Korean name was something I was proud of. While kids in first grade bragged that they could curl their tongue or whistle nursery rhymes, I’d whip out my cloaked Korean identity. “Bet you didn’t know my real name is Eun Ja Kim.” I pronounced my first name Yune Ya, until I showed my birth certificate to a co-worker friend who was a Korean national. She corrected my pronunciation saying, “It’s not Yune, it’s Un. Like undone. Un Ja.” She also noticed that I was born in a province near Pusan, the southern most tip of Korea, and not in Seoul as I had believed. For twenty years, I didn’t know where I was born and pronounced my own Korean name wrong. I wondered if there was any truth I could own. A month before the trip, without fully thinking through the consequences, I called Catholic Social Services during a bathroom break at work. This was the U.S. adoption agency that paired me with my mother. A woman answered, and I politely asked for the contents of my adoption file. A few minutes later after some keyboard typing, she said, “Oh, it says here that you were found by a policeman and brought to an orphanage when you were two.” I almost dropped my cell phone. “It says I was two? I was two?” “Yes,” she answered in a crisp voice. “But my mom always told me I was a little baby when I was found by the policeman. I was a baby.” I could hear more keyboard clacking. Then she corrected herself, “Ohh, wait. I think I’m looking at the wrong file. Sorry.” Her apology came out flippantly, like she accidentally handed me the wrong drink order, diet Coke instead of regular. Now I couldn’t 41


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remember which truth I grew up believing and which truth was in my file—if it was, in fact, my file. The woman cleared her throat on the other end. “You were right. You were found as a baby.” My brain was unable to form a rebuttal. I hung up the phone and immediately dialed my mom’s home number in Florida, where she had retired. She picked up on the second ring. I laid out the conversation with the social worker like a deck of cards. “Which is the truth? Was I abandoned after a few days, or did my birthmother keep me until I was two and then throw me away? Two years is a big difference. I need to know. Which one?” And just like that, my carefully stored away emotions came gushing out in a torrent of messy tears. “I don’t understand. Who told you this? Who’s lying to you.” My mom’s voice remained hard, but I knew she could hear me crying. Even with her armor, I was seeping in. I was affecting her, probably ruining her day. After all, she hated tears. She saw no appropriate place for them. Ever. And now in Korea, I was alone with the same lack of preparation or support. As the social worker flipped open my file with an almost annoyed obligation, I thought, this is it. What if something was in my file? A last name to my birth mother or father? The actual date I was born, not some made-up date that the orphanage handed out. When exactly I was abandoned? Up until this point, the history of my identity before I left Korea was lost in translation. She read the first page and then flipped it over. The next and then flipped. My eyes tried to scan in the illegible handwriting. “What?” I leaned forward. “What were those papers?” The social worker shook her head quickly. “Not important.” A surge of anger darted through me. This was my life we were talking about. When I was a baby I had no choice in my destiny. Today, I had a right to know every word that was written in my file. She pointed to the boxed fields. “Mother’s name, unknown. Father’s name, unknown,” she said and then shrugged. As if to say, Oh well, long trip for nothing.

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A loose-leaf paper with English words caught my eye. I reached out and pulled it closer before the woman could stop me. It was by a social worker reporting on the final home study visit. After a year of being together, the adoption agency wanted to ensure that my mom and I were a good match. I scanned it smiling slightly at the observations. The report said I was an exuberantly happy, welladjusted child. Adoption success story. “Can I have a copy of this?” I flapped the almost transparent paper in the air. The woman plucked it out of my hands giving me a tight smile. “No copies. Sorry.” My shoulders collapsed in. Why hadn’t I studied up on my rights to my adoption file? Did I even have rights? She stood up indicating my time was up, but I didn’t budge. I wanted the blankness of my file to fill me. No information. No one gave birth to me. No Korean identity. The first two years of my life—lost, never to be found. A couple days later on the tour, we traveled from Seoul to Pusan to visit an orphanage with babies who were no older than three years old. We piled out of the bus and without training, without a profound speech, we sat down on the gray linoleum floor and picked up babies like they were seashells at the beach. I saw a little girl with a dazed look on her face. Even with all the baby noise and cribs surrounding her, she looked completely alone. I glanced around, and everyone had their arms overflowing with two, sometimes three, babies. I walked over to the little girl and extended my hand, the way I would to a shivering stray cat. The girl turned her back to me and now faced the wall. I placed my hand gently on her back and rubbed in a circle. She wouldn’t turn around and cringed even more into the corner. I gave up as sadness descended over me. Was this what I was like in the orphanage? Afraid of human contact? Did I have this glazed look in my eyes when I was her age? As if my spirit was gone and only the shell remained? A final health report that was mailed to my mother from the Korean adoption agency had read, “She looked to not be bright in character.” Did orphanages, these waiting halls for the abandoned, do that to you? I heard a new baby crying. I quickly left the cowering girl and scooped up a crying little boy off the ground. His head lulled back in surprise and then his face was just inches from mine. We stared at each other. His black bangs were wispy, like stretched out cotton balls. But it was his mouth, the way the corners naturally dipped downward that made 43


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me see the resemblance. This little boy was the spitting image of me as a baby. He could have been my twin. As ridiculous as it sounded, I felt like I was rocking my former baby self. I hugged him against my chest and swayed back and forth. The baby laid his head on my shoulder and his tiny, chubby arms wrapped tightly around my neck. I remember my mom telling me that my first night in America, I wouldn’t stop crying. There’s a picture of me sitting on the couch, still in the tiny red knitted sweater-suit, looking absolutely miserable. My baby mouth was down turned sadness. On the very next page in my baby photo album, I’m in my mother’s lap with a huge smile on my face. There are a lot of pictures of me simply clutching onto her, hanging on for dear life. As if human touch really was the magic balm to make an orphanage memory disappear. Maybe I should have felt guilty devoting all my time to just one baby. After all, there were ninety-three orphans who needed hugs, with only twenty Korean caretakers to look after them. I watched as others moved on from baby to baby in ten-minute increments. They applied the same rules used at a cocktail party: eye contact, brief connection, politely step away, and move on. But when I tried to put the little boy down, he clutched even tighter. I was fine with that. I wouldn’t let go. As his head created a warm pocket under my chin, I wanted to tell him that everything would be okay. That yes he had no mommy now, but there still was a chance. He could still be chosen. When I was little, and had no clue how the adoption process really worked, I imagined myself as the chosen one. I went as far as asking my mom if she got me from a JC Penny catalog. After all, she bought everything from the catalog: clothes, furniture, and Christmas gifts. Why not me? I liked the idea of her flipping through orphan faces and stopping when she saw mine. She’d slam her finger down on my face, not needing to flip any further. Instead my mom scoffed, “You were the first available kid.” I met her requirements: a girl between the age of two and three who was potty trained. But somehow in a magical fated way, I was chosen to be adopted. I was chosen not to grow up in an orphanage where my future was unknown. I was chosen by my mother. When it came time to leave, my baby tensed up, and I had to pry his fisted hands loose. I placed him next to another baby on the floor and smoothed out his soft hair. I walked away without looking back to see his face scrunch up, his hungry eyes disappear underneath folds as his guttural crying returned. The minute I let go, I just became another adult to abandon him. 44


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The short afternoon in the orphanage wasn’t enough time for us to hold the crying toddlers, faces without mothers, faces who once were us. The utter helplessness we all felt when we left could be heard in the long silent bus ride back to our very American Hyatt hotel. Up until this point of the trip, I hadn’t cried. Maybe on some level I had put up such a steel armor to protect myself from the pain of loss, the pain I had carefully avoided, that I couldn’t even feel. I couldn’t connect to the raw wound that was always there, just hidden. But then we went to the Salvation Army, a home for unwed mothers. We sat in two long rows of tables. On one side were the adoptees from the tour, on the opposite side were Korean women with bulging bellies and heads bent down. Some of the women looked to be younger than I. We all sat, afraid to move, afraid to make a disrespectful sound. Afraid to make eye contact with a woman who planned to give her baby up for adoption, a woman who could have been our birth mother twenty years ago. I gripped the sides of my chair. I didn’t want to cry. I didn’t want to be forced to think about this. It actually had never been an issue, the giving up part. The abandonment of it all. The sense of loss that a woman out there gave birth to me and looked liked me. The idea of her was dead to me. The need to find her now, now that I was in Korea, that I was amongst other Korean adoptees, the feeling still refused to wash over me. The woman across from me who looked like a caged rat trying to find the quickest, most painless way out—she was nothing to me. We were instructed to show our partnered birth mother photos from our childhood. This was to visually show and give permission to the birth mothers that what they planned to do was the right thing. I flipped to the first page of the small album I brought. There I was, a two-year-old baby in a black and white photo, my mug shot. The picture they mailed to my mom saying this will be your new daughter. I flipped. A picture of me sprawled on the yellow couch, eating a bowl of popcorn. My stomach plump. My cheeks rosy. I flipped. Me and my mom out in the snow in my backyard in New Jersey. The blizzard of ’81. I was in a hot pink snowsuit, my hood with white fur framed a face full of brightness. I flipped. 45


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My high school graduation, white cap and gown. I flipped. A picture of me sitting on my mom’s lap. I was twenty-two, just graduated from college and about to enter the work world. A splash of red roses in the background. My head leaned against my mom’s. Black hair against blond, grey curls. Somewhere between childhood and graduation, my tears fell. The woman, my assigned birth mom was also crying. Our cheeks glistened. For the first time, our eyes met. We didn’t try to speak because we had reached each other on a level that didn’t need words. This birthmother, who could have been my birthmother, gave me the answer I didn’t even know I was searching for. In the reflection of her tears, I understood how difficult it was, this decision to give up her baby for adoption. I saw clearly now that I was not the throwaway child I once believed. My birthmother gave me the greatest gift she could. By fully abandoning me, she gave me a real chance at life, in the most selfless way possible. Through my tears, I finally got it. I felt it. I was loved by my birthmother. I was loved. And with the spin of a wheel, I was adopted and placed into the arms of my mother, who continues to love me. How easily I could have been left behind in a Korean orphanage—unlucky, unchosen. Somehow, I wasn’t. I was the chosen one.

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SYMBIONT Robert Aquino Dollesin I am fourteen and today I stopped loving Marie Osmond. My new love is Patricia Hearst. I love Patricia so much that I can't get myself up off the carpet, where I've been sprawled out on my belly for most of the afternoon, watching photographs of the kidnapped heiress flash across the television screen. Along with the details of Patricia's privileged life, the newsman gives histories of the terrorist organization – The Symbionese Liberation Army – that snatched her. My father calls me. He's in the dining room, and he wants me to please get up and check on my mother in her bedroom. Today is my mother's birthday. She is thirty years old. All morning my father has been over the stove in the kitchen. He's been cooking Filipino foods that smell wonderful. Also in the kitchen are my younger brothers and sisters, making a fuss about who gets to do what. I push myself up off the floor, but before heading to my mother's bedroom, I walk over to the bookshelf and grab the dictionary. I flip through the pages, search for the word Symbionese. It doesn't exist. The closest thing is symbiosis, which means unlike organisms coexisting harmoniously for mutual benefit. After replacing the dictionary on the shelf, I go down the hall to my mother's bedroom. I open the door and find her sitting on the edge of her bed. She glances up at me and smiles. Then she pats the mattress with a palm, indicating that I should come sit beside her. I know my mother's been on the telephone trying to get a hold of my biological father, who was an American serviceman stationed in the Philippines when they got married. She needs his birth certificate to prove my American citizenship. While next to my mother on the edge of her bed, I keep picturing poor Patricia Hearst. I try to understand what's been happening to her. Ever since she was kidnapped, broadcasts have been pouring out of the television and radio. Right now she's probably cooped up somewhere in some uncomfortable closet, guarded by a bunch of crazy terrorists. Alone. Afraid. My mother holds the telephone in her left hand, a ballpoint pen in her right. A spiral notebook bounces above her knees. While she waits for someone to pick up on the other end of the line, she plays with the pen, clicking the ball again and again.

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In the past month she's tried to call my biological father in Alabama a dozen times. But always, after whoever answers the telephone hears my mother's clipped Filipino accent, they slam the receiver down. This afternoon it is dark and cloudy outdoors. Rain batters the window. The wind sighs as it knocks the leafless branches of a small maple tree against the glass. In the dim light of the bedroom, my mother's face looks very pale. I look down a minute at my damp and trembling hands. Closing my eyes, I think about Patricia Hearst's sad face in the photographs shown on TV. She is not as pretty as Marie Osmond, and I don't know if she can sing. Why did they take Patricia? She must be so alone right now, so afraid. Symbiosis, I think, what a strange word. I weave my hands together in my lap and wait for my mother to start talking on the phone. Finally, my mother's back straightens. She clears her throat and speaks softly into the receiver, saying, “Please don't hang up. Please. Joe's son needs to speak with you.” After a moment, she places the telephone in my hands and nods. I have never talked to them before. Never had any desire to. Not really. Nervous and frightened, I try to give the receiver back to my mother. But she pleads with her eyes. I raise the phone to my ear and hear someone breathing on the other end. In a small voice, I say, “Hello.” The reply comes by way of a man's voice, heavy with a southern drawl. He says, “Who is this?” Because my mouth is so dry, I have a difficult time answering right away. I glance at my mother and try to shove the telephone back into her hands. But she shakes her head and folds her arms across her chest. She bites her lower lip, the pen in her hand clicks, clicks, clicks. "Who is this?" the man on the end of the line says again. “Bobby.” "Who?" I clear my throat. "Bobby." He's upset, annoyed. I can tell he hates me. I'm glad I'm far away from him, in California, where I live with my mother, my stepfather, and my 48


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brothers and sisters. Although my siblings are pesky sometimes, I can't imagine not having them around. While I wait for the man on the line to speak, I picture Marie Osmond on the cover of last month's Tiger Beat. She has lots of brothers, but she is the only girl. That makes her different. Like me. Different. I wish my mother never told me about her first marriage. I don't like knowing my biological father disappeared when my mother was seven months pregnant. He left the Philippines and though promising otherwise, he never came back. My mother had to go through the pregnancy, the labor, and the delivery alone. It wasn't until just before I was born that she finally got news from my biological father. An official letter from Alabama. An annulment signed by a judge and stamped by the courts saying the marriage between my mother and my biological father never really existed. That quick. That easy. Finally, the man on the phone says something. But his accent is so thick I don't catch it. “Excuse me?” I say. Suddenly, there is some commotion and a woman comes on the line. In an abrupt, angry tone she says, “What is it you folks want?” I let her words sink in. You folks. You folks. You folks. Then I clear my throat again and repeat what my mother and I had rehearsed so many times before. “This is Bobby,” I say. “Are you my grandmother Roberta? I was named after you.” For a few moments the woman keeps quiet. She just breathes. Breathes. Breathes. Finally she spurts out, “Why can't you people leave Joe be?” You people? In the early months of her pregnancy, she used to receive packages from Alabama. Blankets. Toys. Baby clothes. They were for the future mother. The beloved grandchild. Because no one was sure if I was going to be born a boy or a girl, the new clothes were both blue and pink. My mother, once the beloved bride, got things, too. Shampoo. Jewelry. Makeup. Books. You people? "You folks'll do anything to ruin Joe's life, won't you?"

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Ruin Joe's life? My eyes sting. Something is caught in my throat, making it impossible to reply. I shake my head and drop the phone in my mother's lap. Reluctantly, she picks the telephone up and raises it to her ear. She says, “I'm sorry to bother you. Really, I am . . . but we're having a problem proving Bobby is an American citizen. We need a notarized copy of Joe's birth certificate.” Although I can hear the woman's muffled voice spilling out of the receiver, I can't make her words out. My mother nods and says, “Yes, of course I have the annulment, but the American embassy won't move forward without Joe's birth certificate.” After a pause, my mother frowns and says, “Of course we're not trying to make trouble for him and his family. What do you think of me? I'm also happily married and I also have other children." She lowers her head and doodles on a page in the notebook on her lap. While she does this, she gives the woman on the other end of the line our California address, which is over two thousand miles from Alabama. She nods and says, “Yes. Yes. Yes.” After a minute of silence, my mother says, "Okay." Then she tries to hand me the telephone. “Your grandmother wants to speak to you.” I shake my head and draw my hands away, but the frustrated expression on my mother's face tells me I had better take the phone. “Hello,” I say. The woman says flatly, “I hope you're old enough to understand we have nothing against you. Alabama wouldn't have been a good place for you people.” She pauses and adds, “I hope you get that.” You people? Symbiosis: unlike organisms coexisting harmoniously for mutual benefit. “Hello. Did you hear me?” I don't answer and the line goes dead. I stare at my mother and hand the phone back to her. She raises it and when she realizes no one is there, she replaces it in its cradle. For a moment she looks lost, far away. Then she touches my arm and says, “What did your grandmother say?” I look at my hands and do not answer. I look across to the mirror above my mother's dresser and do not recognize the boy who gazes 50


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back. He is pale, his features clearly Caucasian. Before today, the boy in the mirror sometimes struggled with his identity. He was white, his family wasn't. And how many times had that left him confused? Symbiosis. In some ways Patricia Hearst has become a Symbiont. In some ways Marie Osmond has always been a Symbiont. Me? When my reflection in the mirror begins blinking tears back, I close my eyes. In the faint bedroom light, I feel my mother's comforting arm travel across my back. Her strong hand tightly cups my shoulder. My mother says, “Are they going to send the birth certificate?” Keeping my eyes shut, I shrug. “She said we shouldn't bother them anymore.” For a long time we sit silently at the edge of my mother's bed. Finally she pulls me close. “Come on,” she says. “Let's go have some of my birthday cake before your brothers and sisters finish it off.” She lets go my shoulder, gets up from the bed and sighs. “Thirty,” she says. “I can't believe I'm thirty.” In the dining room my brothers and sisters are feasting on cake and ice cream. My stepfather stands at the head of the table, arranging wrapped gifts for my mother. Neither my father nor my mother say anything. They just exchange a long disappointed glance. My brothers and sisters begin singing, "Happy Birthday to you." I chime in. After we finish the song, we all clap our hands and stomp our feet. Shrugging, smiling, my mother says, “Come on everybody. It's Mommy's birthday. Let's celebrate.”

It is nearly two months later, May, that I go to answer a knock at the front door. My mother is already there. The postman is standing on the porch in front of her, waiting for my mother to finish signing for a large Manila envelope. She hands the postman back his pen and shuts the door. She turns to me, smiling, and shows me the Alabama return address in the corner of the Manila envelope. I follow her into the kitchen, where she rips the envelope open. There is no letter inside the envelope. No photographs. Only a neatly folded birth certificate that bears a raised stamp. My mother gives it to me and for a few 51


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minutes I hold it in my hands and study the typewritten information that fills the spaces. Before now, I never knew my biological father's middle name, his religion, the year of his birth, or even the Alabama county where he was born. I give the certificate back to my mother and head quietly to my bedroom, leaving her standing alone in the kitchen. Lying in my bed, I wonder if I'm supposed to feel this way. Alone. Afraid. Like Patricia Hearst must have felt while being held against her will by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Although I don't love Patricia anymore, I still think about her. She's changed, though. Not long ago she helped rob a bank. She called herself Tania, and she was photographed toting a gun. She had on a long black coat and a beret. Seemingly, Patricia Hearst had given up one culture and embraced another. Last night six members of her new gang were killed in Los Angeles. Another person I still think about is Marie Osmond. But truthfully, I'm in love with Susan Dey now. She plays Laurie on the Partridge Family. My bedroom door opens. I sit up in bed. My stepfather crosses the carpet, and when he sits down on the edge of my mattress, the bed springs creak. He runs his big fingers through my hair and says, "Why you looking sad?" I shrug. “You know I'm your father, right. I'll always be your father.� I nod. Then I smile. Grinning, my father pops my shoulder with his meaty palm. "That's what I want to see," he says. Then he laughs. I laugh, too. I wrap my arms around my father's big arms. He draws me close, and as I peer over his shoulder, I notice my mother and brothers and sisters standing in the doorway. My mother says, "Who wants to go to Straw Hat for some pizza." My younger brothers and sisters clap and cheer and shout. They scatter to grab their coats and shoes. I ask my father if we can stop by the store so that I can buy a magazine, maybe one that has Susan Dey on the cover.

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My father, in that very even tone of his, says, "You bet. Now come on, sport. Hop out of bed."

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YEARS OF THE OX J.D. Ho When my grandfather died in the spring of 1997, I found three freezersful of meat in our garage, individual packages labelled with descriptions such as: “1984 Alaska Moose Hunt w/ Dink.” (Dink was a guy my grandfather had met while schmoozing at one of his NRA conventions.) The freezers stank like a crime scene, and with some chunks old enough to vote, much of the meat was no good. I quintuple-bagged it all and put it in the trash, but you could smell it all the way down to Papakolea, as if the gods were angry. On July 1, 1913, sixty years before I fell onto the earth, my grandfather was born. By the time I knew him, his pomaded hair had turned gray, but he always wore an expression of anticipation, his head pitched slightly forward, as if it wanted to arrive at every destination first. He had perfected his uniform, which consisted of aloha shirts from Sears, polyester slacks (usually gray or brown), and black, leather shoes from B.A. Mason. When he took his teeth out, my imagination leapt to cemeteries with silent gravediggers, or to the shadowy figures inhabiting the pages of my favorite mysteries. But with his teeth in, he was something closer to the earliest picture I have of him. In the photograph, he is perhaps twenty, tall and skinny, grinning at the camera, posed with his feet apart, bare torso rippling with muscle, arms flexed like a bodybuilder. He once claimed that when he was growing up, so many girls came to the house to see him that he had to make his brothers answer the door to turn them away. The story seemed made up, but was probably true. Much of my grandfather’s life had that quality. My grandfather’s father came from Quandong Province in the 1890s, and worked in other parts of Hawai`i before settling in Pahoa, marrying, and having ten children. I never met my grandfather’s mother, but I imagine her squatting in the smoky fields with flecks of cane dust flying around her, clenching her gold-capped teeth, cursing in Chinese as the eighth little devil clawed his way out of her womb.1 Pahoa, a town on the east side of The Big Island, was a plantation village during my grandfather’s childhood. Until 1940, a heiau (Hawaiian temple) stood on its outskirts. Long before humans arrived, lichens, plants and insects colonized the lava, breaking it down until a dense forest grew, thick with ferns and `ōhi`a trees. Much of this was Actually, plantation workers didn’t begin burning the cane fields until 1942, but the fire makes a better picture in my mind. Recently, I also discovered that my grandfather’s parents didn’t work in the fields, but instead owned a little store. 1

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axed to make room for railroads, citrus trees, and sugar cane. It rains over one hundred inches per year in Pahoa.2 If you had stood there before the speculators arrived, the clouds would have hovered puffy and white above you. The uluhe ferns would have been so dense that you could barely walk without a machete, and it would have been quiet. Steam rising slowly from the sun-heated wet earth, everything green. Insects rustling around in the undergrowth. And in the `ōhi`a trees above you, native birds having intimate conversations. 1913 was a Year of the Ox. According to the Chinese zodiac, oxen are loyal, patient, and dependable. My grandfather was about as patient as a dynamite fuse. He liked to cuss. His method was postmodern, perhaps initially invented to spare the ears of delicate ladies, but easily adapted to txting. “T.S., that’s all,”3 he’d always tell me when I wanted to go out with some boy. “I guess you’re S.O.L.,”4 he’d say when I asked for an allowance increase. “Shee,”5 he’d murmur while watching the Wahines get hammered by Stanford in the volleyball championships. My grandfather spoke a mild pidgin (as opposed to the near Greek spoken by a Hawaiian pig hunter I once worked with), which was understandable to most people in Honolulu. He was partially deaf later in life (from gunfire), which forced me to become a master enunciator. That combined with my inheritance of his pottymouth has caused me to cuss as if speaking to a spelling bee judge. Mo-ther-fuck-er. Noun. A person who disagrees with you. Sentence: That motherfucker doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Pidgin originated when sugar cane plantations began their takeover of Hawai`i in the 1850s, attracting Chinese coolies (the “yellow peril,” or my grandfather’s parents, depending on whom you ask) and workers from Portugal. The next wave of plantation workers came from Japan and, after that, from the Philippines. It was a regular Tower of Babel construction site out in that sea of cane. The grammar of pidgin was influenced by Hawaiian constructions. In the same way that in Spanish, one says, “I like the house red,” but in English, it’s “I like the red house,” Hawaiian prioritizes the adjective. Instead of saying, “That house is scary,” in pidgin one would say, “Scary, dat house.” Verb tenses were simplified, shedding some peculiar English constructions for the simple: “I going fix da motorcycle.” To indicate the past: “I went fix da motorcycle.” Japanese immigrants were later arrivals in the state, and pidgin was fairly developed by the time they arrived. From the Japanese language, though, pidgin picked up words of verification placed at the ends of sentences: “She get one Mercedes, yeah?” which,

County of Hawaii, Main Page, http://www.Hawaii-county.com (last visited November 18, 2009). 3 Tough Shit. 4 Shit Outta Luck. 5 Shit. 2

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in standard English would be “She has a Mercedes, doesn’t she?” During the first evolutions of the language, Hawaiian was the base language, or lexifier, but later, after the 1875 Reciprocity Treaty with the U.S. was signed, the lexifier became English. Pidgin is elegant in its own way, but fading from usage. But the speech patterns, constructions, and cadences are hard to eliminate completely, even for those (like me) who barely speak pidgin at all. My grandfather’s first language was Chinese, but the kindergarten teachers at Pahoa Grammar School smacked it out of him with their rulers. My grandpa often used the old Chinese pronunciations -- flied lice (fried rice), stlongbelly (strawberry) -- along with a healthy serving of vocabulary incomprehensible to someone from outside the state. Pidgin displays a wonderful range of sounds that seem to suit the place they’re from.6 The words my grandfather most frequently used are: • • • • • • • • • •  •

bumbye: later. I going fix em bumbye. pake: Chinese (implies that you also mean the person is a tightwad). That pake like me pay high interest. etty-etty: gunk. You get some etty-etty on your face. Go get one napkin. tita: tomboy/tough girl. That tita pushing you around, you tell da principal. blala: lazy guy. Look that blala standing around on the street corner! mahu: effeminate man. Look the mahu wearing one skirt. bolohead: bald. I going get bolohead when I stay old. ono: yummy. Where’s that ono sushi you went buy? hanabata: boogers. Eh! No pick your hanabatas in public! shee-shee: pee. You better go shee-shee. Long drive North Shore. holoholo: gallivanting. You like go holoholo with your friends, you better finish your homework. puka: hole. My sock get one puka in the toe.

My fifth grade teacher played a joke on us once, taking advantage of how Hawaiian words are pronounced. She wrote on the board: pi. We shouted out: “Pee!” Below pi, she wrote: pe. We shouted out: “Pay!” Below pe, she wrote: li. We shouted out: “Lee!” Below li, she wrote: ne. We shouted out, “Nay!” The board looked like this: pi pe li ne She pointed to one line, then the next: “Pee. Pay. Lee. Nay,” we recited. She said, “What’s the matter? You don’t know how for say pipeline?” 6

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haole: caucasian. All those haoles look alike.

The whole state is an archipelago of words, with a population wandering around seemingly speaking in tongues. What a strange place it must have been, this new land poured from lava, thick with trees and ferns and vines none of the settlers had ever seen. New immigrants were arriving every day from every part of the earth. My grandfather’s parents had always lived among people of their culture, their language, and their race. But my grandfather was born in this new world. It belonged to him in a way it could never belong to his parents. He spoke pidgin with the other plantation kids, picking up the language that allowed him to communicate with anyone. When I complained, my grandfather would try to get me to count my blessings by relating how he’d had to get up at four in the morning and pack a bowl of rice before going to work in the cane fields. By the time he got to school, his hands were all cut up from the stalks, and it was hard to hold the pencil. How much of the story is true, I don’t know. I do know that the workers usually assembled at 5:30 in the morning, and began work at six. The lunch break was at 10:30, a schedule the schools might have accomodated (though I can find no evidence of that). The labor was hard, and involved using a cane knife, a kind of machete, that sliced through the stalks near their bases. The cane grew taller than the workers who carried the stalks to the mule or the train. It was harvested by hand until 1955.7 Long before he was my grandfather, he was a skinny little boy lying in his bedroom with his brothers crowded around him, in bundles that barely qualified as beds, dreaming of escaping the agricultural life. As a teenager, my grandfather rode a Harley and belonged to a gang. He wore pants with legs wide enough to go around a woman’s waist. His was a family of daredevils. His brother, the locally famous volcano photographer, relished standing at precipices of fire, rapt as a moth, with his lenses aglow. After working and saving money for two years, my grandfather still didn’t have enough to go to the mainland for college, but he received his degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Hawai`i. His first job was Assistant Surveyor for the County of Hawai`i (The Big Island). Often, when we were driving around, he’d say, “I built that bridge” or “I built that road.” He literally made Hawai`i what it is today.8 The sugar industry is responsible for the introduction of the mongoose, which was supposed to kill the rats eating the cane. Of course, mongooses run around during the day, and the rats at night. They just waved at each other in passing, and the birds of Hawai`i were doomed forever as the mongooses ravaged their nests and predated their eggs. 8 Hiroo Sato writes in Pahoa Yesterday: His company constructed waterlines, sewer lines, bridges, and harbors on Maui; installed the major waterline on 7

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My grandfather was in ROTC, and was called to join the Army (the 299th) in Februrary 1942, two months after witnessing the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He spent four years in the service, trying to make order out of chaos while my grandmother rationed food and built a shelter in the yard for herself and the first of four screaming babies. Two days after my grandfather was called to active duty, he married my grandmother. Of course, my grandmother got pregnant and had to have the baby all alone (on June 29, 1943) while my grandfather served his country, a fate she probably hadn’t considered in the whirlwind romance of having a soldier propose. We were at war with the Japanese, but the Texans who came to Hawai`i to lead the troops didn’t know Chinese from Japanese from Korean. They told my grandfather he’d be shot for looking like a Jap. They didn’t want to send him out, but they needed engineers. My grandfather spent the war in Saipan, Guam, and Okinawa setting up temporary hospitals. In Saipan, he befriended a local Japanese guy from Hawai`i, an interpreter. During a stop in Hong Kong, they went out, probably breaking a few marriage vows, or at least getting really drunk. They barely made it back to the ship by five p.m., their Asian curfew. The Marines showed my grandfather a bullet and said, “After dark, this is for you.” My grandfather said he was lucky he made it back. He never told me his Pearl Harbor story -- what he was doing that morning, and what happened in the aftermath. (Most people were used to military exercises in the islands, and thought the bombing was more of the same.) He also never told me about the days following the bombing, how everyone on Oahu had to register, like Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem, putting their names and fingerprints on record. Everyone was given immunizations and gas masks. Martial law and curfew were instituted on December 8, 1941. The FBI rounded up hundreds of Japanese residents, some of them citizens, whom they had listed as potentially dangerous.9 In a place that was more than a third Japanese, racism could have paralyzed the city. There was certainly suspicion and fear. It must have been strange to look out on a sea of Japanese faces you knew (or even loved) and think that maybe

Molokai; and installed a waterline from Waimea to Kawaihae on the Island of Hawai`i. In addition, his company did the infrastructure work for subdivisions. (p. 127) 9 The following people were considered dangerous: language school teachers, newspaper editors, and leaders of temples or churches. 58


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a relative of your classmate had tried to kill you, had forced your country into war. In the end, the sheer economic impossibility of shipping 160,000 people to the mainland allowed nearly all of the Japanese people in Hawai`i to remain. My grandfather missed the rationing and the air raid sirens and the disappearance of some of his Japanese friends. He missed the streets being overrun with mainland soldiers and prostitutes. He missed the first year of his first child’s life. And in his letters home, I did not yet exist. You couldn’t have cobbled me together, even with the most farflung existing DNA. After the war, my grandfather worked as a civil engineer. In New Jersey, the equivalent might be to say that he worked in cement or waste management, if you get my drift.10 It’s impossible to unearth exactly how far my grandfather’s connections reached and what he did with them beyond what I knew. My friends called him the Corner Mafia, and there’s abundant evidence that they were right. He hid it well. There were no mysterious thugs showing up at the house in the middle of the night, nor did police or FBI agents pound on the door. Of course, this is why my grandfather had his office. Despite the fact that he was retired, he went there every day. A visit revealed that the office was decorated with leather couches and paintings of naked women (beyond my limited writerly capabilities to describe, but he likely purchased them at the annual art fair held at the Neil Blaisdell Arena, a venue specializing in dramatic ocean scenes and faux pointillist attempts to get Hawai`i down on canvas), which may be an indicator of the type of person accustomed to paying a call. While emptying the place after he died, I also found a stash of porn. But if you doubt the mafia connection, consider the following: •

Fact: At one point in time, we had four Mercedes in the driveway, one of which had the uncharacteristic license plate, “B JAMN.” My grandfather first asked me what this meant, and then bragged that he had gotten the car from a drug dealer.

Fact: Often, my grandfather would come home bearing brand new stereos or other electronics (my grandfather’s idea of brokering a television peace treaty between me and my grandmother was simply to bring me my own television), claiming that his friend Irwin had given them to him. I had a sweet turntable with a

Organized crime has a hefty presence in Hawai`i, with Yakuza, Triad, and smaller ethnic syndicates. 10

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dual tape deck and radio, which I think of the way some boys think about their first car. •

Fact: Bringing home a case of Dom Perignon one day, my grandfather explained that some guy at a bar had given it to him.

Fact: Instead of getting the car inspected, my grandfather would dispatch me to the inspection station with cash in an envelope. I would give the envelope to a guy named Ray (who wouldn’t even ask me about the car) and return home with the inspection sticker.

Fact: My grandfather made a lot of money in the 70s when his decrepit office building mysteriously burned down and he received a truckload of insurance money because the property had skyrocketed in value since the time when he had purchased it.

Fact: Hawai`i politics has long been dominated by the Democrats in Tammany Hall fashion, and my grandfather was always invited to political fundraisers for candidates of both parties. Since he didn’t hold any sort of elected or appointed office, I can only imagine what this meant. He called our Senator “Brother Dan,” and didn’t hesitate to ask him for favors, such as getting me a job.

One of the jobs the Senator got me was at the Nature Conservancy. I was like a CIA agent for nature. We were sent to remote outposts to wipe out the enemy—invasive species, such as guava, lantana (which I hate to this day), and passiflora. We met with informants, one of whom showed us a lobelia species with only one individual remaining in the wild. Period. Unassuming in appearance, resembling a little palm tree, Cyanea shipmanii was considered extinct until one of our contacts discovered the last plant and built a fence to protect it from a looming, rotting `ōhi`a tree. Other species had a few individuals in the wild and seedlings being propagated in greenhouses. Like some TV character with inexplicable multiplicities of abilities, I also worked in a lab propagating rare native plants in test tubes under a sterile glass hood while I wore goggles and regularly doused my arms with alcohol so I wouldn’t contaminate the plants, which grew not in soil, but in agar gel. My supervisor was a Robert Redford-esque plant lab handler, who was the only person I could trust with the plants’ lives. Sometimes he had only a piece of leaf with which to clone a hundred baby plants. With such a small sample of genetic material, the chances of mutation increase, but that is the story of most native Hawaiian

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plants, which arrived in the islands lonely, often in the digestive tracts of birds. Hawai`i is the most isolated land mass on earth, and possesses a level of biological diversity surpassing the Galapagos. We often picture tropical flowers as enormous, but the flowers that made their way to Hawai`i had a longer journey than most, and it was often the smaller, more modest flowers that colonized the islands. Imagine floating in the ocean or blowing on a current of wind for 2,500 miles. Imagine arriving on a rock, a barren void of lava, hard and crusty and inhospitable, but with a thin layer of soil created by wind and rain. That was all there was, a long time ago. It was probably very quiet. Hawai`i was for a long time a land without predators and without mosquitoes. For the native birds, life was like several years spent in the womb, chirping away in the `Ĺ?hi`a trees, free of disease and free of giants trying to make capes out of you. This is why whenever a snake rears its ugly head in the islands, it makes the evening news the way a bomb threat would in New York City. (Snakes decimated the native birds of Guam. And I mean decimated.) In the Hawai`i before it was Hawai`i, before the Polynesians arrived with their boats and their pigs and their rats and their coconuts and their sugar cane, there were far more species than we would ever suspect if we go walking in the forest today. Because there were no land mammals (that’s right, no land mammals) in Hawai`i before the Polynesians arrived, the native birds had no experience with predators except for avian ones, such as the pueo, a native owl. They were therefore both diverse and relatively defenseless. There were birds whose beaks seem like something improbable, unlikely, and downright strange. Gone is the wonderfully named King Kong finch (Chloridops regiskongi), who had a beak like a muscle car. The tortoise-jawed moa nalo (Chelychelynechen quassus) was a monster of a bird that could swallow Jonah if Jonah had come to Hawai`i instead of being thrown into the ocean. There was an ibis (Apteribis glenos), a flightless one, with a beak delicate and long. The `o`o (Moho nobilis) was a honeycreeper with a characteristic long, curved bill that could reach deep into the tubular flowers of the native lobelias. The whole thing seems prehistoric and dinosauresque, a primitive swamp, acrid with smoke from the volcanoes, steaming with ocean spray and towering with giant leaves. Hawai`i is a place where someone like my grandfather could call himself a conservationist because he tramped around in the forest and killed feral ungulates, pheasants, and quail, which were all introduced species. The house was decorated with taxidermied boar heads, deer heads, mouflon sheep heads, and entire birds in action poses. We had more guns than dinner plates. These ran the gamut 61


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from an ancient Colt .45 to hunting rifles to sleeker handguns. I thought nothing of finding them in strange places, like behind Shakespeare’s plays, or under the bed. My grandfather bred hunting dogs, Brittany Spaniels.11 Out back, behind our patio, at the edge of a forest draping over the mountain, were eight kennels. (After my grandfather died, I discovered that the kennels were illegal, on state land, not our property.) We often had four or six dogs, and an annual litter of puppies. There was nothing like sitting in the warm whelping shed on a small wooden stool while the puppies crawled blindly over the straw. When I first came to live at the house, my grandfather had an old dog named Charlie, who became my dog. Charlie never made a sound until my grandfather took the other dogs hunting, and left Charlie behind. Then he bayed like Cerberus trapped at the edge of the underworld, all day and all night, while the other dogs loped along the slopes of Mauna Kea, their paws barely making noise in the mist and the cold. I never went hunting with my grandfather, a fact I regret even now. By the time I decided I wanted him to teach me how to shoot, the doctors were trying to find the cause of the strange pain in his side. He went quickly from scaling mountains and bringing down bucks to lying in his bed talking to the dead. It’s a strange thing to sit with someone who’s dying. They’re like a bridge to the other world. Even after he died, I felt his presence in the rooms. I remembered vividly my first magical night in the house. The wind and the trees. The antique lamp in the corner. The Chinese horses on the shelves. The dogs talking amongst themselves somewhere I couldn’t see. The scent of jasmine drifting up to me. The house was a behemoth, built for a family with four children and six dogs and some stray cats. It had four bedrooms, a library, a sewing room, a TV room, a dining room, a living room, a kitchen, a lanai, and an extensive garage.12 My grandfather had built it to withstand games of tag and homework and loads of books and heirlooms from dead ancestors. He built it so the windows would never have to be closed; the weather rushed through rain or shine. It housed the junk of generations. Rooms that once held children later held antiques and boxes full of doll clothes, scarves from Japan, dishes, figurines, photographs, outdated dresses, fabric, lampshades, and other items that could be neither classified nor parted with.

Given his long life, I estimate that he owned at least twenty dogs in his life. If you include puppies, which were usually sold at several months old, the number easily hits three digits. 12 The garage was so large and so filled with mysterious junk that when cleaning it out, I discovered two jeeps (Scout Internationals), which had been completely obscured for years. They could not be induced to start. 11

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It was like nothing I had ever seen. (My mother was a minimalist, who moved us around with only a duffel bag each, and who shed possessions like skin cells she never wanted to see again. We were always on welfare and lived in apartments until we were evicted.) I spent many rainy days looking through the boxes. A whole summer tackling the patio, which contained everything my mother had left behind. Unlike my mother, my grandfather enjoyed excess. Holiday dinners were multicultural feasts with sushi and venison and olives and pickles and turkeys and Chinese jello (kanten), and my grandfather presided over the cornucopia like a king. My grandmother, the miserable cook, once a year redeemed herself by making a stew none outside the family would eat. It was too weird for my haole friends, only one of whom even accepted it politely in her bowl. It had ten kinds of mushrooms and fungus and unidentifiable ingredients. Things called “little ears,” and red dates and vermicelli noodles made of mung beans. My grandmother called it monk’s food because the monks in China used to eat it, and maybe still do.13 She made gau, a brick-like dessert, a mixture of mochi rice and sugar, steamed within an inch of its life. These and other things filled our table along with champagne and apple cider and pots of jasmine tea. Pies and cakes and cookies and candies were crammed on the buffet beside the dining table. Always, the special tablecloth was brought out from the buffet drawers, then the special-occasion plastic sheet was laid on top. The food didn’t stop after the holidays. We visited relatives who had entire truck beds heaped with papayas, or relatives who owned macadamia nut chocolate factories, and piled our arms with candies. Boxes often arrived from my grandfather’s friend Masa, who was a farmer on Maui. He sent soybeans, jars of pickled Maui onions, pickled Japanese vegetables, and takuan (pickled Japanese radish). From fundraisers, my grandfather brought home plates of kulolo (taro pudding), haupia (coconut pudding), mochi (rice dessert), poke (squid salad), sushi, and cookies. In the yard, he grew Okinawa tangerines, regular tangerines, oranges, papayas, pohas (like a tomatillo, but sweet), herbs, lichees, pomelos, lemons, and three kinds of avocados. He made me ume musubis (rice balls with pickled plums). He took me to the Chinese bakery for things I can say but can’t spell -- doughy sesame balls filled with beans, ti-leaf-wrapped slabs of sticky rice I never got my grandmother’s recipe, if she even had one. It seemed like she just threw things in, like a witch at her cauldron. An online recipe contained the following: kum choi (dried lily flower), chin ngee (dried fungus), fu chuk (dried bean curd), long rice, dried mushrooms, ginger root, nam you (red bean curd sauce), dau fu mui (bean cake), fatt choi (hair seaweed), bamboo shoots, jow dau fu (fried bean curd), water chestnuts, gingko nuts, funn teu (dried rice flour sticks), Chinese peas. 13

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pierced with a red-dyed stick. I have not even mentioned dim sum, char siu bau, arare, li hing mui, Portuguese sausage, kim chee, kinpira, malasadas, pork lau lau, hulihuli chicken, kalua pig cooked in an imu (a dirt pit filled with hot stones). These are all the things that at one time sat on our kitchen table. Our house was a land of plenty, like a kipuka in a field of lava, an island of life.14 Even if humans could live without food, my grandfather would have refused. He demolished a half tin of butter cookies in a sitting (he had no real teeth to lose, having rotted them long ago), devoured whole steaks, downed two beers at every dinner. He went shopping for my friends, bringing home chips and cookies and cereal bars and ice cream and popsicles and frozen pizzas in case we were hungry. He lamented my grandmother’s abilities, and cooked most things himself. He thought the greatest invention was all-you-can-eat buffets. All that food powered him. He strode through his days, and I raced to keep up. He was here and there, meeting one person or another, shaking hands, timing his six-mile walk up the mountain, schmoozing on different islands and in different towns. He mowed the lawn, trimmed the trees, trained the dogs, repaired the kennels, harvested the fruit, tinkered with the lawnmower, washed and polished the cars, and wheeled and dealed. He would rather have dug a ditch than sit around doing nothing. He believed in hard work. When I brought home an A-minus, he asked why I hadn’t gotten an A. When I watched television, he asked if I’d finished my homework. He bought me a coffee maker so that I could stay up late. He shouted from the bottom of the stairs so I could get up early. He believed you could never do too much, and thought I should “butter up” my teachers with gifts, just in case. He believed in being practical and realistic. When I won $300 in a story contest, he told me that was the only money I would ever earn as a writer. He gave me three options: I could become a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer. (I chose: None of the Above.) He held the bar way above my head and told me to jump higher when I missed. He was afraid I would end up like my mother. He called her Pee-Wee. He loaded her with leis and good fortune when she left to attend California College of Arts and Crafts. It was a dismal proposition if ever my grandfather saw one, but he gave her money, and he let her go because she was his favorite. Of course, being my mother, she dropped out to smoke dope with hippies in the Haight. She took my grandfather’s money and went to Greece, to England, and A kipuka is a patch of forest spared during a lava flow. It’s a strange sight, an oasis on a barren, black, cindery desert. 14

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to France, where somehow I snuck in, forcing her to return to the states in a hurry. She didn’t come home to Honolulu until destitution forced her to. She was the prodigal daughter, the wastrel, the one who had used all the money so her little sister had none. I was too young to know what happened in that brief period when I was in diapers and liked to sun on the lanai, but she and I soon left again, returning to California. It probably surprised my grandfather not at all when my mother disappeared, leaving me in San Francisco with nothing to my name but my single duffel bag. He flew out from Hawai`i to get me, like a knight in the only warm coat he owned.15 Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, was one day stolen by Hades from a field of flowers. Hades took her to the underworld to be his queen. In the myth, it is Demeter who searches, heartbroken, for her disappeared daughter. In my story, it was my grandfather who searched. The darkness of Hades had stolen over my mother little by little until it swallowed her whole. Just as Demeter during her search clung to the newborn child of Celeus and Metaneira and held him in the fire to burn away his mortality, so my grandfather did with me, dragging me with the force of his will out of darkness and into the world where I might function, and maybe even prosper. He didn’t roam the earth, or even visit the underworld in the manner of Orpheus (I suspect he didn’t want to admit that was where my mother had gone), but he took to visiting psychics, especially toward the end of his life when he was locked in a battle of wills with cancer. The search for my mother went on in the background, out of my sight, and the lengths to which my grandfather had gone only became clear after he died. He hired detectives when the San Francisco Department of Social Services didn’t try hard enough. He mailed check after check to our old address in the Mission in hopes that one might be cashed. He had no pride. He would have done anything to bring her home.16

My foster parents were black (which didn’t occur to me at the time), and my grandfather was a racist. He used the pidgin word, popolo, in his many derogatory statements regarding African-Americans. I overheard him telling one of his friends on the phone, “She was living with coloreds!” like he’d found me with wolves or badgers. He frequently lamented “those damn Hawaiians,” or “those lazy Hawaiians.” Filipinos and Portuguese (Portagees) did not escape his unsavory observations either. His racism was a giant rift between us. 16 In a strange corrollary to this story, in 2000, I was living in Los Angeles and my aunt (living at the old house) received a letter from a man in San Francisco who claimed to have some of my mother’s things. I contacted him and he told me that years and years ago (when I was ten), my mother had come to him and begged him to hold on to a box of stuff for her. She needed somewhere to keep it. He accepted the box, and she never returned. A friend coming down from the Bay Area brought me the box, which contained many checks from my 15

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We went on occasion to see a Vietnamese woman named Lan Vo, who was eerily omniscient, and had a painting of Christ on the wall behind her chair. It was as if my grandfather was already stepping into the world of the spirits. Lan Vo told him that his daughter was among nuns, somewhere far away. Maybe she purposely lied to him. Maybe she thought he needed hope. Lan Vo wasn’t the only one. There were two others, maybe more. My grandfather liked to complete things. He liked straight answers. But he was willing to put logic and facts aside. Those things had already failed to find my mother. I sat with my grandfather as he died. I held his hand through the night in the dark and ghostly house. If ever there was a moment when I saw God, it was then, when he was coming down to take away the person I most loved. During those hours, my grandfather’s visions began. Or maybe the spirits of his dead mother and sister had always lived outside our house among the orchids and empty terracotta pots, invisible unless death was near. In Hawai`i, we believe in ghosts. The world is full of legends and spirits. You can’t drive across Old Pali Road if there is pork in your car; you’ll anger Pele, the volcano goddess who sometimes appears as an old woman and demands kindness from strangers. Menehunes live in the forests. Offerings must be made to the gods. Sacred warnings must be heeded.17 The gods are vengeful and mercurial, consuming whole towns in sprays of fire and rock, or tidal waves as powerful as desire. In this land of a panoply of story, it didn’t seem strange that my grandfather kept walking the house, pointing things out to me, like the ten grand in cash he had stashed in the back of the linen closet over the years. A folded and refolded sheet of paper marked the dates when he’d added each of the 100 hundred dollar bills.

grandfather, along with my mother’s journals from our years in the city. Despite the fact that my mother was living in a homeless shelter and had been evicted from our apartment, she never cashed the checks. In the final journal entries, which are written on flyers perhaps picked up on the street, she wrote that her teeth were falling out, that she was sick, and tired. It is impossible to say with certainty what happened after the journals were handed over to a man she barely knew. Whatever it is, I’m sure it was better my grandfather never found out. 17 The word “kapu,” often seen around Hawai`i, means more than forbidden. It implies that a place is sacred and inviolable. It is sometimes printed on signs and placed at the edge of property instead of a “No Tresspassing” sign. I believe it is effective due to the conviction that the gods might punish you if you disobey. 66


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Our house sat on an old cinder cone called Tantalus,18 which had an eponymous road curving the whole way up the mountain. Much of the land is forested, the road roofed with canopies of monkeypod trees and vines reaching toward the scattered sun. Groves of bamboo grow thick, gnarling the ground with their roots, their darkness rich with mosquitos. The menehunes watch from their cover of green, and from the ridge, at an old stone wall, you can look down on all of Manoa Valley and the city, spread out and growing, trying to block out the ocean. The Tantalus of Greek myth is best known for giving us the word “tantalize” because he was cursed to stand in the water, unable to drink, unable to eat the fruit hanging just out of his reach. In another incarnation of his punishment, a feast is set before Tantalus, but a rock is suspended over his head, threatening to drop so that he can never enjoy the food before him. That was my grandfather. He’d lived a life of bounty, but in the end, he wanted to see my mother, and that was the one thing he couldn’t have. She embodied his regrets and his mistakes, and he wanted to fix them. Stories and tales leap from the lava and the leaves. There are places that feel unreal, like they should be heaven. Or hell. There are places barren of life, covered in lava. Places where it rains 400 inches each year. As a little girl, I slid down a snowslope at the top of Mauna Kea. As an adult, I hiked up a cold, damp mountain scattered with gorse from Scotland, uneven from the hooves and the grazing of cattle. I couldn’t see more than ten meters in front of me. I didn’t know where I was, or what time of day hung above me in the invisible sky. This is where I picture my grandfather, walking forever with the dogs, his rifle at his side. No place. No time. Telling one of his hunting buddies a story. I picture him as the star of a 70s TV show. Something like The Rockford Files except in Hawai`i, and starring my grandfather instead of James Garner. My grandfather would be more well-connected with the underworld than Rockford. He’d consort with gamblers and pimps, Yakuza and thieves, all the while fighting crime. People would hire him to find deadbeats and fugitives. Maybe he’d be a former con who’d done time at Halawa Correctional Facility. He would be on the path to redemption, using his past experience to rope in the bad guys for the cops. He would drive a 70s Plymouth. He’d stay on the right side of the law, but only by putting one foot on the wrong side. He’d talk like Jack Webb in Dragnet, if Webb had been Chinese, and had spoken pidgin.

I have tried to discover the Hawaiian name for the mountain. A 1935 Honolulu Star-Bulletin article says that the name is Ualakaa, which means “rolling sweet potato.” A Hawai`i Public Radio web page says, no: Pu`u `ōhi`a, which I gather means “a protuberance of `ōhi`a trees,” or, a hill covered in `ōhi`a trees. 18

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Hawai`i was my grandfather’s place in every cell of his body. He was the child of immigrants, born by the cane fields of the past. Throughout his life, he watched the coming of the future. He was there when airplanes first brought tourists. He was there when interstate highways connected the towns. He was there when computers first became desk fixtures. He was there during Pearl Harbor, and when President Eisenhower signed legislation making Hawai`i the fiftieth state. He survived hurricanes and tsunamis. He watched highrises and hotels take the place of beachside stands. He was the house with its ocean views, the balcony, the lava walls, the pine floors, the fruit trees, the rusting clothesline, and the illegal dog kennels in the back. He was the roads winding up the mountains and into the valleys. He was the downtown streets where everyone knew his name. He was the cheap diners run by old Filipinos. He was the Kapi`olani Bakery and the malasada store and even the DMV. He was the airport where he taught me to drive. He was the forest where I hefted a weed wrench on my shoulders and pulled out lantana and guava to save the native trees. He was the sun blazing down on the cars. He was the beach where my friends and I went to swim. He was the school where 150 of my relatives had gone before me. He was the cemetery where he’d attended many funerals before his. Each animal of the Chinese zodiac is influenced by one of five elements, depending on the year. The elements are metal, water, wood, fire, and earth. There are twelve animals, which means that only every sixty years do oxen of the same element occur. Born sixty years apart, my grandfather and I were both water oxen, supposedly more intuitive and flexible than the other years. A few weeks later, and I could have been a tiger, but I was born at the right time. I fell into line behind my grandfather with the smell of the dirt and the weeds under my hooves and the feel of the sun on my hide, until one day I looked up from leaning my shoulder into the plow and found that he was gone. The last time I closed the dog kennel gate, it was like pulling a giant tree out of the earth by its roots with a tractor. It was like sawing in there to chop at what won’t let go. Even as my childhood mountain disappears from the map, eroded by wind and rain, fountains of fire extend their fingers and come crashing down into the ocean amid clouds of smoke and steam and the smell of burning salt. After my grandfather died, the house kept giving me gifts in his stead. The cavernous closet under the stairs yielded a pocket television with a 3-inch screen and an antenna, which my grandfather had taken to football games in order to watch replays. (I used it to watch The XFiles when I didn’t have a real television.) I found an orange hunting jacket whose label was nothing so fashionable as Cabela’s, but rather 68


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an ammunition company. His old, glass compass that opened out with a metal arm, and had a padded case of its own. His engineer’s measuring tape. An Army hat stained from wear, with a seam sewn so it fit my grandfather’s head. I took his Army portrait and his Shriner portrait, and an old Army bag with metal plating inside the canvas. I took his Captain’s jacket with its patches. I took all of these things, as much as would fit in my suitcase, for my journey down the mountain and across the sea. I never visit the old house. It’s only a memory, a kipuka in a field of lava. The ancestors exist only in the things I carry, in the things my grandfather gave me. I took those things, and headed in a different direction. I use abbreviations to swear, but mine are N.F.W., F.A., and H.F.C.19 My obsession with politics echoes my grandfather’s, except on the other side of the aisle.20 I never took my pug hunting. I learned to shoot handguns, rifles, and shotguns, but I don’t own a firearm of any kind. Instead, everyone in my stories packs heat, consorts with crooked politicians, and likes to tell tall tales. I hear my grandfather’s voice in my head, his words and deeds coming to life on my pages. A river of curses and gibberish flows from my tongue, and a rain of bullets explodes from my pen.

Sources: Allen, Gwenfread. Hawai`i’s War Years: 1941-1945. Pacific Monograph, 1950. Barnes, Phil. A Concise History of the Hawaiian Islands. Petroglyph Press, 1999. Sakoda, Kent and Jeff Siegel. Pidgin Grammar: An Introduction to the Creole Language of Hawai`i. Bess Press, 2003. “On the Brink: Hawai`i’s Vanishing Species” by Elizabeth Royte. National Geographic, September 1995. Vol. 188, No. 3. Sato, Hiroo. Pahoa Yesterday. Self-published, 2002. Interview with my grandfather, Ah Leong Ho, by historian K. Scott Wong. Conducted 6/30/95.

No Fucking Way. Fucking Awesome. Holy Fucking Crap. At thirteen, I wrote in my journal that my grandfather wouldn’t raise my allowance because he was a Republican. 19 20

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LAPS York Wong He is swimming to the beat of “1-1-1,” gliding down the pool smoothly and watching pockets of bubbles slide silently past his torso. “1-1-1” … “1-1-1” … eight sets later, he touches the far wall. “2-2-2,” inhale, exhale … “2-2-2,” inhale, exhale … another eight sets take him back. Two laps down, 48 to go. Why 50? Just a number picked from a whodunit where the 40-something private eye did it daily to keep fit. At his age, mending a busted body from 10Ks and ultra cycling, swimming three times a week would do. Besides, he doesn’t like water. Lift your elbow! Stretch your arm! “Ridiculous, stupid training,” he grumbles. Frankly, he has not competed since college, yet the commands from early childhood still echo in his mind. Close your fingers! Cup your hand! It was his father striding on poolside, manual in one hand, bullhorn the other, barking instructions at his children. The tyrant was obsessed with turning them into champions, drilling them mercilessly in water as on land. At home, they practiced on straw mats to improve their swim strokes and used coiled springs to strengthen their muscles. Flutter your feet! Don’t slap the water! In time, the regimen did produce a grand winner in his older sister, who won all her events in record times at the 1948 National in Shanghai and was crowned “Mermaid of China.” Nonetheless, swimming was no longer fun but a punishing chore. Open your eyes! Breathe through your mouth! The lasting impact on him was a fear of water. Sharks were everywhere in his imagination. They lurked in deep bays and shallow beaches, mountain lakes and valley ponds, even in heated hotel pools. Irrational to be sure, but the consequences were real. 70


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He is snorkeling in a protected cove on the Big Island among a group of tourists, flotation devices strapped around their waists, happily feeding colorful fishes and snapping pictures with waterproof cameras. Then, one by one, they paddle back to their charter boat for more plastic pouches of pellets, leaving him alone in the water. In that moment, the crystal clear reef under his feet turns into a murky abyss. Sharks are all around, engulfing him. “13-13-13.” He peeks around the crowded pool. A woman on his left is doing the freestyle, sharing her lane with another on a kickboard. To his right are two portly fellows going through their water exercise, barbells in hands and laboring along the bottom. Next to them is a man in floppy trunks floating on his back. On the far side, an athlete is scooting down the lane like a jet ski. Safe among many, he swims on. “20-20-20.” His energy is drained from a breakfast of oatmeal and banana. What is to eat at home? Toast and orange marmalade? Dull. Last night’s rosemary chicken? OK. Better yet, the jook he had prepared with the severed heads of BBQ ducks that his wife wisely omitted from her office potluck. The very thought of the popular Cantonese dish makes him want to hurry home to heat up a serving, but he resists and swims on. “25-25-25.” Halfway to 50! Still no sharks in sight! It began in earnest after he was shipped to school in England at age 13 without knowing a word of English. He was still wrestling with the strange language when another edict came a year later with order to leave for America. “Dear Daddy,” he wrote clumsily, “I receive your letter this morning and know that dad want me to go to America next summer. I will do as dad wanted me to do in the letter when I am advised. I am not so sure what I have to do when I got to America. What school am I going to? What forms shall I try to enter in America?” No, he was told, not to any middle or high schools but straight into college. As lucky guesses and low standards had it, he took and passed the American college entrance exam (SAT), enrolled into a second tier university, and graduated four years later before his 19th birthday. It was 1956, the height of the Cold War, and his degree in electrical engineering earned him instant employment at IBM. As expected, a directive turned up immediately.

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“Son, don’t let success go to your head. It comes only with hard work. There are no halfway measures. You have a wonderful opportunity at IBM, so don’t waste it. Remember, you are just stepping into the fringe of success. It might only be temporary for the company to test if you can be a reliable and good worker of the future. In two years, they will have something to go on based on your record. They are watching you. Is he only a flash in the pan, a conceited lad? Be an efficient, quiet, sober and humble young man. Engross heart and soul in your job, steep yourself in math, electronics and physics to be in good standing. Don’t be an ordinary worker, be brilliant and make plenty of money.” “27-27-27.” “Son, cook at home and save. For breakfast, wholesome cereals, milk, bread and butter, and eggs. For dinner, a chop or sausage of mutton, pork, beef or veal, milk, bread, cheese and fresh fruit. Simple soup and chicken, too, are good standbys. It is important not to waste valuable time on cooking and cleaning up. It can be more profitably employed to study for your work. Take care of yourself in cold weather. Take multivitamin tablets, calcium and cod liver oil to remain strong and fit.” “29-29-29.” “Son, you are really very young and inexperienced in life and in love. Wine, women and songs and, if I may add, laziness, gambling and conceit are the great dangers of life. Your behavior with young ladies is a good test. ‘Beware of the skirts’ lest they will drag you down from success to failure, from Heaven to Hell, and will haunt you, hound you and bewitch you. A solid guy will work hard and save money before entangling himself with matrimonial issues.” “31-31-31.” “Take your time, son, and marry a blonde and your children will be just like white Americans. Attain a reliable income at 45, but continue working for another 15 years for your children.” These, like unwanted weeds on a new lawn, never stopped arriving via the ubiquitous blue aerogramme. “33-33-33.” He was in his twenties and the head of a department, yet the prospect of a lifelong commitment in computers did not appeal to him at all. It was the 60s. He, too, yearned for other possibilities beyond the confines of data processing and wrote to his father for support. He got a scathing rebuke.

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“Son, Dad has educated you to have a good living which you in turn will want your children to have. Surely you don’t want your children to be coolies, tram drivers, fruit pickers, and waiters. Dad has raised money for your education. If I’d known that you were to throw it away, I would have saved it for your younger brother. You have a duty to fulfill before you follow your ideals. You must retain this job at IBM for some years to help your family, yourself and your future. You are an impractical dreamer floating around in midair until you flop. Take my advice and consult a Brain Psychologist to explain to you where your reasoning had gone all wrong.” “35-35-35.” He was now a social science professor with particular interest in C. Wright Mills’ analysis of power and class in the U.S. and the responsibilities of intellectuals in post-World War II society. He wished to share these issues with his aging father. “Son,” came the reply, “your astounding letter arrived full of false ideas. So, now in U.S. at 40 years of age with a comfortable job, I say to you, 1) Don’t rock the boat, 2) Keep your radical ideas to yourself, 3) Be a pucker Yank, 4) If you are still floundering in America, go to your favourite country and face the consequences like a man.” With that, the olive branch snapped as did any further communication with a stubborn old man. “39-39-39.” Or is it 40? “40-40-40,” he grins, not over the phantom lap but that there are only 10 more to meet his goal. But what of tomorrow and the days ahead? Is there no end? He is draped head to foot in a black gown facing an open casket. His father lays inside, eyes closed and neatly attired in a western suit. Flowers fill the hall, and banners of white cloth brushed in ink cover the walls. Mourners enter silently, bowing three times to a framed portrait fronting the casket, thrice again to the family. He acknowledges their respects and returns his gaze to the coffin. Still, 25 years after his father died at age 88, his fear of water remains. “41-41-41.” The pool is eerily quiet, its stillness broken only by the quivering shadows of lane markers as he swims past. All of a sudden, he feels a chill running through his body, stopping him in mid stroke. Something is wrong. He scans this way and that. Nobody is about. He is entirely alone. The pool now seems so vast and the walls so far apart. Terrified, he shuts 73


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his eyes and flails frantically to reach the ladder. He grasps blindly for the metal bars, scrambles out and collapses on the cool tiles. After a long moment, he stares intently at the calm surface. Nothing moves, but he knows the monster is still down there. He picks up his towel and heads for the exit. “This is the big test,” comes a voice inside. His head begins to spin. “Now is your moment of truth.” He quickens his pace and opens the door. “Mend the breach!” calls the voice. He hesitates and turns slowly around, his heart pounding. Then, as if led by an unknown hand, he shuffles uncertainly to the pool’s edge and puts his feet gingerly into the cold water. Taking a deep breath, he plunges in. “42-42-42.” He is struggling through thick layers of dark water. The bottom is out of sight. He swims on. “43-43-43.” Thunderous noises assault his ears, making him dizzy. “44-44-44.” He is losing his sense of direction. “45-45-45.” Something grabs him, pulling him along. “46-46-46.” His trembling hand finds the far wall. Dazed, he gulps a lungful of air and swims on. “47-47-47.” The lane markers are becoming visible and the sounds a low hum. “Father,” he mouths. “48-48-48,” “49-49-49,” “50-50-50.” Finished! He climbs out and steps into the steaming Jacuzzi, letting the foaming jets soothe his tight muscles and tense mind. Glancing at the lowly lit pool and silent water, he whispers softly, “Yes, we are both changing.”

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BODY EXPRESSIONS: COMB

Heidi Woan. 2009.

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RED BULL GIVES YOU WINGS

Heidi Woan. 2009.

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STYLISTIC FART

Heidi Woan. 2009.

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SQUATTING DUCK

Heidi Woan. 2009.

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ONE OF TAI SHAN'S BREASTS

Heidi Woan. 2009.

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Interview with NAMI MUN

Interview by Christine Lee Zilka As with all writers we court for interviews at Kartika Review, I sent Nami Mun a shy and hopeful email, asking her to engage in a dialogue with our litmag. Requests for interviews often receive polite replies, with only a few silent responses or vociferous exceptions, and so I crossed my fingers after pushing send. Nami Mun’s responses via email conveyed a charisma that is second to very few writers out there (she rivals Junot Díaz’s ability to woo a crowd), and I found her one of the most delightful and fun people I’ve ever met. At a recent reading at a local bookstore, with a row of wideeyed teenage girls listening to her read about Joon (the main character and narrator of Miles From Nowhere) in a particularly gruesome, rated R scene, Nami was able to turn something awkward into an act of bonding. “I’m so sorry I picked this scene to read!” exclaimed Nami with dismay, to the giggling teenagers. “It’s okay,” they replied, as she continued to banter with them and then, turned back to read. She made them feel at ease and thus, the rest of the crowded bookstore, using great intuition (something in Korea we call “noon-chi”), just as she made me feel at ease. She and her debut novel, Miles From Nowhere, have earned a healthy and growing list of accolades affirming that her work will continue to make a lasting impact on readers. I am looking forward to reading her future work. On the heels of receiving a Whiting Writers’ Award, Nami Mun engaged in an interview with Kartika about how she first met fiction writing and her subsequent life as a writer. Nami Mun is the author of the debut novel, Miles from Nowhere (Riverhead), which was shortlisted for the Orange Award and selected for Booklist’s Top Ten First Novels, Amazon’s Best Fiction of 2009 So

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Far, and Indie Next. Named Best New Novelist of 2009 by Chicago magazine, she is a recipient of a Whiting Award and a Pushcart Prize. Mun, who currently lives and teaches in Chicago, was born in Seoul, South Korea, and grew up there and in Bronx, New York. She has worked as an Avon Lady, a street vendor, a photojournalist, a waitress, an activities coordinator for a nursing home, and a criminal defense investigator. After earning a GED, she went on to get a BA in English from UC Berkeley, and an MFA from University of Michigan, where she received the first place Hopwood Award for short fiction. She has garnered scholarships from the Corporation of Yaddo, MacDowell Colony, Squaw Valley Writer’s Conference, and Tin House Writer’s Conference, and her stories have been published or are forthcoming in Granta, Pushcart Prize Anthology, The Iowa Review, Evergreen Review, Witness, Bat City Review, Tin House, and elsewhere.

ON WRITING AND PROCESS CHRISTINE ZILKA: You have gone through your share of occupations-Avon lady, a journalist, a waitress, and a criminal defense investigator, to share some. Which job did you hate the most—and which job did you enjoy most? And why? NAMI MUN: I had a job once that involved me sitting alone for eight hours a day in a gray room with no windows. The room was small—a vertical coffin of sorts—and very bare, except for one fold-out table, one fold-out chair, and one analog gem scale. The job was this: use tweezers to pick up tiny bits of Cubic Zirconium (the size of rice kernels) and weigh them on the scale, one by one. Let me reiterate: I did that for eight hours a day, five days a week. I was maybe fourteen then, with the energy of a pogo stick. By the seventh hour, I would actually feel vomitous. The best job, hands down, was criminal defense investigations. Unlike the “CZ” job, investigations allowed me to get out of the office and visit different places every single day (for example, I would visit freeway underpass encampments to look for witnesses for a drug case; heavily-secured buildings to serve a subpoena; county jails to speak with defendants; people’s homes to interview character witnesses, etc.). The job gave me access to a variety of voices and setting, which I feel only helped me as a writer. ZILKA: And what led you to writing? (It feels like you might have settled on your “final job” as a writer—do you feel the same way)? MUN: An English Composition instructor at Santa Monica College gave a writing assignment on the first day of class. She said to write 81


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whatever we wanted, so I wrote a short story, my first one ever. I don’t know why I chose to write fiction instead of, say, an essay about my hometown, which is what most of my classmates submitted. What I do know is that it didn’t even occur to me, not for a second, to write anything else but fiction. At the end of the semester, the teacher asked if I had ever considered becoming a writer, and apparently that was enough of a nudge for me. I signed up for a writing class the following semester. Of course, I can’t end the story there because that would imply all was peachy keen afterwards. The truth is, my first fiction writing class did not go well. My instructor—the poor man who had to endure the awful stink of my first real attempts at fiction—tacitly and gently posed a very different question by the end of that semester, which was: are you sure you want to be a writer? ZILKA: You earned your MFA from University of Michigan where you earned the Hopwood Award. What do you think is the most important thing you learned and took away from being in an MFA program? Do you think you would have learned these things otherwise? MUN: University of Michigan, the best MFA program out there right now, gave me what every writer could want: the time and money to write; ridiculously generous professors; and a solid writing community. I learned so many unquantifiable things while I was there—it’s difficult to try and articulate the lessons. Maybe I can just say what’s been on my mind lately, which is, I think I learned how to be a teacher by being a student of some of the best teachers on this earth, namely, Peter Ho Davies, Eileen Pollack and Michael Byers. ZILKA: In a previous interview you mentioned that you find el trains a great source for dialogue. Alexander Chee, in a previous interview with Kartika mentioned that he often writes on trains and subways. (And John Wray wrote Lowboy on the NYC subway)! Where do you write? What is necessary in your environment for you to be able to write? (And can/do you write on trains—I wonder if we should all go write on trains)! MUN: I really wish I had a writerly answer to this but I don’t. Because I have certain needs while writing (cigarettes, food, caffeine), I’m afraid I’m pretty much bound to my apartment, or a bar that’s open but dead, or a quiet coffee shop. I suppose I have written in a few places that other folks might find strange, i.e. the IKEA in Emeryville (it has plenty of parking as well as Swedish meatballs). I do write down snippets of dialogue I hear on trains and buses but that’s about the extent of my writing on public transit.

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ON THE CRAFT OF WRITING ZILKA: The editors at Kartika loved your book (and we cheer every time you win an award—congratulations on winning a Whiting Award)! I personally was very excited about the premise and the voice of the narrator. But there were critics who stated Miles From Nowhere was “episodic” (as a criticism, oddly enough) and might have been better off as a short story collection. You explained the episodic nature was consistent with Joon’s character and life—but was Miles From Nowhere originally a short story collection? Or did you always intend for it to be a novel? And why do you think episodic is widely considered a criticism (as opposed to a compliment)? MUN: The first story I wrote for the book was “Club Orchid,” now chapter three of Miles. In that story, Joon is both vulnerable and strong, and I suppose I liked the tension this dichotomy created on the page, especially when she tries to describe the very adult setting and situations. I went on to write a few more stories about her, and a little while later, I noticed how the stories revolved around Joon working odd jobs to make money. (For example, she works as a dance hostess in one story, sells Avon in another, sells newspaper on subways, etc.) That’s when I realized that these stories, while self-contained, could also be cogs working toward a larger narrative arc. I also made a crucial decision right then—to keep the episodic structure, primarily because I felt it gave a truer, more visceral reflection of Joon’s fractured mindset. And to answer your second question, I’m not really sure why an “episodic novel” or a “novel in stories” carries negative connotations. The format certainly isn’t anything new; it’s been around for a long while, I would say, the Bible being an early example. But maybe certain readers don’t feel comfortable with gaps. Maybe they feel all the dots should be connected by the writer. In Miles, the gaps in time, the gaps between chapters are crucial. It provides a sense of jaggedness, of unevenness, which mirrors Joon’s present-action life, as well as her ruminations about the past. And I also see the gaps as an invitation for readers to connect a few dots on their own. ZILKA: How do you know when to end a narrative? Obviously, the ending of a novel will be different from that of a short story. Still, in either case, and especially in the context of your episodic novel how do you know what that last line(s) will be?

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MUN: I never know what the last line will be until I land on it. And when I do land on it, it feels a little like the aftermath of whiskey drunk slowly. Something warm happens to my chest, which unlocks the spine and sends signals to the rest of the body. Tiny, humble sparks of joy go off in the brain. A fog of gratefulness surrounds the heart. The lungs relax. You know it’s the last line because everything inside your body tells you that it’s the last line. Now, how do you know when the book is done? That’s a different story.

ON WRITING & IDENTITY ZILKA: I have to admit that I was one of the legions of people who thought that this book might have been a memoir-disguised-as-fiction. But the MOMENT I met you in person it was very, very obvious to me how very different you are from the character of Joon. Recently you wrote a fabulous essay called “The Kernel of Truth” in Omnivoracious where you address the question about whether or not your work is autobiographical by stating, “Maybe this is what writers mean when they say, "All fiction is autobiographical." As fictioneers, we make things up: stories, people, events, cause and effects, connections— fabricating these things is our job. But nothing comes from a vacuum. Every character, every story, has its root in something that makes it unique, so that only that particular writer could have written it.” 21 What do you think is unique to your writing? What about your writing makes it something only you could have written? MUN: I’m going to be honest here and say that I feel a little goofy trying to talk about the uniqueness in my own writing. So I’ll speak in more general terms and say that, for me, character and voice are the two main elements that make one book distinct from another. As a writer, I try my best to create singular characters with a particular point of view. That was certainly my aim for Joon (as well as Knowledge and Wink and even the tertiary characters). The way Joon thinks, what she chooses to see, what she chooses to see as meaningful, her stoicism, her capacity for empathy, her ability to feel numb at a moment’s notice—all of these things and more hopefully come through in her voice and work hard to make her a fully developed character who is both unique and relatable. The more you Tom, “Nami Mun on the Kernel of Truth,”OMNIVORACIOUS, September 09, 2009, http://www.omnivoracious.com/2009/09/nami-mun-on-the-kernel-oftruth.html (last visited November 18, 2009). 21

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develop your characters—the further you dive below the surface of your characters and make them as unique as any human being—the more the reader will sense your undeniable fingerprints as the creator of those characters. ZILKA: Some claim that it is easier to get published when you're a writer of color, because there's always a market for "ethnic" or "different" writing. Others claim it is harder to get published when you're a writer of color, because the literary mainstream is white and therefore cannot relate to our experiences, and cannot relate to characters of color. Which claim rings truer for you? MUN: God, I really hope people aren’t walking around thinking that it’s easier to get published if you’re a writer of color. Really? Why? Because there’s always a market for “ethnic” writing? I mean, isn’t there always a market for “non-ethnic” writing? Hasn’t there always been space for “non-immigrant” stories? And the other side of the argument seems just as mired in fallacy. I think it is our job as writers to make characters at once singular AND relatable to the larger audience. I’m certain that a majority of my readers didn’t run away from home when they were thirteen, but I’m also certain that they’ve probably experienced moments of alienation and loneliness in their lives. Even if I were reading a book about walnuts, I would still expect the writer to somehow show me what that nut was going through so I could relate. The truth is, it’s difficult to get published. Period. And it’ll be a lot more difficult to get published if one is more concerned about the politics of writing than the writing itself. ZILKA: Has your joining academia changed your writing and/or how others perceive your writing? Academia hasn’t changed my writing, but working full-time in a profession I truly love has. And not so much the writing itself but my writing schedule. It’s all about the summers now.

ON MILES FROM NOWHERE ZILKA: What was your favorite part of the book to write? What was the most painful part of writing Miles From Nowhere? MUN: I really can’t choose which part was my favorite to write but I can definitely say, very easily, which part wasn’t. The trouble child. 85


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The bane of my then existence. The chapter titled “Avon.” I say chapter, but I was also trying to write that chapter as a self-contained short story, which means that the chapter had to carry an important arc of the novel within the sometimes-limiting framework of a short story. And it just about killed me. I think went through maybe 50 rounds of revisions and I still wasn’t happy. I couldn’t identify the problem. And how can you fix a problem you can’t see? At some point, I was certain I didn’t have the chops to make all the bizarre elements work. (We have Joon who is pregnant and working as a door-to-door Avon Lady. A melodramatic “nun-lady” who takes confessions in an apartment hallway. A drug den of sorts where Joon resides with sweet but insane heroin addicts who give her possibly the worst advice on abortion. An attempt at self-abortion. An attempt at suicide. And a guy who falls off a ladder and onto a tree branch, which skewers his body clean.) I was a breath away from giving up on the chapter/story, but my professor, Peter Ho Davies, wouldn’t let me. So I kept at it, and ended up eventually adapting it into a one-act play, the process of which unveiled the source of the problem. Structure. With all the prose all but stripped away, I discovered that its structure was far from sound. It was a tough lesson, but a worthy one.

ON MUN’S NEXT BOOK ZILKA: I do want to ask that if Miles From Nowhere was based on personal experiences, what is your next book based upon (if of course, you can oblige us with a hint of what your future work may bring)? MUN: My current project is about crime, a topic I became engrossed in while working as a criminal defense investigator.

MISCELLANY ZILKA: I have close ties to Berkeley…if you drink coffee: what was your favorite café in Berkeley? MUN: My favorite place to write in the entire world is a pub on Solano (they’re actually acknowledged in the book). When working on Miles, I’d get there at noon, as soon as they opened, so I could snag the window seat by the heater. Sometimes I’d work there for ten hours straight and watch regulars come and go. I could set my watch by them. And the folks who worked there always took such good care of me, never minding the fact that I drank tea all day instead of beer 86


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FINAL WORDS OF ADVICE ZILKA: What words of advice do you have for Asian American writers? For emerging writers in general? MUN: I still feel like an emerging writer myself so it feels strange to be giving advice. But I do have one advice for beginning writers: read a lot of books and try to see the craft behind the writing. And for all writers working on their first long project: at some point you’re going to have moments of self-doubt. Instead of trying to “overcome” selfdoubt, try to learn how to ride it. I am a person who is both plagued with and fueled by self-doubt, which might explain the eight years it took to finish my book. But my self-doubt was also the force behind the 30 or so revisions each chapter went through, which in the end gave me a certain confidence about my writing. As for Asian-American writers: perhaps it’s a little passé to say this but try not to write what others expect you to write and instead focus on the story that you want to write.

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Interview with JAMIE FORD

Interview by Byron Wong I discovered Asian American literature in high school when I read an essay by Frank Chin in the groundbreaking anthology Aiiieeeee! Chin wrote of Asian American culture and its relationship with love and literature: “If we did not hate yellow men with a vengeance, hate the thought, the subject of yellow manhood, we might have written a love story or two in the last hundred and fifty years.”22 Up until reading Chin’s essay, I was a poster child for racial ignorance. It had never occurred to me that there were no Asian American love stories, that the American media could despise Asian American manhood, or that the literary exclusion of our people could be rooted in hatred against “yellow men.” Yet when I looked around, it was true. When it came to old fashioned love, we Asian men were invisible. There were stories of Asian women falling head over heels in love with White men, stories of Asian women fighting against evil Asian men from repressive Asian cultures in order to fall head over heels in love with White men, but no love stories between yellow men and yellow women. We had internalized our self-hatred, seeing ourselves as effeminate and unfit. The American media reduced us to stereotypes, and we had accepted it. This lack of Asian American love stories—nay, this abysmal literary black hole that sucked the energy from both our literary and extraliterary aspirations as a community—fueled my initial interest in Jamie Ford’s debut novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I wanted to see us portrayed as humans who are capable of love. Lawson Inada, who is the Poet Laureate of Oregon, co-editor with Frank Chin of Aiiieeeee! and father to Ford’s best friend from grade Frank Chin et al, Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian American Writers (Washington, DC: Mentor/Penguin/Howard University Press, 1991), p. xl. 22

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school, recommended the book before it was published. Lawson described it as a historical love story between a Chinese American boy and a Japanese American girl during the Japanese American internment of World War II. I read it within a day. As an activist and lover of literature, I was captivated by Jamie Ford’s debut novel. Not only does the book present a beautiful love story, but it also depicts strong Asian American characters with moral fortitude. The main character Henry is a strong male protagonist of daring passion and masculinity, a character who embodies the cunning of the Monkey King and the loyalty of the three brothers in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The female protagonist Keiko is a fierce warrior who resists the forces of her time, proudly declaring her Americanness even as her country incarcerates and betrays her entire family. Henry and Keiko find a natural love. Hotel is a story about a bond between two powerful characters who come together despite the racial forces of society working against them. Jamie Ford is a fourth generation Chinese American, former advertising executive, and father of six children. He is an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and a graduate of Orson Scott Card's Literary Bootcamp. He grew up near Seattle’s Chinatown and currently lives in Montana. Finally, nearly twenty years after Frank Chin wrote his essay, Asian America has a simple love story in the form of a novel. The rest of America is celebrating too—Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is officially a New York Times bestseller, hitting #15 earlier this year.

ON HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET BYRON WONG: Hi Jamie, it's very nice to meet you. The most striking feature of Hotel, for me, was that it portrayed a kind of innocence that perhaps no longer exists in this world. As another interviewer mentioned, it was written about a time when "love was really love." Yours is the only Asian American novel so far, to my knowledge, that portrays an Asian American couple in an era when young people only knew how to love with complete abandon. You also have said that the story for "Hotel" first came from an "I am Chinese" button that your father mentioned wearing as a kid, in order to protect himself while the FBI was rounding up Japanese Americans for the internment. How did you, as an author, make the transition from a story of fear to a love story? Was it a merging of two stories 89


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that you wanted to tell, or did it develop outward from your father's button? JAMIE FORD: It really did start with the “I am Chinese” button, which was the iconic centerpiece of a short story that later became the novel. The button seemed so emblematic of the emotional baggage that each community carried—of Chinese Americans not wanting to be mistaken as Japanese, in a city that thought they all looked alike anyway. The irony was painful and tragic and all so real. From there the love story just evolved. Henry and Keiko in their own innocent way became Romeo and Juliet, two young hearts amid the warring Montagues and Capulets. WONG: In your mind, what is the difference between Keiko and Henry's "young love" and the possibility of a later "experienced love," and how does the emotional baggage change for Chinese and Japanese Americans between the 1940s and 1980's, especially as it relates to love? How did this affect the characters of Henry and Keiko as you were writing? FORD: When Henry and Keiko were younger, they were both on the frontlines of prejudice from Caucasians, and experienced a certain enmity between Japanese and Chinese Americans. I think that over the years, their world would have changed and evolved. They would have lived through the 60s and experienced some social changes and upheavals, but they also moved into the 80s, where pop-culture began to reflect more of a multi-cultural society. Plus, Henry’s parents were gone at that point, so perhaps he was able to exorcise some of those old ghosts. I think they both would have had some remaining emotional baggage, but as people get older, I think they care less about what their peers think (I know I do!) As far as the unfinished love story between Henry and Keiko, my knee-jerk reaction is that they’re probably more mature and at an age where companionship means more than the idyllic, take-your-breathaway kind of infatuation--but then I tossed that idea. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that even old souls can be swept away. Especially with so much of their story left unfinished. WONG: I’ve noticed that racist characters with other writers often become intolerable to read about, but yours seem to possess a playfulness about them that makes them almost fun, for example, when you describe Denny Brown and Chaz Preston. I loved it because it allowed the love story to proceed without undue distraction. How

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did you create the racist characters, and why are yours different from the others? FORD: Looking at the those characters, especially Chaz, I think readers almost feel sorry for him in a way--because we know that time will prove just how wrong and ridiculous those prejudices were. His character is born of ignorance and insecurity. His social shortcomings are sins of omission, rather than sins of commission--he just doesn't get it. And to a greater degree, Chaz is really a shadow antagonist--Henry's real antagonist is his own father, which is more personal and more painful. In that light, Chaz is just a bump in the road, compared to the twists and turns that Henry must navigate at home.

ON THE WRITING PROCESS WONG: One aspect of your novel that impressed me was the discovery, how certain aspects of your work open up through the story--a stranger becomes a girlfriend, a jazz recording becomes a treasured memento. When you write, do you work from an outline? How much detail do you know before writing a story? FORD: I start with the most minimal of outlines—really just a beginning and an ending. The rest I discover along the way, but that ending is vital—it becomes my magnetic north. If I write myself too far off the path, I’ll back up, delete and find another way. And I tend to bury myself in historical and cultural research, so I discover a lot of details along the way, which gradually appear in the narrative. WONG: One part of your writing process you frequently mention in interviews is your writer's workshop, which you describe as an integral part of your writing process. Writers mostly view their profession as a solitary endeavor, but yours seems to possibly be a bit more collaborative. What is the benefit of workshops, and should all writers use them? FORD: I think most writers long to commune with similar minds, even if it’s just at a conference or a workshop, where you basically hang out, talk story and sip a glass of merlot. That camaraderie can be so beneficial, so energizing, to realize that everyone has the same struggles and hurdles, the same joys and anxieties—regardless of genre, or personal background. And of course, feedback on the work is

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always welcome, especially from fellow writers, because they appreciate the journey. And truth-be-told, workshop environments aren’t really collaborative per se, but they can be incredibly nurturing. Every writer needs some kind of validation—some more than others. WONG: As a workshopper, what is the most important lesson that you feel writer need to know? In other words, what holds back most beginning writers, and what should they be doing to make it better? FORD: Two things. One: Giving up too easily. So many aspiring writers give up after one failed attempt, or one workshop experience where their work isn't feted and praised. A workshop environment isn't a place for personal criticism, but it is a place for criticism of the work-it's tough love. Two: Not knowing when you should give up. Some writers will rehash a story for years and years, cutting, editing, and rewriting until their once-hopeful story is now just a mass of scar tissue. Like Frankenstein--bits and pieces of cadaverous ideas sewn and bolted together, and even if you jolt it to life, it's just going to stagger around and break things. It's okay to give those stories a good Viking funeral and move on to the next story idea.

ON LIFE WONG: In another interview, you mentioned that you grew up in Ashland, Oregon (go Oregon!) where you were the only Chinese American at your grade school, and your best friend was the only Japanese kid. As one of the few Asians in your grade school, what did your Chinese heritage mean to you when you were growing up, and how did your relationship with your ethnicity develop as you came into adulthood? FORD: I had it pretty easy, honestly. I grew up in Ashland, which was a very bohemian place, so acceptance of cultural and social diversity was well ahead of the societal curve. (It wasn’t until years later that I realized how unique my family was, especially with my dad being Chinese and marrying a Caucasian woman, something fairly uncommon in the 60s. In retrospect, it seemed like the only Chinese men that had blond wives were Bruce Lee and my dad…) As far as my Chinese heritage, I hate to say this, but I took it for granted. My dad always worked in Chinese restaurants and taught martial arts on the side. We had a very Chinese American home––but I was a kid. I thought everyone ate dried cuttlefish! It didn’t seem so 92


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unusual when you’re immersed in it. It probably wasn’t until college when one of my best friends went to my grandparent’s house for dinner that I realized we were so different. Sadly, it wasn’t until my dad passed away that I truly began to appreciate my Chinese heritage. He was an only child, so I grew up without the benefit of a lot of Chinese aunties and uncles, so when he passed I felt cut off from that part of my heritage. That longing led to the exploration of cultural identity in my writing. WONG: You have six children of your own now. How do you instill your own children with a sense of Chinese heritage? FORD: Ah, my lovely and complicated family! Well, two of my daughters are half Filipino (long story), but in their case, we actually applied for dual citizenship for them, which is fantastic. Just having a Philippine passport roots them in their identity and their heritage. For our other kids, who are each ¼ Chinese, they just know. To their friends and teachers, they are your typical white kids, but they can look at a photo of their grandfather or great grandparents and see the similarities. The resemblance between my oldest son and my grandfather is uncanny (except for my son’s blondish hair). And of course, food always plays a role! We’re probably the only household in Great Falls, Montana with a 20-cup rice cooker. We roll lumpia, make moon cakes, Korean short ribs, Vietnamese spring rolls. It helps having lived in Hawaii when they were younger. It exposed them to a lot of diverse Asian (and Polynesian) cultures. Plus, food is always something unique, something that they can share with their friends. I get the call all the time, “Dad, I need you to bring 30 hum bau to my class by 1:00 this afternoon!” WONG: I once read that writing is a hard job because you spend so much time alone, and you’re at the mercy of a fickle reading public. Ten years ago, how did you imagine your life today? Where do you see yourself in ten years? FORD: Ten years ago I envisioned myself writing full-time (and probably starving). My bar for success was fairly minimal: finish a book, sign with an agent, sell the novel--that was the extent of my hopes and dreams. But along they way I always told myself, "The book will do it's own thing", regardless of my hopes and intentions. Ten years from now, I see myself having a few more books to my name. The impact of those books is less of a concern. Honestly, I just enjoy the process of writing. Anything beyond my own writing desk is just a bonus. But I do hope to explore some other writing tangents--

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I'm researching a YA (Young Adult) series, and I'd love to write the visual literary mediums...graphic novels, comics, etc.

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Interview with CHANG-RAE LEE

Interview by Christine Lee Zilka My brother had just given me the rare gift of a book; he thrust the hardcover copy at my torso and said, “Read this.” In the language of family, no explanation was given, but from the urgency in his voice, I understood this would be a meaningful read, and so I caught the book in my hands just in time. I didn’t recognize the name of the author, nor had I heard of the book before. That book, Chang-Rae Lee’s Native Speaker, was one that I later defined as a pivotal piece in the scope of Asian American literature. Chang-Rae Lee was an Asian American writer whose work I read and proclaimed, "Wow. This is for real," realizing then and there, that Asian American literature had just been taken to a whole, new level. Correct that: he had taken literature to a whole, new level. Thereafter, I became a loyal reader of his books, following up Native Speaker with A Gesture Life and then Aloft, with all his New Yorker essays and interviews in between. I do not think I was alone in this behavior, given Chang-Rae Lee’s popularity and implicit entry into the literary canon. Over the years, Chang-Rae Lee has shown to be an increasingly private person, a writer whose appearances at writing conferences or social events is rare, so we were giddy when he agreed to do an interview with us. On the eve of his anticipated next book, The Surrendered, due out in March 2010, Lee shared his thoughts on writing with Kartika Review. Chang-Rae Lee was born in Korea in 1965. He immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 3 years old. He was raised in Westchester, New York but attended Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. He graduated from Yale University with a degree in English and from the University of Oregon with a MFA in writing. He worked as a Wall Street financial analyst for a year before turning to writing full time.

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His first novel, Native Speaker (1995), won the PEN/Hemingway Award and the American Book Award and explores the life of a Korean-American outsider who is involved in espionage. In 1999, he published his second novel, A Gesture Life, which elaborated on his themes of identity and assimilation through the narrative of an elderly former army medic who remembers treating Korean comfort women during World War II. His 2004 novel Aloft features Lee's first protagonist who is not Asian-American, but a disengaged and isolated suburbanite forced to deal with his world. He teaches writing at Princeton University, and currently serves as the director of Princeton's Program in Creative Writing. His next book, The Surrendered, will be available in early March 2010.

ON WRITING AND IDENTITY CHRISTINE ZILKA: You’ve been in Hawaii for the past year or so! How has it been? In what ways has Hawaii informed your writing? Will we be seeing a sneak peak of Hawaii in your upcoming novel, The Surrendered? CHANG-RAE LEE: Living in Hawaii hasn’t informed my writing yet; it takes quite a bit of time, at least for me, to take in a place deeply enough to consider writing about it as a subject or using it as setting. I think living in Hawaii certainly informed me as a person, as I found it to be a very comfortable place culturally. Being Asian-American there is perfectly natural, normal, and ordinary. It was something of a revelation, to be ordinary, by which I mean completely unnoticed. Invisible, but in a good way. ZILKA: You didn’t start out as a writer—you were on an entirely different track in finance prior to writing. When and what determined you to be a writer? LEE: Well, the stint on Wall Street was simply a way to be employed after college. I never studied finance or anything like it, and had always wanted to write. My good friend and roommate after college had early success publishing a book and I was inspired to try my hand. I quit the Wall Street job after a year and threw myself into a novel. That novel was no good, but it wasn’t a complete failure, as I learned a lot about the habit of writing, the endurance and stamina and will it takes to write a novel, even a bad one. ZILKA: A significant number of aspiring Asian American writers, especially from Generation X and Y, do not want to be categorized as “Asian American writers,” but rather as “a writer” or at least “an American writer.” Have you ever felt that frustration and if so, why do 96


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you think this is such a prevalent frustration among Asian American writers today? LEE: I have a feeling that things are changing, though I can’t point to anything as evidence. I, too, felt sometimes trapped inside that moniker, but there are so many new Asian-American writers publishing today and I must think that the perception of who “we” are is changing. We’re writing all kinds of stories and in various modalities and styles, and it’s getting more and more difficult to categorize us. Or at least for intelligent readers and critics to do so… ZILKA: In a 2008 Kartika interview with Don Lee, we asked him for his thoughts on how after Aloft was published, many activist Asian American groups criticized the book for presenting a non-Asian protagonist. Don Lee said the following: “I thought having that novel narrated by a sixty-year-old white guy was brave, brave, brave, and I credit Chang-Rae with starting a mini-revolution. I think he knew he'd be hit with a lot of flak for doing that, but he did all Asian American writers a huge service.”23 We agree. But did you anticipate and foresee the flak? Why do you think some Asian Americans had such passionate negative reactions to an Asian American writer writing about non-Asian characters? LEE: It’s funny, but I don’t feel that I did get as much flak as Don or I might have expected. I will say that I do sometimes come across satisfied Asian-American readers of my first two books who have not even bothered to try to read Aloft, which does surprise me. I think sometimes we ourselves do the very thing we accuse others of doing, which is to delimit and define what our interests should be. I certainly hope that I’m not read by Asian-Americans or anyone else solely because of the subject matter or “ethnicity” of my books. ZILKA: In a profile on your oeuvre, the author of the profile wrote, “Readers who expect Lee's novels to deal exclusively with Asian Americans will be pleasantly surprised to see [Chang-Rae Lee] flex his writing skills with the creation of Jerry Battle.”24 What is so pervasive in the American literary world today that leads people to believe that the creation of Jerry Battle required you to “flex” more of your “writing skills” than the creation of, say, Henry Park or Doc Hata? How do you deal with this assumption? What recommendations do you have to other Asian American writers who face the same assumptions? Interview with Don Lee, KARTIKA REVIEW, Issue 2, Spring 2008, http://www.kartikareview.com/issue2/2donlee.html (last visited November 18, 2009). 24 Jessica Dukes, “Meet the Writers: Chang-rae Lee Biography,” BARNESANDNOBLE.COM, http://www.barnesandnoble.com/writers/writerdetails.asp?cid=881739 (last visited November 18, 2009). 23

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LEE: Indeed the assumption is that before Aloft I was writing more from “experience” rather than employing whatever artistic skill and sensibility I possessed, which is terribly frustrating. All writers work from experience to some extent, of course, and yet there’s something about the American reader and culture at the moment that obsesses on the personal, giving primacy to “reality” narratives and “essential” identities and ignoring or diminishing the great wonders of imagination. I guess I would say the same thing to Asian-American writers as I would to any other writer, which is that there’s little one should intentionally do in the work for the directed purpose of shifting or changing opinion. We must write only what we want or can’t help but write about – often the only thing we can – and hope that the individuality and focus of that vision moves the reader, and at some point, perhaps, the wider culture.

ON WRITING, PROCESS, AND CRAFT ZILKA: I personally remember your saying that you don’t revise, that you only allow your wife and editor to read novel drafts, and if the novel doesn’t work, you just start over. And also that A Gesture Life was an emotional struggle to write, and Aloft a pleasure, a great reprieve. What was writing The Surrendered like for you? LEE: Well, my revision process certainly was different with The Surrendered. Perhaps because it is a larger-scaled book, with multiple main characters and settings and chronologies, or perhaps it’s that my own process has changed, but I wrote and rewrote and discarded whole sections and shifted course in the narrative many, many times. I worked nearly five years on the book and required every minute. I must say that there were many points at which I didn’t quite believe in the project or in my own abilities to pull it off and came dangerously close to quitting it and starting something else. I’d had that feeling with both Native Speaker and A Gesture Life (not so much with Aloft) but I suppose in those instances it was more the customary panic that comes periodically while working on a long writing project. But with The Surrendered the sense of anxiety and looming failure was deeper, for some reason, and ever-attendant. The experience probably scarred me but in a way I’m thankful for it, too, as it feels as though I’ve gone through yet another and different trial in my writing life. ZILKA: You once said, in a Poets & Writers interview years ago, that being in Oregon helped you to write your first published novel, Native Speaker, because you were “away and in the position of someone who is looking at New York with a kind of awe and wonder again, like a 98


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newcomer. But I wasn’t a newcomer; I was in a kind of exile and I was pining for New York.” Your statement resonates with me—do you have to put yourself in a kind of exile to write about another time/place? What do you do to get there—how did you do it for your subsequent novels? Or (am I totally reading too much into it) and does it not matter at all? Or perhaps, more simply put…what is it that you require to write? LEE: I don’t think it was a sense of “exile” discreetly that helped me write about New York. Indeed the vision of a “newcomer” is often fresher, more unexpectedly discerning and honest than some longtime native’s and I was certainly viewing New York from that vantage point. But what I think really happened – and happens whenever I write – is that as the writer I needed to see the New York that the novel required, which is not necessarily the “factual” or “real” New York, but rather the New York that forms and reforms in the imagination, the one (albeit real enough) that I could employ for storytelling, the one that I could fashion purely out of my own language. Physical distance or separation can compel imaginative intimacy and clarity. ZILKA: You don’t write short stories. The few “stories” we have seen in venues like The New Yorker are actually chapters from your novels. You also have an MFA (from University of Oregon)—and MFA programs are well known for supporting short stories better than they do novels because of the workshop format. How did you cope with writing a novel in the MFA workshop format? LEE: It’s quite difficult to “workshop” a novel, especially if you’re not presenting the book chapter by chapter. And even when you do (as I did at the start of writing Native Speaker), and folks are able to follow along, there’s a danger of heeding all the “good” suggestions from the group while the characters and narrative are still developing. I say “good” because while the offerings and opinions of readers might be worthwhile and even excellent, they can never exactly match one’s vision for the work. So much of what makes a novel is the distinctiveness of its voice and vista on the world, its absolute idiosyncrasy, and I think this tends to get lost in workshopped novels. What I ended up doing was not to workshop my novel at all, submitting instead some personal essays and snippets of a project that I wasn’t really working on anymore. ZILKA: What is it about the short story format that deters you from writing them? LEE: I’ve always been frustrated as a writer of stories, mostly I think because I keep wanting to write more, that most of my pressing questions haven’t even been aired, much less answered. While I 99


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appreciate the form as a reader, my impulses as a writer are to continue the inquiry, to keep creating layers upon layers as I peel them back. I suppose I enjoy fashioning those layers, the steady accruing of them, and then also find a certain majestic beauty in the interplay of all those elements. ZILKA: What do you think is your greatest writing strength as a writer? And your weakness? LEE: I think my strength is a deep engagement with language, which is sometimes also my weakness. I sometimes wish I had more interest and perhaps ability in a pictorial mode, where I’m painting a more detailed vision of some setting or character. Sometimes I think I’m too impressionistic, or too psychologically-minded, and don’t give enough effort to reporting the physical world. But of course even as I know I haven’t really done anything about it!

IN CLOSING ZILKA: What are you reading these days? What books would you recommend? LEE: I’m reading City Boy, Edmund White's new memoir about his life in NYC during the 60’s and 70’s, Evening’s Empire, by Zachary Lazar, and The Shadow of the Sun, by Ryszard Kapuscinski. ZILKA: What advice do you have for Asian American writers? For emerging writers in general? LEE: I don’t have any advice for Asian-American writers only. My advice for all emerging writers is to read and read and read, as much and as widely as one can. And then if you truly do want to write, to sit down and do so, without making excuses for why you can’t or don’t want to write that day. All the true writers I know are extremely focused, and exhibit an almost fierce stubbornness when it comes to doing their work.

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“in the name of your…” Madiha Siraj. 2009 Mixed Media

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CONTRIBUTOR NOTES Issue 06 ▪ Fall/Winter 2009

FICTION Alka Khushalani has had a career in media and advertising as a project manager and producer. Her work has appeared in EGO Magazine. She lives in New York with her husband and children. Cedric Yamanaka is the author of In Good Company, a collection of short stories. He received the Helen Deutsch Fellowship from Boston University while completing his M.A. in Creative Writing. His fiction has been published in a number of literary journals.

POETRY Mary Chi-Whi Kim has published in The New York Times Magazine, Boxcar Poetry Review, The Asian Pacific American Journal, Kalliope, Literary Mama, and other literary journals. Honored with a Kundiman Fellowship in 2004, she won two poem commissions from The Ohio State University’s Multicultural Center. Her poetry chapbook, Silken Purse received publication by Pudding House Press while her multigenre book, Karma Suture, garnered an Honorable Mention in the 2007 Writers’ Digest International Self-Published Books Contest. Currently she teaches at Savannah College of Art and Design. Iris A. Law will receive her M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Notre Dame in May 2010. A selection of her work which appeared in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal was recently nominated for the 2009 Best of the Net Anthology. Iris is also the editor of the new online magazine Lantern Review: A Journal of Asian American Poetry. Wendi M. Lee received her M.F.A. in Fiction at Sarah Lawrence College. She has poetry and fiction published or forthcoming in Oyez Review, Portland Review, Inkwell, Karamu, and Plainsongs, among others. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and a menagerie of pets. Lee Minh Sloca was born in Saigon, Vietnam, where he escaped two weeks prior to its collapse. He majored in Psychology at UCSC. After college, he worked for 14 years in the mental health and the psychoeducational field with special needs children. Feeling unfulfilled, he 102


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shifted his life path to being a poet and a painter. Lee lives in Los Angeles, CA. After campaigning for Obama in the ’08 election, he is currently seeking works that will align with the President’s philosophy of community Vuong Quoc Vu was born in Saigon, Vietnam. He grew up in San Jose, CA. He studied creative writing at San Jose State University and Fresno State University. His poems have appeared in The Atlanta Review, Poet Lore, ZYZZYVA, among others."

NON-FICTION Katherine Lien Chariott’s prose has been published (or will soon be published) in literary magazines including Sonora Review, Artful Dodge, New Ohio Review, 580 Split and upstreet. She received an M.F.A. from Cornell University and a Ph.D. from UNLV, where she was a Schaeffer Fellow in fiction. She lives in Shanghai. Lynne Connor, a Korean adoptee transplant from New Jersey recently graduated with an M.F.A. in creative writing from Mills College. Her writing tends to center around issues of trans racial adoption, identity, race and grief, partly out of a passion, partly out of necessity. She is currently working on a memoir and a young adult novel. Robert Aquino Dollesin was still a kid when he left the Philippines. He now resides in Sacramento, where he manages to jot down a short story now and again. In 2008, he was widely published. Among many other online venues, his work has appeared in Storyglossia, elimae, Wigleaf, Dogzplot, Mudluscious. He sometimes blogs here: http://robertaquinodollesin.blogspot.com. J.D. Ho was born in Maine, raised in Hawaii, and has lived in many states between. She has held a variety of jobs, including counting onion thrips, seeing if bees can learn, harvesting Thomas Jefferson’s vegetables, and performing damage control on film sets. Her writing has appeared in Deus Loci and Louisiana Literature and on the walls of Art League Houston. Currently at work on a book-length memoir about her family, she is a Michener Fellow in Writing at the University of Texas in Austin. York Wong is 72, a model worker in the 50s, raised hell in the 60s, taught college in the 70s, and retired many years later to restore antique clocks. He now writes.

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ART CONTRIBUTORS Sandy Choi is very much a dreamer, truth-seeker and a student of life. Through the details of everyday life seen as a trivial drudgery, she is revisited with a familiar ambition to pick up her old paintbrushes after a 10 year hiatus. Inspired by vintage and tattoo art, she hopes her art will reflect on her many muses. Come check out her works through Unsavory Characters at unsavorycharacters.blogspot.com. Doreen Han is a mosaic of neuroses. She is Korean Brazilian and currently dabbles in photography in New York. People say she kind of looks like Dora the Explorer. Madiha Siraj is not 20. She is 21. She is working toward her BA from University of California, San Diego in Art History and Criticism and Studio Art. She is currently listening to Maxïmo Park. Heidi Woan is the third of three children. Initially, Heidi carved out a career in make-believe. From 1988 to 1995, Heidi created and enacted stories before an imaginary audience, since she was often home alone. In 1996, Heidi made her acting debut as an extra in her school play about the importance of recycling; she is noted for her famous line, “This is an aluminum can, it can be recycled and reduce our waste.”

GUEST EDITOR * Byron Wong is a writer and blogger on Asian American issues (www.bigwowo.com) and is President of Thymos, a five-year old organization in Portland, Oregon that works toward the intellectual and social self-determination of Asian Americans. He works as a mortgage banker in the Portland area and is married with two young children.

* The editorial board would like to extend their gratitude to Byron Wong for serving as a guest editor of Issue 6 and his phenomenal interview with writer Jamie Ford.

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SUBMISSION GUIDELINES The editorial board reviews submissions on a rolling basis. Thus, we accept submissions by electronic mail year-round. Please do not send previously published work. We accept simultaneous submissions, but ask that you notify the respective editor immediately when your submission has been accepted elsewhere. For more information, please visit http://www.kartikareview.com/submit.html. Fiction | Attn: Christine Lee Zilka Short stories, experimental or interpretive works of fiction, flash fiction and micro-fiction pieces fall under our category of fiction. We give due consideration to all submissions, but we strongly prefer works under 7,500 words. Poetry | Attn: Sunny Woan Narrative, prose, or lyrical poetry, free verse, eastern or western poetic forms, or works meant as spoken word are all welcome as poetry. We give due consideration to all submissions, but we strongly prefer works under 2,500 words. Creative Nonfiction | Attn: Jennifer Derilo For creative nonfiction, we are particularly interested in works (memoir, reportage, letters, essay, etc.) that touch on themes including--but not limited to--identity, memory, family, culture, history, trauma, dislocation. Alternative formats and subject matter are nonetheless welcome. We give due consideration to all submissions, but we strongly prefer works under 7,500 words.

NOTE: Due to technical malfunction, all kartikareview.com e-mails have been temporarily disabled. Please submit all works and queries to kartika.review@gmail.com. Thank you for bearing with us.

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BOARD OF EDITORS Fiction Editor | Christine Lee Zilka Christine Lee Zilka's stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in ZYZZYVA, Verbsap, Yomimono, and elsewhere. She was awarded a Hedgebrook writing residency and her work was selected as a finalist in Poets and Writers Magazine’s WEX contest for the state of California in 2007. Christine earned her undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley and her MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College where she was awarded an Ardella Mills prize. She is currently at work on a novel

Poetry Editor | Sunny Woan Sunny Woan likes to dote on cats. She has a difficult time maintaining thermal homeostasis. Her creative works have appeared in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Blue Earth Review, and SoMa Literary Review, among others. Sunny is a corporate attorney who works in-house for a global investments firm and the founder of a designer handbags and accessories company, Taryn Zhang International.

Non-Fiction Editor | Jennifer Derilo Jennifer Derilo received her MFA (creative nonfiction emphasis) from Mills College, where she was its first Jacob K. Javits scholar. She enjoys reading (and writing) about people and things unseen. She often has nightmares about zombies. And abandoned predicate parts.

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