Mission Statement VISIONS is a publication that highlights and celebrates the diversity of Brownâ€™s Asian/Asian American community. We are committed to being an open literary and artistic forum for Asian/ Asian Americans, as well as other members of the university community, to freely express and address issues relating both to Asia and the Asian American experience. VISIONS further serves as a forum for issues that cannot find a voice in other campus publications. As a collaborative initiative, VISIONS attempts to strengthen and actively engage Brownâ€™s vibrant community of students, faculty, staff, and alumni, as well as the larger Providence community.
Letter From the Editors Spring 2008 Volume IX, Issue 2
Transitions are always a little bumpy, and we’re not going to lie. This was our first semester as editors of VISIONS, and it has been an amazing learning experience. There were times when we encountered difficulties, such as an unexpected empty page in the middle of the magazine (See page 29), but we’ve learned to find creative ways to deal with anything that comes our way. We’re glad that from very humble beginnings VISIONS has continued to grow to become such a remarkable publication. VISIONS remains dedicated to providing a voice and fostering a sense of community for the Asian/Asian American community at Brown. We are certainly very proud and delighted to be a part of this tradition. Last semester, we “realized our roots.” This semester, those roots continue to branch. Our theme of Rebirth not only reflects our beginnings as the new staff of VISIONS, but also how our community continues to evolve and redefine itself. We thank Dean Kisa Takesue for her continued support and guidance from the very beginnings of VISIONS. We thank our wonderful e-board for their hard work and dedication. Yue, Melanie, Wendy, and Yeppii are our four first years who stepped up to the challenge and played an integral part in each phase of this issue’s creation. Their efforts are invaluable and they were there for us through all the trials and tribulations of putting
VISIONS together. We recognize these members for their passion and insight- without them, this issue would not have been possible. We also thank our contributors and staff members for their hard work. Finally, we would like to thank you for joining us in striving toward our vision of a stronger Asian/Asian American community here at Brown. Now, we welcome you to enjoy the wonderful collection of prose, poetry, artwork, and photography in this issue of VISIONS.
Caitlin Ho Eric Lee Sophia Lin Clayt on Kim
VISIONS | Spring 2008
MANAGING EDITOR Caitlin Ho ‘10
WRITERS Gowri Chandra ‘08.5 Jeanine Chiu ‘10 Melanie Chow ‘11 Ashley Chung ‘08 Hee Kyung Chung ‘09 Caitlin Ho ‘10 Janine Kwoh ‘09 Marie Lee ‘99 Yeppii Lee ‘11 Damon Mok ‘11 Erin Morioka ‘08 Kevin Kenji O’Brien ‘08 Yue Pang ‘11 Li Jun Pek ‘10 Reshma Ramachandran ‘09 Corrie Tan ‘10 Ho-Hsia Thao ‘09 VyVy Trinh ‘11 Robin Ulep ‘11
EDITOR IN CHIEF Eric Lee ‘10 ASSOCIATE EDITOR Melanie Chow ‘11 COPY EDITORS Jilyn Chao ‘11, Eleanor Kim ‘11, Sonia Kim ‘11, Yeppii Lee ‘11, Morgan Li ‘11, Sheila Lin ‘10, Maya Stroshane ‘11, Corrie Tan ‘10, Star Wang ‘11, Chenji Zhang ‘11 LAYOUT EDITOR Sophia Lin ‘10 ASSOCIATE LAYOUT EDITOR Yue Pang ‘11 LAYOUT STAFF Jilyn Chao ‘11, Melanie Chow ‘11, Ho-hin Choy ‘10, Eo Jin Chung ‘11, Lisa Gomi ‘10, Morgan Li ‘11, Michelle Nguyen ‘11, Wendy Sekimura ‘11, Elaine Tamargo ‘11, Star Wang ‘11, Wudan Yan ‘11 ART & PHOTOGRAPHY EDITOR Clayton Kim ‘10 Cover Designer Yue Pang ‘11 Cover STOCK PHOTOS Melanie Chow ‘11 OUTREACH CHAIR Yeppii Lee ‘11 Publicity Melanie Chow ‘11, Wendy Sekimura ‘11 Webmaster Yue Pang ‘11
A Very Special Thanks to The Third World Center Kisa Takesue, Associate Dean of Student Life Undergraduate Finance Board (UFB) ADVISOR Dean Kisa Takesue SPONSORED BY The Office of Student Life PRINTED BY Art Communication Systems
ARTISTS/PHOTOGRAPHERS Melanie Chow ‘11 Siqing He ‘08 Janice Kim ‘09 Brian Lee ‘06 Michelle Nguyen ‘11 Tai Ho Shin ‘09 Kam Sripada ‘09 Elaine Tamargo ‘11 Mana Tang ‘10 Joshua Tropp (Grad) Star Wang ‘11 Angela Wong ‘09 Diane Yee (Staff)
Corrections VISIONS would like to acknowledge the following corrections to its previous issue (vol. ix, i. 1). The pull-out quote of Jessica Pan’s “Smile” should read “It was the missed phone calls I never returned, the notes slipped into my locker to which I never responded. It was the smile I never took time to appreciate.” Please email any corrections to the current issue to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Table of Contents WRITING A Story That I Think Is Mine VyVy Trinh My Mother’s Face Yeppii Lee Baptism Corrie Tan Footfall. Jeanine Chiu (destruction) Li Jun Pek Can. You. Speak. English? Melanie Chow I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus— and he was Korean! Marie Lee On Silence Hee Kyung Chung Personal Ad Caitlin Ho Defining Changes in Seasons Damon Mok Questions from a Starving Writer Editors of Visions Pronouns see a nation Yue Pang Accedence Ho-Shia Thao Seven O’clock Driving Reshma Ramachandran Memories of Being Unprepared Ashley Chung A Shared Mission Kevin Kenji O’Brien Evolution Gowri Chandra His Note on Tone Robin Ulep Ramen with my Babysitter Erin Morioka Jaisalmer, Rajasthan Janine Kwoh
ART & PHOTOGRAPHY 4 8 10 12 13 14 17 24 26 28 29 30 32 37 38 40 44 46 48 51
Untitled Tai Ho Shin Natural Light Joshua Tropp Untitled Tai Ho Shin Untitled Brian Lee Promise Janice Kim New York in Tokyo Janice Kim Homeland Security Diane Yee Untitled Brian Lee Chainaya loshka Mana Tang Slide Joshua Tropp Hope Michelle Nguyen Untitled Mana Tang The Key to Remembering Is... Michelle Nguyen Those Lovely Characters Melanie Chow Skylight Angela Wong Untitled Tai Ho Shin Illuminated Melanie Chow Angie’s Debut Elaine Tamargo Phases of H₂0 Siqing He Charminar, Hyderbad Kam Sripada look Star Wang
8 9 11 12 13 19 20 23 24 27 28 29 30 33 43 44 45 49 49 50 50
VISIONS | Spring 2008
A Story That I Think Is Mineâ€ƒ I am eighteen. In the campus diner I lean backwards into the corner of the booth, and she leans back into me, wrapped in my arms, her body folding into mine like hands. The diner door swings open and closed, swallowing icy air and exhaling the warm light of the diner, which smells of pizza sauce. Kids enter and exit, and it is one of those nights I feel smitten with the entire world, almost drowning in how beautiful young people are, young adults, in their prime or approaching it, walking through the world dazedly and carelessly in fur boots and defiantly bright tights, long strips of hair masking their eyes like blinds to windows, secret corners of their skin carved and painted with declarations of identity, eyes perpetually cradled by acrylic mascara, tips of ears, dashed by metallic rings and arrows, glowing pink in the harsh wind. Wool scarvesÂ hugging necks like shields. Boys in dreadlocks that remind me of hemp, which reminds me of weed, whose smell some carry like perfume, whose color some wear in their eyes like contact lenses, young people, sanity skewed by their youth, dream of revolution, of dismantling authority, of falling in love, of treasuring freedom and booze and restlessness and gorgeousness.
VyVy Trinh Wet, glossy smiles. Sweaters that fall at angles like rain. When we leave hand in gloved hand, everything is bright. Like stars. Which rain down as snow. On her hair. Before it melts, she looks like a photograph. A black and white photograph. Light drifts through the fingers of a naked tree under which we two girls stand in plastic boots. I reach to touch her face and gently sweep her hair and tuck it behind her ears so that it does not obscure her face. She runs her fingers through my thick black hair and across the light brows set above slanted eyes, as though searching for my history in them. In silence I am thinking: this is life. Sometimes it is so painful. Sometimes it is so beautiful. Other times it is both, in extreme amounts, at the exact same time. It is then that I know I am alive. I am sixteen. I sit in the front seat of my momâ€™s minivan, my head leaning against the cold glass. It is my favorite season, when the sky turns silver and drips drops, cold and big as paper clips, on leaves that wither, slither down airy pathways from branch to sidewalk so that high school kids like
me can crunch crunch crunch, indulging in our sadness. California autumns are underrated: paper flames may not fall
In silence I am thinking: this is life. Sometimes it is so painful. Sometimes it is so beautiful. Other times it is both, in extreme amounts, at the exact same time. It is then that I know I am alive. from trees, but rain still falls like broken stained glass, casting a deep glow over the land. Before I can pretend to fall asleep, Mom asks me if I like girls. I do not know why she asks. This is not our story. I hate the way it sounds, a question posed in frightened American English. I hear her heart in the words, pulsing, beating. This is not fair. I know that even if I could speak Vietnamese well enough to have a conversation this complex, we would still speak in English because this is an American conversation. An American possibility posed fearfully by a Vietnamese mother to her American daughter. And because this is not our story, not my story, I have no answer to give.
No concrete yes or no. I grew up in my school library, secretly reading, among other teenage novels, coming-of-age and coming-out collections, compiled and edited by passionate, middle-aged white women with short hair and partners. Each of those stories seemed to contain this moment within them, and it was that moment that always felt the most foreign to me. I knew that “coming out” would never be part of my story. It just did not fit. History would not allow it. I tell Mom I don’t know. I mention a girl in my high school who I have lately found to be the only beautiful thing, really, in my school, which can be incredibly ugly. I don’t know why I mention her. I guess I feel compelled to mention an individual, a singularity, because I don’t want Mom thinking this is a pattern; she shouldn’t have to worry about the finality, the fatality, of her daughter being a lesbian because I’m not. That’s not my story. I am fifteen. Love swallows me. A fascination with a girl whose name means star. A wide mouth set below a pierced nose and huge, brown eyes on a face framed by a
thousand black curls. A secret heart, a singular arrogance, a political fire, a voice that recalls the late, great icons of jazz. A loneliness and a mystery. I pass my classes with half-hearted ease, ignoring my teachers even as they lecture, finding similarities, with incredible self-absorption, between my suburban life and the French revolution, between love and the asymptotes of pre-calculus. I feign self-confidence, and a crush on a boy. One night, when the boy tries to kiss me, I turn away and leave, laughing hysterically to the point of misery, and soon, frightened, I confront myself because I can no longer live divided, the way everything is divided, north from south, generation from generation, no, I must be whole, I am in love. I am dramatic. I dye my hair pink. I contemptuously glance at the kids in school, mostly Asian, who live in math books. I am not like them. When she passes me by in the hallway, she glances at me and says hey carelessly. In music class, which we share, she ruffles my hair on the way to her seat. Sometimes during break time, she sits on my lap but ignores me, speaking to another girl in the class about books I have not read, albums I have not heard, revo-
lutionaries I have not admired. I turn to other friends in the class and try to talk about other things. I nod my head when they reply, not breathing, not listening.
I hear her in every sound, and her name never leaves my consciousness. I search for stars in the suburban sky and yearn. I hear her in every sound, and her name never leaves my consciousness. I search for stars in the suburban sky and yearn. I stop doing homework, or anything, and write pathetic images of her, disguised as fiction. When Mom asks me if I am okay, I say yes. I am fourteen. The sun sweats more in Saigon than in San Jose, dripping sunlight and staining our shirts. My younger sister, cousin, and I nod and smile politely at the enthusiastic nun who lets us in through the front door of Mom’s old elementary school, a fading-white, two-story building that surrounds a square courtyard. Mom
VISIONS | Spring 2008
holds her sister’s hand while Dad and my uncle follow them. We trail them, while I carry Baby.
I hear Mom and Di Tu speaking in tear-stained Vietnamese with the nun. My mind drifts.
I glance inside the dusty classroom, neatly ordered and plainly furnished with a few dozen desks. Mom and Di Tu, my aunt, gasp with nostalgia. They go inside the classroom, walk up and down the aisle, letting their fingers drift over the wooden desktops. Mom’s eyes fill with tears.
I am thirteen.
Readjusting Baby on my hip, I look
Running my fingers through Baby’s deep black hair, I know that we will never know war or escape boats or displacement. around. I try hard to escape my preoccupation with myself, my own American, high school, girl insecurities that have swollen this summer, which I have spent buying new outfits for the next school year and chatting online with the boy on whom I am fabricating a crush. I remind myself that this is my mother’s history and thereby, my own. I close my eyes, trying to imagine myself as a little girl sitting in one of these desks. I will myself to feel my roots in this little classroom, which smells like fish.
I stare into a young girl’s slanted, brown eyes. Her shoulder length hair matches her baggy Harry Potter T-shirt. Miniature, metallic train-tracks hug her teeth, jutting out so that her lips come together awkwardly, always slightly parted. She raises a thin finger and swipes a lock of black hair out of her eyes, scratches her nose. I keep staring at her until she shakes her head, no. No. No. Her eyes say to me: this is not my story. Look at me, she says, look at me. Do I look like one to you? Dude no way, I’m Asian. I shrug and turn away from the mirror and exit the bathroom, outrunning my own shadow. Baby sister is three now, a little doll of tofu with longan-seed eyes. With the same obsessive attentiveness with which I held her hand as she came into this world, I take care of her. I give her baths. I change her clothes. I hold out my index finger for her to wrap her little hand around and pull. Lately, while watching her sleep next to me and running my finger over her soft, pale nose, I have been thinking of how blessed I am, we are, my sisters and I. Four girls born as big babies into
modern hospitals, the two younger ones shuffled over to this two-story suburban house purchased with our father’s new money. Running my fingers through Baby’s deep black hair, I know that we will never know war or escape boats or displacement. Mine is the story only of a fighting heart, not of a fighting body like my parents’ tales of hunger in refugee camps. And it is not the story of both, like that of my grandfather, who, after enduring hunger, was never able to recreate his world, in which he had been a doctor and a soldier, who tried but could not learn the language of the country who had taken him in as penance for her wartime abandonment. I miss being a baby, full of wonder and hope, who knows only this love, right here, the love between us as we fall asleep together sharing blankets and blood, who is still beautiful and not yet complicit in the ugliness of consciousness. I am nine. I push the shopping cart down the cold aisle while Mom slowly lumbers behind me, hands on her belly. We stop by the shelves of Quaker rice cakes, and I grab several bags and lift them into the cart. It is the one snack she loves to eat. As we turn the corner, I chat with cartoon-like animation about school and
baby sisters. Mom listens, smiling. In a few years I will be able to learn a foreign language at school, and she wants me to take French, as she learned in Vietnam. I want to take Spanish.
I miss being a baby, full of wonder and hope, who knows only this love, right here, the love between us as we fall asleep together sharing blankets and blood, who is still beautiful and not yet complicit in the ugliness of consciousness. When we pay for the groceries, Mom lets me swipe her credit card. The cashier smiles at us the way people do when they see little girls and young mothers, especially when they look as alike as we do. As Mom climbs into the car, I unload the groceries and then get into the front seat. I pick up the maternity magazine I was reading on the drive to the grocery store and resume reading about the sixth month of pregnancy, absorbing the fullpage photograph of the fetus at this stage. When I found out Mom was going to have Baby, I was obsessed. I took it upon myself to guide my Mom’s pregnancy, researching baby formulas we had to use once she arrived, giving her tips I read in maga-
zines on how to cope with morning sickness, ignoring the fact that Mom had been through this three times before. I picked Baby’s name: Lindsey. Vietnamese name, Linh Thi. During the short drive home, I finish the section of the magazine. I do not notice the way the sunlight climbs through the window, the pink flowers drifting among bright green leaves which wrap around branches like Christmas lights. I am nine years old, going on ten, and do not know that in a few years I will arrive at that self-absorbed age when, instead of talking to my mother, I will try to avoid her gaze, leaning my head against the car window and taking refuge in the unspeakable beauty of the world. When we arrive home, I go to the trunk and start unloading the grocery bags, shouting up to my sisters to come down and help us. Mom comes around to the back and says my name. “Vy,” she says. “Yeah?” “You are the best daughter, so caring and bright. You’re my right hand girl!” Smiling, I wrap my arms around her swollen stomach.
In the fluorescent whiteness of the hospital room, I become. A mess of blood and placenta, a wailing set of little limbs tangled in a glistening, white cord bridging me to my source. Nervous scissors shakily snip the string that ties my soul to yours. Your hair is matted with sweat. Your legs are smeared with blood. Ghosts of tears mark your face. You smile. The nurse wipes me down, wraps me in a pink blanket, speaks to me in English the first words I have heard in this world. I am accounted for and named, three names, one inherited, two given, by your birthplace and mine. A tripartite homage to what you have loved. Once my arrival is recorded, I am placed in your arms, and through my swollen, rosy face, my uneven brown eyes quietly find yours, which are only mine, but bigger. I scan your small, flat nose, which is mine, but bigger. And your lips. And ears. And you whisper to me in your way, our way, mixing your three languages of English, Vietnamese, and that other language, that one, that godlanguage, that lovetongue, that thing that sometimes sounds like nothing. VYVY TRINH ‘11 misses San Jose’s endless supply of Vietnamese food.
VISIONS | Spring 2008
My Mother’s Face
While I was growing up, people always told me that I looked like my mother. I used to look at her face and see no truth in their words. My mom stands five foot flat and more than pleasantly plump with a no-fuss haircut that has been that way for as long as I can remem-
from the hot pain as she mixes and seasons the noodles, but those few minutes would ruin the dish. Her face is plain and unadorned, there being neither time nor priority to put on some lipstick or some eye cream at night. We just do not look alike.
Years of eating my leftovers, so as not to waste food, have kept her face round and her blood pressure high.
Tai Ho Shin ‘09 Digital Photograph
ber. Her eyes are always tired and I can hardly see any sort of a resemblance behind all the years’ worth of wrinkles. Years of eating my leftovers, so as not to waste food, have kept her face round and her blood pressure high. Her lips are always pursed in hard work, unless forming an o-shape to blow cool air on noodles just emerging from boiling water. A few minutes of waiting would save her hands
I found an old photograph one day, at least 40 years old, stuck between a stack of Kodak prints of beach trips and family picnics. It was printed on a small square of stiff photo paper with an old-fashioned white trim. Looking up at me was my face, except it was not me. It was my mother. Snapped unbeknownst to the subject, the photograph froze my thirteenyear-old mother in time as she walked through
I see my mother who has sacrificed her life and her dreams for me. I see my mother who stays up late into the night, working to make my life a little better. make the entire house smell of country and long-ago. I do not see the eyes, the smile, the face that looks up at me in the photograph. I see my mother who has sacrificed her life and her dreams for me. I see my mother who stays up late into the night, working to make my life a little better. I see my mother who has given
up everything for me. My mother gave me her face, and with it, her seeing, her excitement, her jokes, her laughter, her happiness. My mother gave me her face, and now that face is mine. YEPPII LEE ’11 is always sleepy and dreaming of Mexico.
Natural Light Joshua Tropp (Grad) Digital Photograph
a marketplace in Seoul, Korea. Her eyes, her smile, her face; they were mine. The eyes were filled with seeing and excitement. The smile was filled with clever jokes and loud laughter. The face was smooth and wrinkle-free, happy and worry-free. What happened to that face? Where is that face now? My mother is standing in the kitchen, eyes wrinkled and lips pursed as hot steam escapes from a boiling vat of dried vegetables that
VISIONS | Spring 2008
We were building sandcastles on the beach— the murky beach where I’d grown up scuffing for shells in the prickly sand, and finding rotting driftwood and seaweed instead. I think I was twelve. Standing cautiously on the cusp of puberty. That was the day I decided to bury myself. I told my mother I was going to look for seashells somewhere else; she trusted me, like she always had. I was the trustable one; the one you could depend on to remember what groceries to buy, to empty the trash, to finish her homework. So I left my trail of footprints along the fringe of the tide. My feet sank into the sand: my toes felt comfortable, snug in this cocoon of water and land. It was sunset and I had dug a hole just enough to slide into. I imagined I was an eel somewhere in the depths of the ocean, diving back into sleep and safety.
So I slept. I felt them scouring the beach above me, their gentle weight on my hidden shell in the sand. I felt their salty tears mingle with seawater—they tasted different; tears tasted more alive, tears tasted sadder. And then I felt them leave, and I felt the years cascade over me as my hair grew long, growing like roots throughout the sand. I moved from angles to curves so that my body fit even more snugly against the outline of the beach. I did not want to wake up. But I did. Sand had crusted around my eyes and I scraped it away as I sat up. The sunset looked different, until I realized that it was a sunrise. My clothes had shrunk on me and I smelled like fish. I was sopping wet, and I didn’t know how to get home. So I walked and walked, I walked through curious eyes and turning heads, until I saw a poster on a streetlamp that looked familiar. It was comforting to know that I could still read. The poster was ragged and old, and peeling away. I read M-I-S-S-I-N-G G-I-R-L.
I felt the years cascade over me as my hair grew long, growing like roots throughout the sand...
The girl in the grainy photograph, she was young and smiling, and she had short hair. Like an elf. Or a pixie. I tore the poster from its perch and looked at my reflection in a puddle of water. I looked nothing like her. I looked like an awkward teenage mermaid, fresh from the sea, with a new pair of wobbly legs. CORRIE TAN ‘10 is the thing with feathers.
Tai Ho Shin ‘09 Digital Photograph
VISIONS | Spring 2008
Brian Lee ‘06 Animation Screencap
you were always earthbound in your walk. feet pointed outwards, perpetually trying to escape each other. as if being flat-footed made you closer to the ground. toeing each step, testing the quality planting the balls of each foot firmly into the ground then rocking gently to your heels. at Nordstrom all the shoes were too big; chinese men have practical feet small nimble like their dreams. you settled for faux leather polyester from Payless hoping no one would look down. there was something visceral about each footfall as if the ground could split apart again as it did on a warm, dry morning thirteen years ago and the only traces are in the steel-frame collapsible bookshelves and the caution of your step.
grounded, the seas were too shifty and the sky too light. concentrating on the earth walking quickly as if you knew the destination. your feet fleeing with each stride reigned in only by the reminder of knees. I saw you fall in between the cracks of a sidewalk this morning. in slow motion you twisted sideways shoulder meeting the concrete the dull thud promising tomorrow’s bruise -
collapsed every bit of your body scrambled towards the earth except your feet. in the trajectory of the fall they scrambled in the air lost for a moment.
JEANINE CHIU ‘10 sprains her ankle repeatedly.
Li Jun Pek
I guess you are asleep by now. The time you wake, nothing will be left; my rage reduces this poor old house to malnourished fragility in a moment, so hot it singes a radius of innocents, so blinding even I cringe from afar.
Promise Janice Kim ‘09 Digital Photograph
I want it to stop, but even weak we are a threat, apply the mindset of all great dictators: only annihilationbrings real security. Burning through the night till all is calm again, peace arrives gently, lightly, ashes drifting. And when you awake, finally, you will not recognize that soot-blackened as what was yours, only loss incomprehensible, a love disapparated.
LI JUN PEK ‘10 is preserving roses.
VISIONS | Spring 2008
Can. You. Speak. English?
One morning, surrounded by a throng of yelling, laughing kids, I trotted over to the monkey bars in my puffy, purple jacket, the color of a lavender Sweetheart candy. I was wearing a pair of black, velour pants my aunt had sewn for me and holding a dirt-stained My Little Pony toy. Running towards the sandbox, my cheek-length black hair swishing from side-to-side, my path was suddenly overshadowed a few feet short of the beckoning sand. Squinting into the morning sunlight, I made out the shape of someone who must have been four times my height. He had wavy red-brown hair and was holding a blue rubber ball in his hands. “Look at her Asian eyes!” the boy snickered to his group of friends. “Asian eyes! Asian eyes! ASIAN EYES!” they chanted, slanting up the corners of their eyes with their grubby fingers. Unsure of what to do, I lowered my eyes and stood there awkwardly, wondering if I should respond. What did he mean by “Asian eyes”? Everyone had always told my mother that I had large, beautiful eyes. Unlike the insincere praising of my non-existent piano skills or my failed attempts at ballet and ice-skating, I understood that my mother’s friends genuinely admired my eyes. Peering up at the sneer on the fifth-grader’s
face, I wanted to say something back. Yeah? Well you’re fat and have oily hair!, I wanted to say. But I, a mere and lowly first-grader, just stood there. He stood perfectly still and looked at me. His friends, forming a semi-circle around me, kept shifting around, looking to their leader for a signal. Unable to stand the intense glare any longer, I whipped around and ran across the blacktop towards the building. I collapsed onto the ground underneath the awning, hot tears trickling out of the slits of my “Asian eyes” and down my cheeks. I sat there until the bell rang and everyone stumbled inside — until the playground became a silent expanse of black sea. At age six, I did not understand that I was different from everyone else. My classmates had picked on me like any other kid. Sometimes it was because of the dresses my mom insisted I wear everyday, or because of the ugly red, blue, yellow, and green lunchbox I brought to school. But that day, I was picked on because I was Asian. I was ostracized because of my ethnicity. I never thought my black hair and dark brown eyes separated me from my schoolmates. To me, everyone was just a kid. We all went to class, learned phonics and cursive, and ate antson-a-log during snack time. We all slept on our towels together in the middle of the day, and
we all played tetherball during recess. I did not separate myself from everyone; why did they separate themselves from me? In fifth grade, I moved to Hawaii and attended Mililani Uka Elementary School, a public school on the island of Oahu. Everywhere I looked, I saw black hair, yellow skin. I was just another dark-haired girl amongst many
I collapsed onto the ground underneath the awning, hot tears trickling out of the slits of my “Asian eyes” and down my cheeks. other Asian-Americans, Hapas, and Hawaiians. One day, when I learned about the difference between prime and composite numbers, I was called out of class by the vice principal. “Ooooooo you’re in trou-bleeee!” Ian, a plump classmate of mine with a buzz cut, said. “Melanie’s in trou-bleeeee,” the class echoed. I stumbled out of the classroom and trekked over to the office. What could I have done wrong? Maybe it was because I made a mess eating breakfast this morning. I left the ketchup bottle open in the cafeteria after using it on my scrambled eggs! Opening the office door, I won-
dered if my life as I knew it — as a well-behaved teacher’s pet — would suddenly end. “Come in, come in Melanie. I’m Mrs. Nishimoto, one of the ESL teachers here,” the woman said. “I have to administer a test to you. It shouldn’t take too long; I just need to evaluate your English-speaking skills.” I sat in Mrs. Nishimoto’s office for the next two hours. We were seated at a small table; she was directly across from me, analyzing my face and the way my lips moved as I enunciated the words. She made me listen to a recording saying that a waiter was serving drinks, and I had to identify the correct image of him doing so. The other three options were of him opening a door, dancing with a woman, and shopping at a supermarket. Was I a toddler again? I was asked to pronounce everyday terms and words that I have known since the day I started talking. The whole time, I sat there, listlessly staring at the black and white pages, obediently answering questions geared for a kindergartener. At the end of the two hours, Mrs. Nishimoto said, “Melanie, you did well! Now I can officially write on your transcript that you are fluent in English, and that you will not need to be taken out of class for special ESL lessons. Congratulations!”
I looked at her. I never thought I would need someone to confirm that I could speak English. English was my language. I knew it so much better than my “first language,” Cantonese, and so much better than the measly amount of Mandarin I learned on Saturdays at Chinese School. Yet when Mrs. Nishimoto smiled at me,
How could the color of my skin automatically categorize me as a foreigner? she thought she had just told me the best news of my life. Even though Mrs. Nishimoto was a Japanese-American herself, she still prevented me from identifying myself as one-hundredpercent American. Although I was now officially an “English speaker,” her need to administer the ESL test to me implied that I was not a native speaker, that I was first and foremost, Chinese rather than American. According to Mrs. Nishimoto, my fifth grade transcript verified that I was fluent in English. It was official. My language was declared on paper. But, three years later, I stepped into the guidance office of Rye Middle School, and was asked, “CAN. YOU. SP-E-E-AK. ENG-LISH?” Those were the first words that my eighth
grade guidance counselor, Mrs. Farewell, said to me. I sat inside her office with my mother, wondering if I had heard her question correctly. That summer, I had just moved from Hawaii to Rye, New York, a small, upper-class and predominantly white community in Westchester County. “Can I see your passport? Or your birth certificate—something we can use to document that you are indeed an American citizen?” I felt my mom sit up straight in her chair. As we sat there in silence, the scratchy wool on the chair began to rub into the backs of my thighs. The room, decorated with diplomas and inspirational quotes, became even more cluttered with my confusion. Why did she assume that I could not speak English? Hadn’t she seen my fifth grade transcript?!?! Before I could even process her questions, she was already halfway into the next part of the interrogation, “Have you ever lived in the United States?” Again, I was speechless. I was born in Michigan and had lived in California and Hawaii before moving to New York. How could the color of my skin automatically categorize me as a foreigner? I had only been to Hong Kong once and had no recollection of anything we did! My mother’s face was red and her glasses al-
VISIONS | Spring 2008
most seemed to be steaming up. She clenched the pen in her hand as if she were wringing Mrs. Farewell’s neck. My mom, always asserting her power, demanded to speak to the principal immediately. When Principal Edwards finally arrived, I was told to leave the office while the adults “discussed” the situation. Sitting on the chair outside the door, I could hear the sharp anger in my mom’s voice. “I am a school psychologist. Don’t you think I would know if my own child was unable to speak English? Just because my daughter has black hair, doesn’t mean that she is a foreigner, that she can’t speak English!” My mother refused to hand over a copy of my passport. “It was a matter of principle,” she said. Leaving the office that day, I thought that my mom had solved everything. I thought that once school started the next week, I would be able to blend seamlessly into the crowd of eighth graders. I would have a big group of friends and we could go to the mall and shop at stores like Abercrombie and Fitch and J. Crew. I would spend my lunch period gossiping with my friends about boys. But on that first day of school, I was asked by almost everyone who met me, “Can you speak English?” When I had recovered from my shock and answered, “Yes of course!” I was met by a look of surprise. Mr. Yedowitz, my health teacher, was completely taken aback and didn’t know what to say in response. He was shocked that he would not have to slowly enun-
ciate the syllables of the giggle-inspiring terms such as “menstrual cycle” or “urethra.” My English teacher, Mrs. Pullis, handed me a copy of A Midsummer’s Night Dream and quietly pulled me aside after class, telling me that if I needed extra help understanding the English, I should just let her know. In the spring of that school year, my classmates and I were standing in a huge group, waiting to be chosen for flag football teams. Brandon Fell pointed to me and whispered to Peter Reid, “What about her? She’s usually a good runner.” Peter shook his head, “Dude, come on! She can’t speak English. It’d be impossible.” I stood perfectly still. But I wanted
“CAN. YOU. SP-E-E-AK. ENG-LISH?” Those were the first words that my eighth grade guidance counselor, Mrs. Farewell, said to me. to run up to them, look them in the eyes, and say, “I was born in America.” I wanted to remind them that I got better grades than they did in English class. But I just stood there. After one year in Rye Middle School, I was still shocked at what people thought of me based on my hair and skin color. Mrs. Farewell assumed that because I was Asian, I needed to prove my American citizenship to her. Looking back, in the context of the
situation, I suppose the administrators’ and my classmates’ behavior is understandable considering the fact that many of the Asians in Rye are Japanese immigrants who indeed do not know how to speak English. Rye was accustomed to seeing and meeting a different type of Asian. However, one must realize that ethnicity and race do not define a person. Just because I was an Asian in Rye, it didn’t mean that I was Japanese and unable to speak English. The harsh reality of the situation was that it is impossible for me to separate myself from my Asian eyes and black hair, physical characteristics that automatically proclaimed my Asian-ness. It is impossible to just be American. Others will always identify me as Asian and form prejudices based on my ethnicity. I should have realized from the very beginning, from that day in first grade at Faith Community Christian School, that I would always be the Asian girl with the slit-eyes who did not know how to speak English. No matter how I excel in school, or how well I integrate myself into the community, I cannot escape the stereotypes that are associated with my outer appearance. I cannot simply be American.
MELANIE CHOW ‘11 spends her free time making nicknames out of alphabet soup.
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus—and he was Korean! No, I do not know what a One-Hundred-PercentMega-Ray-Destruction-Blaster is, but I’m sure I can get you one if you’ve been a good boy. And yes, this is foam padding. Er, I mean, this is the result of all the delicious pies and cakes Mrs. Claus makes for me, keeps me jolly, har har. I mean, ho ho. My cholesterol? Well, of course Mrs. Claus is concerned about it, but my levels are fine. Oh, I don’t know, I had it tested, she cooks with margarine and olive oil. Yes, they have doctors and labs up at the North Pole—hey, what are you, some kind of wise guy? ...oh, sh—. I mean, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you cry...here, have a candy cane. Yes, this twelve-inch snow-white beard is mine— please don’t pull it. I said, please don’t pull it. What are you, some kind of wise guy? You pull it one more time, no presents for you until you’re twenty! ...oh, sh—. ..it’s the most wonderful time of the year..., hums DaraLynn, my coworker, a real smarty-pants as she watches me try to untangle a candy cane that was licked to a wicked point, then thrust spitefully and deliberately deep into my beard. Saliva and sugar must be what’s in Krazy Glue; now the cane’s like Excalibur stuck in stone. I might have to cut it out of my beard, but I don’t want to. It’ll look weird, and I have standards. At least I haven’t been punched or spat on yet this season—but that will come, just wait, I tell DaraLynn. She is dressed in her green elf costume. She loves it— she says she hasn’t worn tights since ballet lessons when she was seven. She hasn’t seen seven in a long time, let me say, but she’s a sweetheart. She’s a “regu-
lar” (women’s sportswear fitting room) while I’m only a seasonal worker, and that suits us both fine. I’m here every December first to the twenty-fourth like clockwork. Otherwise, Christmas would hardly register on my calendar—I’m not even Christian for Pete’s sake; I was raised Buddhist and sometimes accompany my parents to the temple on One-HundredSecond Street. But I look forward to the Christmas season in my own masochistic way because I make some quick extra money as one of fifty Santa Clauses at Macy’s. It’s not as easy as you might think, either. You have to go to Santa Claus University (SCU). Every year in October, hordes of people who want to be St. Nick flood into Macy’s, and they use the school as a boot camp to weed out the inadequates. At SCU, they teach you things like comportment, how to perfect the deep belly laugh, sincerity and so forth. Only the best and the brightest can serve. And no chicks, something that DaraLynn has been complaining about for some time. The secret to my success and longevity as Santa has actually been my consistency, more than my belly laugh or improvisational repartee. In my three years of employment, I’ve never missed a day, never called in sick, never come in smelling of alcohol or cigarettes, which is a lot more than you can say about some of the other Santas, even the summa cum laude graduates of SCU. Yes, this costume is hot and smelly. Why do you want to know? Now I’m talking to Curt, a member of the Sales Associate Program (quite aptly, DaraLynn
and I refer to them as SAPs). He wears a suit and is a recent graduate of Colgate or Penn or something
The secret to my success and longevity as Santa has actually been my consistency, more than my belly laugh or improvisational repartee. In my three years of employment, I’ve never missed a day, never called in sick, never come in smelling of alcohol or cigarettes, which is a lot more than you can say about some of the other Santas, even the summa cum laude graduates of SCU. and he thinks he’s better than we are. In fact, some of the SAPs, including Curt, as they rotate from department to department to see how hawking lingerie is different than hawking Father’s Day golf tchotchkes, act as if they’re expecting to inherit the store from W.H. Macy himself. But it’s not like they’re associates at an investment bank—to get in the sales training program, you don’t even have to go to college, you just have to prove that you’ve got vital signs. How did you get into this Santa thing? Curt asks. I toss my head, do my best Marlene Dietrich—I like old movies. I think I have a talent for it, I tell him, in Dietrich’s smoke-burred voice, laying on the sarcasm extra thick, like a white cream cheese schmear on a pumpernickel bagel. In Korean, we say people like him have no nunchi, no sense of the others’ emotional states. In other words, he’s dense, a social re-
VISIONS | Spring 2008
tard. He’d make a terrible Santa. The whole Santa thing started as a dare. My friend Manuel and I were at Macy’s killing time waiting for the Knicks game at the Garden, and we were noting that we had seen several black Santas and a Latino Santa, but we had yet to see an Asian Santa. Manuel claimed there was something genetically lacking in the Asian blood, maybe an inability to say ho-ho-ho convincingly, he suggested. I went to SCU to prove him wrong. I was surprised at how much it paid. And that only the few, the chosen, were allowed to don the cotton-batting-trimmed red velveteen hat, gird themselves with the shiny-wide black belt, paint their cheeks with MaxFactor Deepest Rose blush without their sexuality being questioned. That really got my competitive juices going. I don’t know what’s going to happen next year, though. I’ll probably be working somewhere, and I won’t have time for this Santa gig. I heard you went to Bronx Science, Curt says. He has that kind of smirk that makes you want to kick it in, like a door. I shrug. I wear an old Science T-shirt under my Santa suit to soak up the sweat. So why the Santa thing, why aren’t you working on your Westinghouse project or something? I’m wondering how well a necktie would work as a noose. Probably pretty well. Also, it has the advantage of already being around his neck. Why are you making all these ridiculous assumptions about me? You’re assuming be-
cause I’m Asian and I went to Science that I’m a Westinghouse nerd? Besides, it’s called the Intel Science Contest now. Why get so defensive, kiddo? I’m just asking. Why ask? There’s a Korean saying, ‘a closed mouth cannot have a foot stuck in it.’ Curt turns around and leaves. The Special In-Store Events rotation only lasts three days, anyways. He doesn’t need to worry about how he treats me. You showed him, says DaraLynn, admiringly. For the last two years, I only knew my elfhelper as Carrie. She kept things in order, but she never talked to me. I guess she got pregnant and moved to Yonkers. I like DaraLynn DeGrazia much better. She’s from Jersey, which she pronounces “Joisey,” with no sense of self-parody. She teases her hair into these view-obstructing three-foot rat’s nests (“I need a little height to offset my figure”). She favors high heels and stretch pants (she wears her ample “foam padding” like a mink coat, or a coat of armor) and when she bends over to replenish my supply of candy canes, she is exactly light-bulb-shaped. It’s my father’s dream, by the way, to move to Jersey, to Palisades Park, the suburb where all the Koreans live. That Jersey, Korean-people Jersey is far away from Bayonne, Joisey, where DaraLynn is from. But for Appa, the move’s not going to happen unless his little video ka-gae starts doing a lot better. Part of his trouble is, I think, that he hasn’t made up his mind what
kind of videos he carries, and his store’s name, Lee’s Video, tells you nothing except what our last name is. His store is wedged in between Arirang Grocery and the Han-Mi bookstore, and it’s barely wider than a doorway. The dusty shelves contain an odd assortment of Korean videos—”granny” soap operas, nature programs, dynastic dramas, sumo wrestling—stuff taped off the TV and sent to him by his cousin who lives in Seoul. Since he doesn’t speak English too well, he doesn’t know American movies except for the famous old ones he’d seen in Korea (Dietrich! Hepburn! Bogart!). He doesn’t carry any Jim Carrey movies, or even Disney. I would give him suggestions, but in Korean culture, kids are never supposed to question what their parents do. I’m thinking of changing the store’s name to ‘Empire Video.’ That has a nice sound, don’t you think? Appa says to Umma. Umma is covered with bits of hair—blond, black, chestnut. She’s recently started working at her friend’s wig factory. Korean wives aren’t supposed to question their husbands, either, but since she handles the bills, her going to work means something that Appa tries to ignore. Yes, Empire Video, that has a very nice sound to it, very prestigious, she says. She told me that her friend who owns the wig factory goes to Korea twice a year, haunting the mi-yong-sils, asking women getting their hair cut if they would consider getting a fashionable short cut and selling their hair to her. Hell, if I had the right kind of hair (like lots of men’s hair, it grows straight up, a bristle-broom
texture that Umma says would disqualify me) I would grow it long and sell it for a living. Yes, it does sound very prestigious, doesn’t it? says Appa like usual, getting excited over the wrong things. Changing the name of his video ka-gae is not going to change his fortunes. Half the stores and restaurants on that street have “Empire” in the name. That’s the whole reason Thirty-Second Street became a solid block of Korean businesses—everyone wanted the pres-
tige of being in the shadow of the Empire State Building. What do you think, Bo-Ryung? Appa, asking me? It sounds fine, Appa, I say. Then I think, now’s my chance. You might want to decide, though, whether you’re going to expand your Korean video selection—’cause you know HanMi Bookstore also rents out Korean videos—or maybe get some more recent American movies, which they don’t have. Are you saying you don’t think your father knows how to run a business? No, Appa, I didn’t say that. The Bijoux Theater was famous! he said, his voice rising. The Pi-Ju Theater, Appa’s brainchild, was the only theater to show Western movies in Pusan. Koreans love—no, they crave—Western movies. That’s how Appa made enough money to bring us to America when I was eight. You are running your business just fine, I say, as Umma retires to take a shower. She says the little pieces of hair make her itch like crazy. Somebody sits their kid with an obviously full diaper on my knee—it practically makes a squishing sound. When the screeching baby is picked up again, there’s a dark stain in the shape of a bat, on my thigh. Oh dear, says the mother—she’s a rich lady, too. Wearing more diamond rings on her fingers than Liberace. The nanny must have forgotten to change Belinda’s diapers. I’m rolling my eyes, but she probably can’t
see because of my fuzzy fake eyebrows and also because she’s busy cooing, “Oh my wittle Bewinda’s got some ooey-pooey yucky-wucky diapees!” Then she slaps a fifty-dollar-bill into my palm and walks off, telling me to get the suit dry cleaned. I wash the stain off in the men’s room with a little industrial strawberry-scented soap from the dispenser. What’s a little baby crap? I’m thinking. Hey, Santa—one of the reindeer do that to you? says not one, but two wise guys as I bend over the sink. I don’t care. Fifty bucks! Mucha lana, lots ‘o moolah, as Manuel would say. I feel I need to share my good fortune with someone. I find DaraLynn in the Employee Break Room and tell her I’ll take her out to dinner. I’d love to, she sighs. But I’m working the late shift—time-and-and-half was too good to pass up. Also, Slug’s bringing Gian in today to see Santa—I was hoping you could stay a few extra minutes and meet him, do your adorable Santa thing. Gian is her kid. Slug is her husband. Soonto-be-ex. DaraLynn refers to him as the Italian Scallion when she’s feeling cheeky. They’ve been together since they were sixteen, married almost ten years, although the wedding marked the exact point when things started to go downhill, DaraLynn has told me. Sure, of course, I say, a little disappointed— I’m in the mood for celebration. Hey, how about if I bring in some Burger King?
New York in Tokyo Janice Kim ‘09 Digital Photograph
VISIONS | Spring 2008
When I come back, DaraLynn is arguing with someone. It’s Slug, I assume. He doesn’t look the way I expected him to. From what’s she’s told me about him (that she’s not the only one who calls him Slug—his mother does, too; he flunked out of high school, he loves Mama DeGrazia’s homemade spaghetti sauce so much he has been known to eat five overflowing bowls of pasta in a sitting, his job is driving a truck for a local Snapple distributor) I expected him to be huge, dark, and hairy. Maybe with big, gold chains and shiny shirts like the guys in Married to the
Mob (hm, maybe to be added to Appa’s collection?) or The Godfather (definitely, a classic). But instead, I see a small, bookish-looking guy, chicken-framed like Yours Truly. He’s clean-shaven (no five o’ clock shadow even, and it’s six ‘o clock), Clark-Kent type glasses. He’s wearing a neatly pressed, blue jumpsuit that says SNAPPLE on the back, work boots. In the front, in spidery embroidery letters, there’s a patch sewn onto his uniform that says GIANNI. He’s with a cute-looking boy, maybe four years old, who has been kicking at my
shins—hard—about since I walked in. DaraLynn has noticed I’ve returned with the food. Slug doesn’t. He looks pissed. Hi, I say. I don’t know what else to do. So could you scram for like twenty minutes? DaraLynn says to Slug. It’s my dinner break. We’ll discuss this later. Slug mutters something and pushes past me, carrying the kid under his arm like he’s a case of Snapple. Mary Mother of Jesus, DaraLynn wheezes.
Homeland Security Diane Yee (Faculty) Digital Photograph
DaraLynn’s eyes light up. Bo, that would be great. But be back by seven—that’s when my bambino and my future-ex are coming in, although I’m still not sure if he knows how to tell time—Slug, that is. Roger. There’s a Burger King across the street from Penn Station. Since I just have to get dressed up again for Gian—the Santa costume has almost as many layers as a kimonolike Korean han-bok—I figure I’ll just race over there. As I walk down Seventh Avenue, I notice everyone smiling at me. I know I’m a handsome devil, but I think they are smiling at Santa. I try out a few ho-ho-hos and someone shoves a dollar bill in my hand. A guy could get used to this. At the Burger King, people let me cut to the front of the line. Thank you. Ho ho ho. Merry Christmas! Two double-cheeseburgers, fries, and Cokes, please.
What was I thinking when I married him? I clear off some detritus from the counter. An employee manual from 1983, a Cosmopolitan magazine, some brochures for the Herbalife Weightloss Program, a plastic salad-bar container smeared with vinaigrette. Then I put down some paper towels and carefully lay the spread on top, line up the plastic forks and packets of condiments, fold the napkins into clever origami shapes. Oh, a picnic. DaraLynn’s eyes light up. No one is better at enjoying food than Koreans, but Italians probably follow as a close second. For Koreans, the more you enjoy your food—a bowl of soupy noodles, a juicy peach— the more noise you’re supposed to make. DaraLynn DeGrazia (soon to be back to Esposito) makes no pretense of being a dainty, coy eater. She takes huge, devouring bites out of the burger, laps up the cheese that swings out like a suspension bridge in a hurricane. She smacks her lips when eating the french fries, which she’s doused in salt and ketchup. Oh, I almost forgot, she says. She pulls out a little bottle of Tabasco from her purse. I never go anywhere without it, she says, taking the lid off her burger and sprinkling it on. Want some? Koreans also love spicy food. You can’t be Korean and not like spicy food. Plain and simple: you’d starve to death while trying to find some dish that isn’t flaming-hot-picante-spicy. I spice up my fries, my burger. What a great idea, the Tabasco, I’m thinking. If only men could carry
purses, I would do that, too. So Curt says you went to some fancy high school up in the Bronx, DaraLynn says. He says you’re too smart to be doing this Santa stuff, hanging out with fitting-room attendants like me. I roll my eyes. It’s a public high school, I say, which is true. You do have to take a test to get in, but big deal. Being a Santa takes more skill than Curt’s willing to admit, I say. And what’s the shame of being a fitting-room attendant? DaraLynn scoops up the last of her fries. She bends them in half so they’ll fit into her mouth. If something opens up on the floor, I’ll definitely take it, she says. I think I’m getting varicose veins from sitting all day.
I don’t tell her that my sister Han-Nah is already going to Barnard. Or that my Umma’s hands are turning into crab-claws from sewing and braiding human hair all day so she can send her there. I don’t know what I’m going to do, I tell her. College isn’t for everybody.
There you are. But I kind of wish I’d gone to college. I was thinking of Montclair State. But Slug didn’t want me to go, and we wanted to have kids right away. If I had known it would take Gian so long to get here, I would have gone, no matter how much Slug screamed, definitely. It’s not too late. She sighed. With what money? And I’m going to be a single mother, real soon. I know you could do it, if you wanted to. Well, you’re going to college, aren’t you? My sister, she just moved to Demarest and she said the Oriental kids are just throwing off the curves, they get such good grades. And even the little kids, they run around wearing Harvard and Yale T-shirts—I can’t imagine.
Okay little boy, I say to a scowling Gian on my knee, as Slug looks on, a little sadly. He is in one corner of the fenced-off place where Santa sits, DaraLynn in the other, like Tyson and Holyfield. What’s your name little boy? Gian pulls my beard, hard, so that the bungee-like strap holding it to my head stretches until I can see my foam-rubber belly through the yawning gap between the beard and my face. He lets it go with a snap, and it hits me stingingly on the chin. Yooow-cch, I can’t help screeching. Er, well. So what would you like for Christmas? Shut up! I dig into a box under my chair and fish a candy cane out for him—an extra-large one from a secret stash. He wastes no time unwrap-
DaraLynn checks her watch. They’ll be back soon, she says. Thanks for doing this. I know Gian has been looking forward to seeing Santa for weeks. I’ll do my best. I wipe off my mouth so I won’t get ketchup on my beard when I put it back on. Hm, Cannibal Santa, there’s an idea, I can’t help thinking.
VISIONS | Spring 2008
ping it and poking it into my eye. Bo! Are you alright? Fine, I’m fine. Tears are running down the left side of my face, ruining the blush. I hate you! He’s getting tired, Slug says. Dara, this was a stupid idea to bring him. He’s getting tired of you, DaraLynn corrects. I try one more time, giving little Gian a horsey-ride on my leg, which isn’t particularly Christmas-y, so I sing “Jingle Bells,” which he seems to like, because he smiles. There’s a good boy, I say, relieved. Santa will make sure you get lots of presents this year. Slug comes over and lifts Gian off my leg. I’m quite warm from the exertion and I look at what looks like a sweat stain on my leg, but one sniff tells me it’s what we, in Korean, call sshoosshoo. Slug looks at my leg. Oh, sh—. No, it’s sshoo-sshoo, I tell him. What are you, some kind of wise guy? he says, turning my own line against me. Now I gotta clean him up or he’s gonna ruin the truck. I can let you use the employee men’s room, DaraLynn says generously. She gives Gian a kiss. Now, what’s up with that, Gian honey? she says. I’m sorry, she says to me, in the Break Room. Gian’s never done that before. No problem, I say. Once, a kid barfed Sloppy Joe onto me. I’ve seen a lot worse. I don’t tell her that a baby already did an ooey-pooey on me already today. Well, let me at least wash out your pants.
Baby pee is ninety-percent water, anyway. That’s okay. I insist. DaraLynn keeps insisting, and soon she’s rinsing out the pants in the employee sink (I hope she’s right about the ninety-percent water thing) while I put on my T-shirt and jeans. Slug comes in with Gian to tell DaraLynn they’re leaving. Gian doesn’t seem to recognize me without all my Santa stuff on, but he gives me a parting kick in the shins, anyway. Slug stares at me. Whatsamatta, I want to say. You’ve never seen a curve-busting, Westinghouse science project Asian Santa before? Ah, good as new, DaraLynn declares triumphantly, holding up my Santa pants, which now have a dark stain shaped like Africa running from the thigh to the shin. You guys look like you’re a married couple in some weird sitcom, Slug mutters darkly, before he turns around and shows us the SNAPPLE on his back. I tell DaraLynn I’m going. Oh, to be eighteen and carefree again, DaraLynn sighs. You know, on our first date, Slug took me skating at Rockefeller Center. I thought he was so sophisticated. I’m seventeen, though, I correct her. Skipped a grade. I’m going to be eighteen in February. Oh, old enough to vote. And to drink, she teases. It’s ten o’clock, store closing time. I’ve spent
the last hour looking for a gift for Umma (I’m sure even Buddhists might enjoy receiving Christmas gifts), and I spend the last of my fifty bucks on a soft sweater that’s teal, her favorite color. I make sure I also get my employee discount, yet another advantage of being Santa at Macy’s. I go up to the Break Room to get my bag, which I’ve left stashed in a corner. You’re still here? DaraLynn is putting stuff away in her locker. Regulars get lockers. I was getting a present for my mom. Oh, aren’t you sweet? And thank you again for being so good with Gian. He can be a handful—but I don’t blame him. He knows something’s up with mummy and daddy and I think he’s scared. I’d be scared, too. DaraLynn gives her head a shake to refresh her hairdo. It’s maybe two-feet, not three, now. She’s changed into some tiger-print pants that don’t try to hide her light-bulb-shape. Well, it’s getting late, she says. I’m sure you go to bed early. I know she means well, but this comment annoys me. The fact that I do go to bed early does nothing to mitigate this. DaraLynn’s lips are smeared with the red dye from the candy canes—obviously she’s found her way into my secret stash—and I know how they’re going to taste: pepperminty. White, bright, clean. Some old Hepburn-and-Tracy or Bogeyand-Bacall movie comes to mind as I go over
to her, tip her chin up with my hand, and start kissing her. She looks like she thinks I’ve gone crazy, or like she’s going to laugh. But then she moves in closer, and I can feel her warm padding, the one that’s real, that she wears so gloriously. As we kiss, a jumble of images twirls, kaleidoscope-crazy, in my head. Gian’s unsmiling little-kid face. My father sitting morosely behind the counter at the video ka-gae. Umma covered in her prickly fur of human hair. Then I see DaraLynn going to college. And me sitting in the audience at her graduation. Holding Gian. Slug is passing out Snapples to everyone. Maybe the Sales Associate Program isn’t such a bad idea, I’m suddenly thinking. Maybe they’ll still let me play Santa Claus in December.
No one is better at enjoying food than Koreans, but Italians probably follow as a close second. For Koreans, the more you enjoy your food—a bowl of soupy noodles, a juicy peach—the more noise you’re supposed to make. DaraLynn DeGrazia (soon to be back to Esposito) makes no pretense of being a dainty, coy eater. Brian Lee ‘06 Animation Screencap
MARIE LEE ‘99 teaches ET 30, “Ethnic Writing,” and is the author of the novel, Somebody’s Daughter. Her essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Newsweek. She is a founder of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and is a Brown alum.
VISIONS | Spring 2008
Hee Kyung Chung
There has never been anything like silence that represented a cultural paradox to me. Family interactions, for example, were very often characterized by silence. Silence was considered a virtue most of the time, but when my mom got angry at my sister or me, the first hint would often show through her lack of words and facial expressions; there was none of that “using ‘I’ statements” or “expressing your feelings.” When my (normally so affectionate) mom would stop teasing us and making her silly jokes, my younger sister and I would know that we, too,
should stop our own words and respond in silence because that was the respectful way to acknowledge her anger. It’s so true, and maybe I’m stealing this discovery from the deconstructionists, but when you think about it, there is really no such thing as “opposites.” People say that love and hate are two sides of the same coin. For me, the density of silence has always been what screams out the loudness of emotional intensity within. • «I was hunched over the table, which was a
Chainaya loshka Mana Tang ‘10 Digital Photograph
little too low considering that the stools were set ridiculously high. With a pencil clasped in my hand, I was brainstorming ideas for my next art project. Sunlight was pouring through the fancy, newly renovated ceiling windows; there were mirrors by the slanted windows so that you could see the clouds floating by no matter which part of the art classroom you were sitting in. The room was awfully quiet except for some ‘70s pop songs slowly flowing from Mr. White’s Mac in the far end of the room. The windows above were open, but it was so tranquil outside that you could almost hear the clouds drifting through the sky. This was the new country I was to become used to (“Welcome to the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. We wish you a pleasant journey…”������������������������������ )����������������������������� , a country of painfully boring silence drifting through the sunlight and the woods. Behind me were two students sitting at another table, occasionally exchanging toneddown dialogues but otherwise silent, focused on their sculptures. Matt was a short guy who always wore baggy jeans and had grown out his brownish hair a little. He had kind eyes. I had only seen him a few times, as I had everyone at the school. So where are you from? he asked. I mumbled something too quickly, too shyly. Conversation terminated. Awkward silence took us over. He went back to his seat to see what Sigrid was up to and how her sculpture project was going. Conversation seemed so much easier between the two—it flowed, because Sigrid was that kind of a girl. They were silent for a moment again, and then Matthew muttered something to her, like
People say that love and hate are two sides of the same coin. For me, the density of silence has always been what screams out the loudness of emotional intensity within.
a whisper, that broke my silence. Man, those Asian girls are always so shy. Sigrid laughed curtly, tossing back her dirty blonde hair. » • I sometimes like looking back at my diary, my journal entries, my scattered pieces of poetry and creative non-fiction written in moments of anger, restlessness or meditative calmness. These are the moments when I love analyzing myself and my life, and I don’t know why, but the process always give��������������������� s�������������������� me a (somewhat nar���� cissistic) feeling of gratification. But sometimes, I just don’t know what to think of myself in the present. I also wonder if I’ve lost the sensitivity that I used to have to the eloquence of words, to the wave of flowing words of literature and life and philosophy and thoughts. • «To be shy. To be intimidated. An intimidated shyness. Shy intimidation? Asian shyness. Uncomfortable. Uncomfortable Asian intimidation? Uncomfortable Asian. Intimidated girl. Uncomfortable and intimidated Asian girl. They probably didn’t hear it—I don’t think anybody did—but at that moment the silence surrounding me broke, like an egg cracked open. Sticky liquid of yolky words wanted to flow out of my silent tongue—words not of my native language, words of shyness and words of silence. I didn’t say a word, though, because I couldn’t—my tongue was already paralyzed by the blinding sunlight flooding through the room, by the silent sound of clouds being gently pushed by wind in the sky. » •
It’s bizarre how I can’t stay silent anymore. On the contrary, I consider not having the ability to stay silent about my emotions both my greatest strength and my greatest weakness. A strength because I don’t bottle up emotions, a weakness because not staying silent always comes with a sense of vulnerability. • The silence that I was used to experiencing every now and then when my mom got angry seemed entirely different from the kind that I experienced on this day. I don’t think I will ever be able to forget this scene, not because I was so hurt or shocked, but because of the ���������� overwhelm-
To be shy. To be intimidated. An intimidated shyness. Shy intimidation? Asian shyness. Uncomfortable. Uncomfortable Asian intimidation? Uncomfortable Asian. Intimidated girl. Uncomfortable and intimidated Asian girl. ingly vivid sensory memories created by the light and the silence. Retrospectively, however, I think they were essentially similar; they were both experiences of intense negative emotions. The only difference was that whereas I was used to being the one perceiving the silence, that one experience in the art classroom forced me to be the one who was silent. And I hated it. Recently, however, I started to rethink the concept of silence. Over the past winter break, my mom asked me when my happiest moments
were in the past twenty-one years of my life, completely out of the blue. When I shared mine and asked about hers, she told me that she had never been so happy as when I was given awards at my high school graduation and when we found out together that I got into Brown. This really shocked me because I didn’t remember any over-the-top expressions of happiness on either occasion. I remembered that she was proud of me, and I remembered her quiet smiles, but I would never have guessed those would have been some of her happiest moments. This shocked me, but I was also secretly pleased and touched that she chose to tell me this three years later. Her feelings, which seemed like nothing more than a mere reflection of silence back then, had acquired more value over the years, and really meant something to me when she voiced them. And this is why, even after all these years, silence is still such a cultural paradox to me. It can be so disempowering yet powerful, emotional yet stoic, and so quiet… but loud. HEE KYUNG CHUNG ‘09 has a relatively low threshold of amusement when it comes to life.
VISIONS | Spring 2008
“Looking for: ORIENTAL Asian girl for marriage who is a good cook & housekeeper, gardener, possibly speak French, play piano, likes to travel. She must have long black hair, tan skin, 90-120lbs, 18-28 years if M.D. or pharmacist 35 years old is okay.” Why do people seem to hunger for this kind of woman? Sounds to me like some kind of China Barbie Doll Displayed in a See-through box bound by plastic exotic twisty ties. Wearing hair that other people’s fingers get to run through. China Barbie Doll, you are A throw-back to the days of my great-great-grandmother’s feet. They were bound as a sign of privilege But they deprived her of the privilege to run free. Nowadays feet are allowed to grow but a voice can feel so bound it’s like the vocal chords cannot let thoughts take flight like they want to. Doll, Your mouth is an unmoving plastic smile Like you come with a pull string pre-programmed to say
“me love you long time.” Why are you packaged with an accessory set of Massage oils and samurai swords? I say speak up and say to this sir: Do you take me for my silky long black locks and not for the thoughts that I have to say to you? Do you think I have earned my M.D. just to medicate myself to your expectations? Sister, I want to cut you free. Wipe that Made in China stamp off your ass because You, You are Not Forever foreigner and Never Manufactured. I see you as creating yourself. You can bend to your own will and not to those plastic joints.
I see you cutting up your plastic box and saying: I will not be the Oriental girl Who is going to garden your life so you may enjoy piano-playing fancies and have foreign sweet nothings whispered in your ear. To the sir who is looking for this kind of woman— Look elsewhere. CAITLIN HO ‘10 picked up an Asian newspaper and actually saw this personal ad in the classfieds. No joke.
Joshua Tropp (Grad) Digital Photograph
VISIONS | Spring 2008
Defining Changes in Seasons
His day-to-day routine fatigues as winter settles in. Towering trees stand barren, battered by showers that come and go. Scurrying students dash indoors with purpose— to escape the thick smell of coming rains. Spring’s early return comes as a promise. It graces the coming of new foliage as if to prove that time is moving. The sun sneaks a few rays from behind a veil of billowy clouds. Once again, he awakes from repose to dawn’s early glow creeping from behind dusty windowsills. Warm summer afternoons bring the group outdoors. Frisbees, empty soda cans, and snack wraps line the glade in which they lay. The friends have met there times before, but the looming “end of an era” thought lingers in their minds far too often. Then one night, somewhere, summer quietly disappears. It ducks beneath a layer of freshly fallen leaves, its presence no longer felt. He waves farewell and for a moment, he feels tense. The anxiety hangs conspicuously in the air as he breathes his first sigh of autumn. DAMON MOK ‘11 can create scenes and act recklessly when he wants to.
Michelle Nguyen ‘11 Digital Photograph
Questions from a Starving Writer
Editors of Visions
Did you know that there’s Pocky for Men? Does that mean that I’ve been eating women’s Pocky all this time? Do you think our ancestors added “in bed” to the end of their fortune cookies too? Has anyone tried the kimchi at Little Jo’s? What is “Oriental”-flavored dressing supposed to taste like? The Orient? What is Asian-American food?
Mana Tang ‘10 Digital Photograph
VISIONS | Spring 2008
Pronouns see a nation
Life, as I imagine it. My knees, a crack, before slipping slowly off the smooth edge, dropping against the stone sideways. The impact is minimal. The impact is catastrophic. skin breaks looser than billowing fabric and the rupture howls— the propensity for separation as minds narrow and luck wanes. the closing gap between your knowledge and something more inherently universal about philosophical vanity. a side of nostalgia without geriatric repentance, the main course being, inevitably, dissatisfaction. for dessert, irreverence. Life, as I imagine it. It’s airport security, it’s airport traffic, it’s airport baggage claim officers, trying their best. The words barely tumble from his lips—I grab the sticker and rush off. The peals of laughter, unrelated. The Key to Remembering Is... Michelle Nguyen ‘11 Digital Photograph
It’s St. Louis Bread Co. It’s Panera. It’s not Au Bon Pain. It’s the lack of a square, green buzzer to signify a silent readiness. All we want is to never talk to each other again, a society
separated by lights, vibrations, and racks. It’s me, Amy. Sophia. Alison. Rebecca. It rolls off the tongue like a bad simile, but as long as they don’t see my driver’s license, how would they ever know? License to lie lie to leave leave to not listen to a pronoun in place of a conceptualized articulation. You? Yue? Not me.
peers, the same name. Interchangeable, but different in appearance, personality, effect. So wonder—was it the name that brought us together, or did it perpetuate something that, for the first time, fit into the crevices of my name, scratching its way into the strange seven letters of hard vowels and illogical consonants.
What you should know about me is that I like to date foreign girls. Is there something exciting in it? But this is what I think—you need a channel for escape. From this. This place devoid of aristocratic immediacy and pityinstead, brimming with self-deprecating resignation. Then, can’t you rise above it? Did you want to say something?
Life, as I imagine it. Two days before the first day, with strange logic and twisted ideologies. And two separate words. Perhaps it’s time to
No, nothing. Back, two years. Call me Penguin. Us, in the same homeroom. The first thing someone says to me in a strange city of Bacchus, the French Quarter, and mosquitoes the size of my mouth, waiting to swallow me whole. Penguin? Peng Yiwen. Her name, backwards. Yiwen Peng. So that for the first time, the random encounter becomes a friendship. We both run the school bookstore. We both do math competitions. We both play piano. We both become, rolling off the tongues of our
To ask myself—could I live like this, after handshakes followed by ‘that’s a cool name’ (receding slowly with age; propriety never did catalyze the choked back words never even brimming to the surface of mental processes) and my own mind wandering and wondering ‘what the hell does that mean’ because I should really stop overanalyzing things, pining a change on the intractable, assuming I can see the beginnings of the gray gradient, pretending it has everything to do with my name.
The first thing someone says to me in a strange city of Bacchus, the French Quarter, and mosquitoes the size of my mouth, waiting to swallow me whole. Penguin? Peng Yiwen. change to something more intelligible, less forgettable if not for the commonality but the banality of expression. So then there would be something to throw myself into, something which, previously, had lodged itself into my head, curling between the folds as I finally experienced how it felt to behave one way and have the rest of the world disagree. As if I were peeling an orange, the skin of two mispronounced letters crackling slowly with the pull of my fingertips, unable to reattach to the web shielding the fruit (the nutrients are never quite as potent after those shredded white lines are cast aside).
The fit is not quite reminiscent of Legoesque ingenuity but (facetiousness aside) it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. To understand its importance is to reduce it to something trivial, pretension pushing into the incomprehension. Sew up the explosion and use legs to fall back up. Acceptance, as something imaginably palpable. YUE PANG ‘11 loves blondes and boeuf.
VISIONS | Spring 2008
Hla dej yuav hle khau Poob teb poob chaw yuav hle hau. When you cross a river, take off your sandals. When you leave your country for another, take off your hat. It seems to be falling apart. My grandmother’s door, that is. My uncle’s frightful attempt to repaint the frame had turned it into a ghastlylooking mustard and crimson emblem of tactlessness. They had found the paint in their garage, left over from when the previous owners failed to complete their mission of beautifying the bathroom walls. It was painful to look at. Why didn’t he just paint her door brown like the rest of their Minneapolis neighbors? I feel the blood rush to my head, the usual anger that builds up whenever I think about Hmong people. Always needing to be different, always wanting to stay the same. Here, in America, people change. We forget our pasts and take up new lives. They never got the memo. I want to punch and kick at the dying door, destroy it before the kids playing ball around the corner have a chance to walk by and tease my uncle and grandma. Instead, I channel my anger at the door, picking at the frame and ripping off the poorly painted yellow bits that cling onto the cracks of the rotting wood. I throw the peels to the side of the cement stairs, kicking dirt over them, covering them until they are fully hidden beneath the darkness of the soil. I exhale in relief.
I am there to deliver some red peppers from my mother, gifts and offerings significant of her duties as a daughter. I cringe as I lean in to press the doorbell, thinking about the potential risks involved, the small talk that I will have to force. Not to my surprise, my grandmother senses me as I see her peering through the curtains, smiling softly behind the white cross made in the glass window panes. It’ll only be five seconds now until she gets to the door. I start counting down. Five, four, three, two… “Mis nxtawg es.” She insists on calling me by the affectionate Hmong term for the youngest male in the family. That or Tub, my Hmong name that my creative parents gave me, literally meaning “son.” You’d think that my parents would have named me, their only son, something else, something grand or unique. Come to think of it, they initially had not even wanted to give my sisters and me Hmong names. However, to appease my scolding grandma, they finally caved in and gave us Hmong middle names. I’m actually relieved my name is not something like Diav or Rawg (meaning “spoon” and “fork”). My American and first name is John, but I make my friends at school call me an Americanized version of my Hmong name, Tub. That fat ceramic pool you fill with buckets of stress, troubles, and physical pain, closeted yet perfumed in the back of your house, cemented to the floor, a tub is unchanging and simple, homogenous in its function and most importantly, the same in everyone’s home. It’s not too hard to remember or pronounce and people think it’s funny. My
teachers love it. “Koj tuaj los,” my grandma continues her usual welcome. “Awm, kuv tuaj mas. My mom told me to send this to you. She thought you were running low,” I answer apathetically. English confuses my grandmother, but like always, it is hidden beneath her elderly wisdom. “Ab, why didn’t your mother come herself? Come inside Tub, come inside!” “No, it’s all right grandma. I don’t really have
However, like the peeling paint outside her door, my hopes are crushed by my grandma’s strength. the time. My mom probably wants me back at home soon.” “Tub, you know I don’t speak English. Come inside, I haven’t seen you in a while,” she lies. I was just over the other night, bringing over some lemongrass. And I know she understands my English. “No, niam tais.1 Kuv tsis muaj sijhawm lawm.” I’m refusing to go in and it suddenly becomes a tug-of-war, with me as the tightening rope. My body is half-way in the door, but with a leg and a foot outstretched into the fresh evening air, I cling onto hopes of leaving before she reveals her ulterior motive to keep me here. 1 Niam tais is the Hmong word for one’s maternal grandmother
Those Lovely Characters Melanie Chow ‘11 Digital Photograph
VISIONS | Spring 2008
However, like the peeling paint outside her door, my hopes are crushed by my grandma’s strength. “Ok, but I can’t stay long, grandma. I have a lot of homework.” This time, I’m the liar. “It F’iday nigh’ Tub, even I know you have no hom’wok.” Her “r’s” are missing, as expected. The Hmong have no rolling “r” sounds in their language so the first generation all struggle with speaking English the way that it should be spoken, correctly. That’s c-o-r-r-e-c-t-l-y. I stare at her tongue-twisted mouth as she sounds each word out. It’s like running nails on chalkboard, and I cringe whenever an “r” is missing. However, she is no different from the other Hmong, and I’ve forgiven them for their lack of speaking ability. If there’s one thing about my grandmother I don’t like, it’s that she knows everything, even when I’m lying. The other thing I don’t like about her is the smell of her home, which I’m quickly reminded of as I take off my shoes. “Grandma, you really have to buy some Febreze. Your home smells funny,” I argue, accenting the “r’s” in my speech. I’ve been telling her this for years, but she never listens. It smells of burning incense with a lingering aroma of boiling pig fat. I gag, but only in my mind. I’m reluctant to hide the expression on my face though, and again, my grandma senses me. “Oh, I know. You think it smells really bad. Well, I like it and I live here. I think it smells Hmong. You just don’t like Hmong.” She’s not
lying. I hate all things Hmong. I hate Hmong girls, Hmong clothes, Hmong traditions, Hmong smells, spoken Hmong, written Hmong, thoughts of Hmong. I hate all things Hmong. I stare at her shaman altar hanging next to the TV in her living room where we are sitting now. It’s the only thing that is constant in the homes of traditional Hmong and is always right in their guest’s face, proclaiming their dedication to shamanism and respect for their ancestors. No shame or embarrassment. We don’t
I hate all things Hmong. I hate Hmong girls, Hmong clothes, Hmong traditions, Hmong smells, spoken Hmong, written Hmong, thoughts of Hmong. have one in our house anymore. Thank God. The metallic gold, silver, and red reflect the light shining through the window. The bamboo leaves and stems hang from her ceiling and provide a path for the spirits to her altar. There is a bowl of rice with burnt incense sticking out of the top and a dried, boiled chicken lying with its eyes closed and its tongue peering out of its beak. These are the gifts for laig dab, the custom of feeding the ancestral spirits. Strangely, I must admit I feel a little bit at home. As a child, I grew up in this house. My parents, off with their busy evening dinners and meetings, always dropped my two older sisters
and me off here on the weeknights and weekends before we were old enough to stay at home by ourselves. When not cooking for us or sitting watching television with us, my grandma was with visitors, helping them figure out their sicknesses and illness, mapping out how their plig, or soul-self, had fallen, drawing their futures for them with a bundle of incense or a black pair of cow horns. My sisters and I always sat there watching TV, bored and stiff, cold and aloof to the fragments of the Hmong culture sparkling before us. We had no interest in shamanism. We had no interest in our grandma’s role in the Hmong community as a healer, a messenger, a txiv neeb. Well, I shouldn’t say we didn’t have any interest. When we were younger, my sisters and I were incredibly fascinated with our grandma and what she did for the Hmong in our community. We always thought of our grandmother as a magician of some sort, tell-
We always thought of our grandmother as a magician of some sort, telling our friends at school that she could predict our futures with a pair of finely cut horns. ing our friends at school that she could predict our futures with a pair of finely cut horns. One day, as my grandmother was busily talking on the phone with her bedridden sister in Wisconsin, my sisters and I took her tools to the back
bedroom where we began to act out a shamanic session. To be honest, none of us knew what we were doing except for the fact that it was incredibly taboo and wrong of us to be touching these things without her consent and so lightheartedly. I grasped the cow horns, ready to toss them on the floor and tell my sister’s fortune. Shaking them in my hands, I pretended to utter a chant similar to the ones that I had memorized my grandma speak. I was even singing the words in the same melody she did. Then, with a quick snap of the wrist, I let them drop on the floor. One was faced up, on its curved back, pointing ahead of me. The other was on its face, curved back facing up, pointing behind me. Lying end to end, I started whispering some words to my sister about her life in the future when I felt a sudden urge of tingling in my feet, which soon turned into tremors all over my body. I was five, and instead of reading my sister’s future, I had read my own. Three minutes later, I was shaking convulsively on the bedroom floor, my sisters screaming for my grandma. We never paid any attention to our grandma’s “magic” after that. “What are you thinking of, huh, Tub?” my grandmother asks me in her ancient, familiar voice. I was staring at the altar and with the crackling sounds of her voice, my mind races back to reality. “Huh? Oh, nothing niam tais. Just thinking about when we were little and used to play here.” My thoughts are still trying to catch up to me. I am stuck in an illusionary state, as if my plig did
not want to come back from that time. “Yes, Ntxais, Mai, and you always used to come here. Not so much anymore though, with all of you guys going to college. I wanted to talk to you about your dream though, Tub. Your mom called me this morning.” My mother always calls my grandma to tell her about my dreams. What’s worse is my grandma’s constant need to interpret them. I keep telling myself not to tell anyone my dreams, but sometimes I let it slip. My dad and mom used to talk about their dreams all the time when I was younger, especially the dark ones they found confusing or interesting, ones involving spirits. I guess I
Three minutes later, I was shaking convulsively on the bedroom floor, my sisters screaming for my grandma. adopted this habit from them. “Oh…she did? I told her not to bother you with it. I know most of them are meaningless. I’d rather not talk about it, niam tais. I hope that’s ok with you.” “It’s important to talk about these things, Tub. The spirits are calling for you. They’re trying to show you something,” my grandmother replies. Our conversation is in complete Hmong now. I feel the steady rush of transformation, like a werewolf does, violently changing into its animal self. Only, I’m an American, slowly turning
into a Hmong. I begin to tell her my dream from the other
I feel the steady rush of transformation, like a werewolf does, violently changing into its animal self. Only, I’m an American, slowly turning into a Hmong. night, the one where I flew with two spirits to the Otherworld, over twelve mountains and a vast ocean. It was exhilarating and liberating to feel the wind beneath me. Free from all troubles, from all the worries and stress of this world. The spirits and I dove into the Otherworld from above and suddenly I found myself standing on a deserted trail, stranded in the middle of a tropical forest, alone. The strangeness of the forest had not been my isolation, but the stillness of the trees, the animals and birds I saw, as if they had been painted onto the canvas of my dream. The only sound accompanying me was the clapping of my red rubber sandals, flipflopping as I started to walk along the dirt path before me. As I passed a banana tree, I saw a golden parrot perched on the stem of one of its large green leaves. Its perfectly immobile body prompted my hand to stretch out and touch its exoticism. Only, in that moment, the bird took flight into the forest, commencing a cascade of movement from the neighboring trees and ani-
VISIONS | Spring 2008
mals, all jumping and singing, all moving and running. Spinning around, I lost sight of the path and found myself covering my ears from the chaotic choir of nature, hovering over my knees and face to the lush green ground. It was then that I heard the sound of other sandals,
They were the bringers of life, they said. They would teach me how to speak again, how to move again, how to breathe and how to believe again. flipping and flopping along the ground as my own had. I looked up to find that not only was I still on the dirt road, but there were three men, dressed in white, inching toward me. As I stood to bring myself together and brush off the fears of the forest, I was greeted by three familiar men, each smiling with their hands held out to me. In their mellow and warm voices, they blessed me with greetings and I, now in tears, was filled with a new fear of not knowing how to speak. They told me to go with them, for they would take me to my home, my village. They were the bringers of life, they said. They would teach me how to speak again, how to move again, how to breathe and how to believe again. They would make me a healer of my people, a messenger for my people, a txiv neeb.
“And then I wake up, niam tais. I’m covered in sweat and cannot go back to sleep.” My grandma pauses in wonder, rubbing her hands together on her lap as she usually does at this point in our conversation. She sighs, and in one swift movement, she leaves her seat and lights incense at the stove, returning only in full prayer. She begins to search for those infamous ebony horns after she places the incense on her altar’s rice bowl. I start to believe in her magic again, as she sits next to me and chants the familiar tune I had memorized so many years ago. It is the first time that I hear her words, the first time that I am watching her. Her magic has suddenly become a reality and doesn’t seem as magical as it is essential. The smell of incense has hypnotized my faith and once more I am a believer. “This is what your story means, Tub. Your ticket from the Otherworld says that you must
...you must become a txiv neeb. You know this. The spirits have been calling you for many years now, and yet you always refuse. become a txiv neeb. You know this. The spirits have been calling you for many years now, and yet you always refuse. This is their warning. You must learn how to control them, yield them to help your people. You cannot refuse your will any longer, Tub, just as I could not refuse mine.”
My grandma speaks to me as she reads the horns lying on the floor. Only, like the many times she has interpreted my dreams before, it sounds more like preaching than helping. It is then that I start for the door, that awful door. My grandma sees my anger, and places her tender hand on my shoulder, pacifying my sweltering emotions. “Tub, I know you don’t want to be a txiv neeb. But you cannot refuse the spirits. They have chosen you,” she says, cooling the air around me. “I know, grandma. Thank you. I’m leaving now. Put those peppers in the freezer, eh? They’ll rot out here with all this warm incense in the air,” I reply to her prayerful hope in English, cold and apathetic as I had been before. “I’m going now. Say hello to uncle for me.” I rush through the godforsaken condimentlooking door, heading straight for my Jeep without looking back, without uttering another word to my frail grandma. I start the engine and reverse the car. As I pull out of the driveway, I see my grandma waving gently in her sorrowful rejection in my peripheral vision. I turn the corner, avoiding the children playing ball. I drive back home, back to my life, blending back into my old American world. HO-SHIA THAO ‘09 is living on the ridges of a Ruffles potato chip.
Seven O’clock Driving
The road runs on, diffusing slowly as I float Through. Filters of light pass Through the window flickering on and off as the sun dips and Rests. Hum, rumble, and sometimes a Lift. There’s no need to rush— Relativity plays its Role. But the balance must not be Violated— Submersion is an impossibility. We have two for a Reason. The skies soon darken and warn of the End— the noise Stops. And we can only sit back to try and remember what
Seven o’clock was. RESHMA RAMACHANDRAN ‘09 is missing long drives in warm weather.
VISIONS | Spring 2008
Memories of Being Unprepared
Wake me, wipe the ignorance and sleep from my lids, and pour me another cup. Rich and bitter steam can clear the veil of apathy. Was the city sinking or was the water rising or did it just not matter Because the glass wasn’t half-full or half-empty, It was overflowing, a flood of once-life and shards. I didn’t know Venice was in Louisiana. But then we knew, we saw. How a city of revelry and laughter, whirlwinds of sparkling life, Was caught up in a whirlwind of a different kind. And its spokes ripped through metal and glass and tore into yellowing family photos and lives, Gouging out pieces and still Ever turning, turning. And if Katrina’s eye could have seen That new ground zero shaped and caved in and drowned by nature, A crippled nation, With a silhouette etched in high-water marks edging the border between drowned and destitute, Then I wonder if we’d have told her not to cry, Because we were flooded already.
Because 1,000 dead is impressive and we spouted the numbers and forgot it, But put the faces to the counts, And turn the numbers into the lives they really are. And then test that quiet acceptance. Can you accept those Whose eyes were left empty and glassy in the green, Who turned and turned in the dark water until they became still, Slipped into suspension.
And there we stood with the wind whipping through our shadows as we whispered, “Katrina.” Because nobody can ever call her Katie. ASHLEY CHUNG ‘08 can’t dance synonyms.
And then there were those left behind, In stagnant water, Nowhere to go. Wading in filth and salt and the heavy pressure of grief,
VISIONS | Spring 2008
A Shared Mission
Kevin Kenji O’Brien
teacher of mine recently sent me a link to a website called “Calisphere,” a goldmine of digitized photographs and documents about the Japanese Internment from libraries, university archives, and museums throughout California. A search engine on the site allows you to look for names of family members and I was amazed when I came across an interview from 1981 of my great grandfather, Kenji Kikuchi, an immigrant from Japan and my namesake. My family had never seen this interview before, so it was a wonderful discovery and inspired me to do some personal reflection. I only have a vague recollection of my great grandfather, who passed away when I was in second grade. I remember visiting his house in Huntington Beach in Southern California. He suffered a spinal stroke around the time of the interview, so my memories of him are confined to a wheelchair. During one of my visits to Grandpa Kikuchi’s house in Huntington Beach, he shared his rock collection with me, which I became enamored with. I spent hours with him looking at all of the specimens in his collection, trying to learn the names of the different types of rocks and minerals. At the end of the visit, he let me pick five rock samples from his collection that still rest on my shelf at home. Reading through the seventy-one-page interview, I am filled with pride and immense respect for him. I struggle to picture what it must
have been like for him to come to the United States. What must it have been like to come to this country all by himself? Why did he live such a transient lifestyle, moving from city to city? How did he muster so much courage and selflessness to be able to help church families in the days leading up to the Japanese Internment? What, beyond my middle name, connects me to my great grandfather? On February 28, 1898, Kenji Kikuchi was born into a family of silkworm farmers in Watari, which is near Sendai in northeastern Japan. Raised as a Buddhist and Shintoist, Kenji was converted to Christianity by his future wife’s father, who was one of the early Christian ministers in northern Japan. At that time in Japan, many Japanese negatively viewed conversion to Christianity, seeing it as a part of the Westernization process. As the only Christian in his family, Kenji attended Tohoku Gakuin Christian School and later attended a Christian seminary to become a minister. During his time at the seminary, most of his teachers were Americans and he developed an ambition to study theology in the United States. In the spring of 1924, at the age of twentysix, Kenji rode on a steamship for eighteen days to San Francisco, which he remembered to be a quiet city. During the summer after he arrived, Kenji worked as a farm laborer in the California Imperial Valley, picking strawberries. Due
to the 1913 Alien Land Law in California, all Asian immigrants were ineligible to own land, so the Japanese were only allowed to work as laborers. After a summer of working in the Imperial Valley, Kenji attended San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, where he learned English and the American way of living. The following year, my great grandfather matriculated at Princeton University to study theology. My great grandfather, Kenji Kikuchi, was one of the first three Japanese to graduate from Princeton University’s theological seminary in 1926. To put things into perspective, the first Asian American student to graduate
My great grandfather, Kenji Kikuchi, was one of the first three Japanese to graduate from Princeton University’s theological seminary in 1926. from Brown was John F. Aiso in 1931. During his time at Princeton, Kenji remembered debating evolution and analyzing the arguments of William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes Monkey Trial, which was going on at the time. Missing Japanese food and the taste of soy sauce while at Princeton, he recalled traveling to New York and Philadelphia to find Chinese restaurants. Although he had received a $200 scholarship for international students from
Princeton, Kenji scarcely had enough money to attend and he recalled wearing the same suit year round. Around this time, most Japanese ministers who came to the United States to study returned to Japan after they graduated. Originally, Kenji had planned to do the same, but his time working as a farm laborer in California before attending Princeton made him realize that his services as a Christian minister were needed in the United States. Interviewer: When you went to Princeton, was it your intention, after you graduated, to go back to Japan? Kenji: Yes, it was. But after coming to California, I found a Japanese community I never knew existed and which very strongly needed a leader and pastor. I felt very deeply about such a mission. Yoshi (Kenjiâ€™s wife): Excuse me. When he came to America, he promised me that after three years of study he would come back to Japan. I really did wait for him, but he never came back, so I came here. Shortly after he graduated, Kenji spent some
time working as a student pastor at a Japanese Presbyterian church in Sacramento, which is less than twenty miles from my hometown in Davis, California. Eventually, Kenji moved to Southern California and joined a ministry at the Wintersburg Presbyterian Church, one of only two Christian churches in Orange County. During his time at Wintersburg Presbyterian Church, Kenji delivered very practical sermons in both Japanese and English about topics such as father-son relationships and dealing with sickness; his salary was only $70 per month and the house provided by the church did not even have an indoor bathroom. The Japanese community in Orange County was composed of mostly farm laborers and when they came to worship they often gave Kenji crates of vegetables to help support him. In Southern California during the 1920s, there were few Buddhist churches, so Japanese Christian churches filled vital social functions for the Japanese community, such as resolving family conflicts and providing Japanese language instruction for Nisei (the children of Japanese immigrants) and English instruction for recent immigrants. The Japanese Christian churches were the only social services available to recent immigrants. Both Kenji and his wife, Yoshi, volunteered as teachers at the Japanese language school. As a respected minister, my grandfather also served as an important community leader. In his interview, Kenji mentioned a time
when a Japanese American high school student was chosen as valedictorian. He recalled that many white parents spoke out against the boyâ€™s achievement, so Kenji spoke with the principal of the high school, assuring him that the boy deserved the award. Kenji: At that time, there were so many difficulties coming from the anti-Japanese spirit all over. We always faced discrimination. As a minister, I stood in the front line and faced many difficulties, and in the church I tried to explain the situation to the Japanese people. During his time at Wintersburg Presbyterian Church, Kenji worked hard to fundraise for the construction of a new chapel. However, before they were able to begin construction, all of the churchâ€™s money at the state bank was frozen because of the Great Depression. Kenji recalled running to the bank to try to release the money, only to find that it had closed. In the mid 1930s, Kenji and his family (he had five kids by this time) moved up to Seattle, Washington to work at the Japanese Presbyterian Church. Kenji recalled that the Japanese community in Seattle was much more integrated than the community in Orange County. Coming from a population of mostly farm laborers in Southern California, he saw that, in
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Seattle, Japanese ten-cent stores, shoe repair shops, and hotels were thriving, and their customers were not only Japanese, but also, Caucasian or Mexican. After only spending a few years in Seattle, Kenji and his family returned to Southern California, this time working at the Christian Center in Los Angeles. Two years later, during the summer of 1941, Kenji relocated again to the San Diego Congregational Church. On December 7, 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. At the time of the bombing, Yoshi was still teaching at a Japanese language school, so during the FBI raids in the days following the attack on Pearl Harbor, she was arrested and spent a night in jail. As one of the Japanese community’s leaders that wasn’t incarcerated after Pearl Harbor, Kenji had an important role to reassure the Japanese community and address their fears following the crisis. He frequently made jail visits to attend to the needs of those who had been arrested and comforted their families. Many of the people who had been arrested were being sent to detainment camps in North Dakota, so Kenji brought them winter clothes. In the months following Pearl Harbor, the Japanese community was in a state of panic. Daily, black FBI cars would drive through Japanese neighborhoods and pick people up. Everyone
was afraid to leave their houses. No one knew what would happen to them. Up until the date he was interned, Kenji continued to hold church services to reassure and update the Japanese community. Some members of the church even brought their suitcases with them to services, so that they were ready if the FBI came to the church to take them away. Before leaving, Kenji had to give away most of his possessions; he sold his car for less than a
Everyone was afraid to leave their houses. No one knew what would happen to them. third of what he paid for it. Fortunately, one of his neighbors hid Kenji’s Japanese sword collection in his attic until after the war. Kenji and his family were relocated to the Poston Camp, which was located in Arizona. In his interview, Kenji had little to say about life in the relocation camp. He and his family lived in Camp III, Block 30, Barrack 4. Kenji continued to hold religious services and Yoshi worked in a government factory making blouses. It’s hard for me to not get angry when I think back on the abuse that Japanese Americans received from their own government. Stripped
of all of their belongings and corralled like animals in some of the most inhospitable locations in the country, Japanese Americans were forced to feel ashamed of their identities. I want to believe that I would have fought back; I would have protested and demanded my civil liberties. Yet, my great grandfather made the best of the situation he was in. He continued to be a source of hope and reassurance as a Christian minister for the Japanese internees. Since most of the internees at Poston Camp III were from San Diego, Kenji recalled being able to see his friends and church members every day. “We were very happy—in a sense.” It was while he was at Poston, that he began collecting the rocks that now sit on my desk at home. In 1944, the Supreme Court ruled in Korematsu vs. United States that the detainment of loyal citizens was unlawful. Given only $25 and a train ticket home, many Japanese were afraid to return to their homes since the United States was still waging war against Japan. Kenji and several other Japanese men were some of the first to travel to San Diego and report back that it was safe to return. During the following years, as the Japanese community attempted to rebuild itself, Kenji recalled that the community was much more spread out and cautious of getting together in large groups. Kenji remained
a pastor in San Diego until 1962 when he became a principal at a Christian high school in Japan for several years. For the rest of his life, Kenji continued his pilgrimage from city to city. After leaving Japan, Kenji lived in Pasadena, California for a short time, Salt Lake City for three years, and Hollywood for a year. He then moved back to Japan, then to Altadena, California, and finally to Huntington Beach, where I remember visiting him and looking at his rock collection.
After I graduate from Brown, I plan to become a high school science teacher in an urban public school. Just like my great grandfather, I hope to serve the families of recent immigrants and be a leader and advocate for these communities. Reading Kenji’s interview, I am reminded of why I am committed to working for the underserved—his words inspire me to seek happiness even in a seemingly hopeless situation. From the story of my great grandfather, I draw compassion from his personal struggles and a shared mission of standing at the front line against inequity.
Skylight Angela Wong ‘09 Digital Photograph
This past Thanksgiving, I went to Princeton to visit my Auntie Karen, Ken-
From the story of my great grandfather, I draw compassion from his personal struggles and a shared mission of standing at the front line against inequity. ji’s granddaughter. Her husband is now an associate professor at Princeton. Walking through the campus, the two of us passed by the Presbyterian chapel and wondered what it must have been like for Grandpa Kikuchi to attend Princeton over eighty years ago. Now that I have made my own journey to the East Coast, I am left wondering how my life will parallel Kenji’s.
Check out Calisphere: http://www.calisphere. universityofcalifornia.edu/themed_collections/subtopic5e.html KEVIN KENJI O’BRIEN ‘09 is a former teacher’s pet, who loves to ride bikes and sit in the sunshine.
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on this side of the door it still smells the same (cardamom, salt), and yet things have changed in my absence. i try to name them: the new brand of hand soap that my mother has bought for the bathroom, the arrangement of the living room furniture (the couch, now against the far wall), the backyard fence that got repainted in march. the december morning is cold and hard, a cough drop that i keep on my tongue, roll around in my mouth— there are more changes i keep finding one by one, like a six year old at an easter egg hunt: my mother has cleaned my room and boxed the old books in the basement, my bookshelf now empty, waiting. downstairs the dining room chairs have been varnished a dark cherry; in the study there are new curtains that my mother has sewn herself.
Tai Ho Shin ‘09 Digital Photography
the sun filters through my eyelashes like shafts of light upon a canyon, late afternoon— in acknowledgement of time, there is rust on the shed, gray in her hair (she doesn’t seem to care about dyeing it these days). a hand massaging her temple, she complains of headaches, backaches. the apple trees in the garden need to be fertilized, the hedges trimmed. she in the loveseat, my father on the couch. (frozen in time, a kind of Pompeii) it’s dark already, somehow, but it’s only five o’clock. it’s supposed to snow. CNN is on: lou dobbs, then larry king. something about abortion.
it’s already his third glass. you know, your father has always been this way.
Illuminated Melanie Chow ‘11 Digital Photograph
(our bodies free of ash, yet we’re plaster casts, with no one to blame.) both of you stop it, or i’m going upstairs. (or do we want to stay this way?) 2 a.m. is quiet. the occasional passing car throws grids of light on the walls. save for that, it is dark. (this is the bed that i slept in,) the radiator starts. (when did my parents’ house stop being my own,) the walls are bare, except for a few framed photos, (if this isn’t home where do i go,) an honor-roll certificate and a calendar of Van Gogh, from three years ago. the smell of decay, a scent of old age. the silence is hollow, knocking— my mother in her room, down the hall, my father in his; the house drowns in sleep. (and there is telophase: the splitting of cells, the separation of generation)—rhythmic breathing (a sort of evolution), clock ticking (us becomes you and me), time passes faithfully. GOWRI CHANDRA ‘08.5 sometimes gets homesick for getting homesick.
VISIONS | Spring 2008
His Note on Tone
His sun-kissed hand held mine, firm, but gentle. With my eyes, I traced its countless rivers and ridges. He bade me sit on the bench next to him and placed my fingers lightly on the keys. The music flowed from my fingertips and I carried him to a distant land. * * * * * The breeze held a whiff of ginger and gunpowder. I paused to savor it for a moment, but I could only taste the saltiness of sweat dripping down my forehead. I continued to walk towards the hamlet at the mouth of the river. As I drew nearer, I came across peasants stooped over, planting rice to herald in the rainy season. Their faces were hidden under straw hats to protect them from the unwanted glares of the sun and the stares of passersby. I admired their simple dependence on the earth. I wanted their existence: to be able to live for their families. They still cling to their lives, beliefs, and culture. I held on to them to share in their identity and help me find my own. When we first arrived, the men wore proud badges of courage and patriotism. We carried the dreams and hopes of the naïve. I came for the adventure, as I be-
lieved I had nothing to lose. I had finished my high school education, but I wanted to explore what the rest of the world had to offer before settling down. I was not content to work in a white-collar job and come back to the arms of an endearing wife. My parents understood that I was different, fueled by instinct and guts. They knew I would leave, but they were uncertain if I would return. I enlisted and was immediately shipped overseas. The fighting continued for years. We did not know whom to blame. We did not know our enemy. Fingers pointed to the men who promised us this would be another Spanish-American War, to the men firing at us from the shadows to stay alive, and to myself. I did not know who I was anymore. I was my own enemy. I did not realize then how life could be like a looking glass, reflective and fragile. I scarcely recognized the gaunt face that looked back at me nowadays. I felt the slight stubble on my chin where none used to be. Once shiny and new, my clothes matched my haggard appearance, which was abandoned without care to time. The frayed patches, missing buttons, and sweat stains were apparent to the keen eye, but I was no longer conscious of it.
I approached the fortified gate and heard the clamor of villagers like seagulls on the shore. The children chased each other, weaving in and out of people’s legs, wearing nothing but loincloths. I ventured cautiously amidst a group of women with slightly graying hair and a steely look in their eye as they tried to bargain with the man whose head barely stood above the stand. Then I saw her: standing apart from the hustle and bustle of the open-air market, squeezing a mango for ripeness. The woman’s eyes were fixed on completing her task as if it meant everything in the world to her. Her skin held a soft, muted whiteness that made every-
I admired their simple dependence on the earth. I wanted their existence: to be able to live for their families. thing around her more vivid and colorful in comparison. The expression on her face was one of hardship and strength. For a few moments, I observed her hesitant actions. I was intrigued: Who was she? What was her story? Her entire body moved with purpose. Taking small steps away from the crowd, her pace quickened. I followed. She led me to a stream, which snaked between
two small hills. I plucked a rare flower from a bamboo tree overhead. As she filled her reed basket, I stepped out from the dense, mangrove forest. She was wary, tense, and ready to flee. She watched as I stood on the edge of the stream and splashed water to cool my parched skin. I meant her no harm. She understood this. “What is your name?” I asked. “Hien,” she said, “your name is…?” “I’m Mark.” She was curious about my strange appearance and came towards me. She had never seen a man from the outside, an American man. I offered her the blossom I had found. Her almond eyes smiled and, for the first time, a russet color rushed into the canvas of her cheeks. I cherished these precious moments of her. We shared a common bond, a connection to this land she called home. It was no longer “foreign” in the sense of the word. I was not the stranger anymore. Our lives became intertwined in the stories we told each other about our respective pasts. The fighting had claimed the lives of her parents. Hien did not understand how or why it happened, but she im-
mediately shouldered the responsibility of raising her two younger brothers, An and Bao. She did not once question the work of the gods. Instead, she implored the land to yield its fruits and sustain her brothers’ lives. She lived entirely for them and it enveloped her everyday existence. Unknowingly, this was smothering her; her life was ebbing out to keep them alive. She trusted me and took me to her home. There was only one room in the hut with a few mats and thin blankets strewn across the floor. Her brothers were huddled in a corner, sleeping peacefully. Against the wall, I noticed a
Unknowingly, this was smothering her; her life was ebbing out to keep them alive. delicate bamboo instrument, the room’s lone fixture. It was elegantly carved and made of handsome wood. The instrument beckoned to be touched and reborn once again. I felt its need. “Why do you sacrifice so much for your brothers?” “When the bamboo is old, the bamboo sprouts appear,” she told me simply. I wanted to take care of her then.
She sat down on the straw mat next to me and gently began plucking the strings of the dan tranh. I felt a sigh of content escape it. Tomorrow, I would tell her. The sweet, lilting melody drifted upwards and I listened, enraptured. * * * * * I stopped playing and looked at my reflection on the ebony surface. I was a cross between a mango tree and a white oak. I glanced at my grandfather. His gaze was forlorn and unfocused. His mind still lost in the music. “I miss her too,” I whispered and embraced him. He looked at me as if realizing, for the first time, who I was. A smile crinkled to the corners of his eyes; a lone tear crept onto his face as he saw me and remembered her. *This story is dedicated to my late grandfather, Jaime Dollaga. ROBIN ULEP ‘11 can fly close to the sun and dream next to the stars.
VISIONS | Spring 2008
Ramen with my Babysitter
Sixteen years had passed since I had last eaten ramen with my babysitter Kyoko. When I was four, I remember her carefully measuring out two cups of water and then inserting the pale, brittle noodles after it had come to a boil. She stirred them around with a fork, and then poured in the packet of yellow powder and dehydrated green onions. We craned our necks to watch her as she poured the cooked noodles into our brown plastic bowls and then used special red scissors to cut them to fit our childsized mouths. She also made sure to gently stir in a couple of ice cubes so that we wouldn’t burn our tongues. The ramen that we would eat today had been prepared in a kitchen in the back of a ramen shop called Tampopo, by a man whose name and face neither of us would remember. It came in tall, Styrofoam bowls and instead of the plastic bowls of my childhood, and instead of the surface being peppered with only a few lonely green onions, there were bamboo shoots, slices of char-sui pork, and bean sprouts. The price of this meal for two came close to ten dollars, in contrast to the Maruchan Instant Ramen, two packets of which added up to less than a dollar. After placing the Styrofoam bowls on the table and passing Kyoko a pair of chopsticks and a napkin, she said grace for both of us and we began to eat. Much had changed since I had last seen Kyoko. I had been away at Brown for college,
and on my first Sunday back during the summer, I saw her shuffling slowly out of the church doors, unsteadily pushing a green metal oxygen tank. Plastic tubes protruded from her nostrils, and though she had always been a small woman, she looked absolutely gaunt, her thin silk shirt swallowing her form as if she were a human coat hanger. This was not the babysitter that I remembered, the one who had given me hints on how to complete the Candy Land puzzle or taught me how to play Bingo. I slowly walked up to her and gave her a hug, not too hard, because I imagined her bones to be as brittle as the instant ramen noodles from my lunch. “How are you?” I asked with a smile. “Okay,” she said, “…well, not so good today, I’ve been real tired these days.” She had recently had a bad fall outside of her house, which made walking difficult, and the tuberculosis that had ravaged her lungs in her youth was finally taking its toll, requiring her to use an oxygen tank to breathe. After seeing her that Sunday, I decided that a visit was long past due. It was summer, meaning that I had a lot of free time, so I called her and scheduled a lunch date for that Tuesday. Not thinking of my childhood lunches, I asked her if she liked ramen, and she responded that anything would be fine. I arrived on her doorstep that Tuesday afternoon and rang the doorbell, which still played either London Bridge is Falling Down, Row, Row, Row Your Boat, or We Wish You a Merry Christ-
mas. She let me in and I noted that the living room was just as I remembered it, the painting of Mount Fuji on my left, couches upholstered with an outdated olive green and orange print, and frames filled with pictures of all the children from the church that she had babysat in the past, including Pastor Jim’s daughters, three of my cousins, and me and my sister. As she led me into the kitchen and we sat across from each other on the same gravycolored vinyl chairs that my sister and I used to spin around in, pounding on the table and shouting, “We want food, we want food,” one thought occurred to me: the role of caretaker was now mine. ERIN MORIOKA ‘08 hears Sapporo has the best ramen.
Angie’s Debut Elaine Tamargo ‘11
We craned our necks to watch her as she poured the cooked noodles into our brown plastic bowls and then used special red scissors to cut them to fit our child-sized mouths. Phases of H₂0 Siqing He ‘08
Acrylic and Gauche
VISIONS | Spring 2008
Kam Sripada ‘09
look Digital Photograph
Star Wang ‘11
They were an odd couple, the camel and the girl. He was born for days like this, when the dust curtained the sun a dull gold and the rattle of lonely leaf-tips choked on twisted nooses of heavy air. His companion was foreign to this part of the world, wincing as the heat lashed her skin, a thousand masochistic lovers and tender soles forcibly quickening her stride. Nonetheless, she enjoyed the sensation of sand clutching her skin before crumbling into obscurity, each step held firm before breaking away like empty eggshells, teasingly and without fail.
She was enthralled with the golden shape-changing pyramids that rose and fell in scattered succession over the centuries, swearing that she could hear the world in the wind as it blew over thin waves of sand, patiently and untiringly sifting one dune into another. One speck, one handful, one mountain at a time. She wished she could understand its whispered secrets, the distant roar of imagined faraway waves, the sighing of clouds as they passed. But she did not belong here, and although the entire desert was hers to traverse, she knew that she could claim none of it as her own.
He snorted irrepressibly, interrupting her private musings. She smiled at him fondly and marveled; the sand covered the world as far as she could see, farther than most could imagine, but still crystallized between eyelashes and wedged itself in the swirling ridges of fingertips that dragged along its surface. It dawned on her that here there was so much that remained uncorrupted by human touch, that would never be picked up by anyone other than the wind. This, she thought, was the hideaway of unbridled power if there was one, the place where loneliness came to wait, the earth at its saddest and most peaceful resting point during its rotation. The gold-flecked sky turned rosy with pinks, oranges, and finally a dimming yellow. She watched the blazing sun descend into soft shadows, its outline blurring with each blink, her thoughts treading the edge. JANINE KWOH â€˜09 hates washing sand out of her underwear.
VISIONS | Spring 2008
Editors and Board Bios Melanie Chow ’11 is constantly stung by BUMBLEBEES and is rather scared by awkward waves. She dislikes calculus but is constantly associated with MC2 and really enjoys eating the chocolate-cinnamon cake from the V-dub.
Yeppii Lee ’11 feels more at home away from all this that is called her life. She dreams in Spanish, shouts in Korean and wonders in English if she’ll ever be the person she wants to be.
Caitlin Ho ’10 is in love with people who smile a lot. She likes to dance when no one’s looking and sings songs that don’t quite make sense. She also aspires to create the very best pancake the world has ever tasted.
Sophia Lin ‘10 has rediscovered her love for radio.
Clayton Kim ‘10 doesn’t want to make the world a better place. He just wants to make it a better looking place.
Yue Pang ’11 left the last shreds of her decency in Au Bon Pain. She’s from a conglomeration of cities, including New Orleans and St. Louis. Ironically, she now lives next to a kitchen and on an arch. Wendy Sekimura ’11 is searching for that one patch of blue in the sky.
When he was a young boy, Eric Lee ‘10 wanted to save the world. Fortunately, he has yet to outgrow that childhood ambition. However, he has recently come to terms with the fact that he does not have any superpowers. It was difficult.