What do you think of my writing? (honest answers please!)?
“You hail from China?”
I looked up to see a heavily accented Asian man - Indonesian? Thai? - stare at me, curiously waiting for my answer.
“No,” I said, trying to sound as patient as I could. “My father is from China. I’m from America.” He didn’t respond. “I’m actually, uh, half Chinese and half white,” I offered, sounding just a slight bit meeker.
The man considered this and nodded. “You don’t look half white.”
Story of my life.
I sighed, continuing down the aisle of the Korean grocery store, picking up a few more odd things my father’s wife Qing-Yuan wanted to make for tonight’s special dinner. I had gotten most of the things on the list - soy sauce, dumplings, dried shrimp, jopchae rice, and salmon - but I was now on the lookout for seasoned hot pepper paste Qing liked to put on her fish.
As I slowly waltzed through Aisle 4, I thought about the man who asked me, You hail from China? Being biracial, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit annoyed that he couldn’t tell that I was half white. I know I’m being too sensitive. But yet, why should I be surprised? Pretty much all my life people have thought of me as full Chinese. The Indo-Thai man innocently strolling with his Ramen noodles and kimchi is harmless, simple a representation of a world that has been telling me the same thing for years.
I sighed again, and found the paste section of Aisle 4. I squinted at its varietal section, filled with all different kinds of spices and pastes, such as Thailand chili, hot pepper, black bean, crushed red pepper, and soy bean. My eyes finally landed on the seasoned hot pepper paste and grabbed it, then headed toward the register.
An elderly Korean woman handled my groceries, saying nothing but the price of my groceries. I noticed her face was heavily made up and her hair was dyed and permed. It seemed that most older Korean women styled themselves the same way today. Whether it was to look more young or more Western, I wasn’t sure. I thanked the her, went to my car, and drove to my father’s home.
The drive from the Korean store to my father’s house is a quick, ten-minute ride. After a couple red lights and left turns, I pulled into my father’s long driveway, approaching the two-story brick house with its overgrown ivy, black shutters, and slightly rundown porch. I’ve lived in the house all my life and I recognized every creak, crack, dent, and mark that kept the memories alive and made the house uniquely my own.
As I stepped inside the foyer, the smell of ginger, spices, and green tea overwhelmed me. I also heard the faint sound of Chinese drama coming from the TV. “I’m home!” I called out, walking toward the kitchen.
“April,” Qing greeted me in Chinese with a kind smile, as the corners of her eyes slightly crinkled. “Thanks for getting these for me, honey.”
“No problem,” I responded, placing the grocery bags on the kitchen counter. “Do you need any help?”
“No, don’t worry about it,” she said, unpacking the bags. “Your brother just called about an hour ago. He says his plane just landed and he’s on his way.” She paused. “And, uh, he’s bringing his girlfriend.”
“Really? Finally, we get to meet the mysterious Kristin.”
My brother Eric lives up in New York with his latest girlfriend, Kristin. He’s in graduate school at Columbia and he called a few days ago, informing us that he was coming down to spend a few days during fall break. We haven’t seen Eric since May, so naturally we have never met Kristin. In my awkward phone conversations with my brother, the most I’ve learned about her is that she has a passion for smoking cigarettes. Classy.
Qing nodded vigorously. “Yes. She’s a white girl,” she added, as if she hasn’t lived in America for the past four years and has never seen what she considers a “foreigner.”
“Oh. That’s nice,” I said.
“Why Eric can’t find a nice Chinese girl, I don’t know,” Qing sighed, bustling around the kitchen. Steam rose from the pan and sizzled as she added a sliver of soy sauce.
Qing has been with my father for eleven years, so as an integrated part of our family, she has earned her right to announce her opinions about us. When she and my father were getting serious, we welcomed her
For a women only two years into her fifties, she didn’t look a day over forty-five. Despite the eye crinkles she would get when she smiled, Qing was wrinkle-free overall. Her hair remained dark as the black pearls she liked to wear.
“No aging creams,” she would say when she talked about the secret to her youthful face. “No surgery. No Botox. Just happiness.”
“Just happiness” was Qing’s answer to everything. Where her happiness came from, I didn’t know. Her life had been rough, with her mother dying of influenza when she was only six. Watching her father die when the Red Guards beat him to death when she was a teenager was just as heartbreaking. She suffered a silent and broken marriage,