One semester of Japanese does not make one viable in Tokyo.
I never found out what it was like to be treated like a foreigner
there, though, because as I learned quickly from the faces around
me, both from the variety of their shapes and colors, and from the
unreserved colloquialism with which they sometimes addressed
my puzzled and startled visage, there is no way to pick out a Chinese-
American face in a Tokyo crowd, except to interrogate it.
I climbed a tree.
Something about living where one doesn’t belong makes one
feel like a child, so I have always felt like one, even in my early
years when I pretended to be one daily.
That is why, from my perch, when I heard two young men about
my age appear around a corner, I winced inwardly to hear them
mocking me with their pseudo-Chinese babble. For a long second
I was back in the second grade in Akron, Ohio. But then I looked
up and saw their faces, and remembered where I was.
Two broken promises later I found myself homeless. It was a cashflow
problem, not a permanent situation. I had learned something of the
anthropology of homelessness, so I knew I was lying to myself about
that, but I believed the lie anyway, because that is how it begins.
I scouted out a bench which looked inconspicuous but easy to defend.
Using my backpack as a pillow I thought of recess, lunch and walking
home from school in second grade, and felt confident that having escaped
there day after day I would escape here too if attacked. But unlike back
then, I no longer carried a knife.
In the third grade I had outgrown weapons of mutilation, meaning, my sister had
confiscated my blade. So I began brandishing instead that inward flicking tongue
inside my eye which savored the salty taste of my death over the sickly
sweetness of my subordination. But like in the earlier moment up in the tree,
I at once realized such Triassic martiality was way overkill. These were homeless
people, not racists, and as long as I kept my mouth shut I would just blend in.
And so I slept.
It was the sun again, nudging me to come play, never explaining its sudden
brooding bout of seriousness the previous evening. I got up as if lightly
crusted over with frost, like a statue coming to life. I was walking before it
occurred to me to walk, and in the expanse of the hesitant morning air I saw
foreigners huddled near a bush here, a tree there, some with faces as Japanese
as mine. I had married the dawn, and it took me for granted as it lusted after
each countless denizen of its sanctuaries not so willing to become its captured