I was grocery shopping after work this evening when I accidentally made eye contact with a produce stocker. He said hi to me, and I said hi back. Then he asked me something that I hated to be asked, “Where are you from?” A seemingly innocuous question, but people are never satisfied until you give the answer they want to hear and are expecting to hear. Because I am Asian. 

Not really even wanting to talk to this guy, I paused, then said, “San Francisco.” And sure enough, he prodded further, “No, but what country?” I was getting angry and uncomfortable but was frozen, unprepared for an encounter like this. Not hostile enough to warrant an attack, but too provoking for me to give in. “San Francisco,” I repeated firmly.

"Ok, you’re from San Francisco, but your parents?"

I couldn’t grasp what was happening. I didn’t know what to say except the answer that he wanted to hear, but I really didn’t want to say it. Frozen still, I said finally, defeated, “Hong Kong.”

The idiotic exchange continued, with him confirming if Hong Kong was in China or Japan, then finally releasing me with a “hello” spoken in Mandarin. (Note: the language spoken in Hong Kong is Cantonese, but what can I expect from someone who wasn’t sure if Hong Kong was in China or Japan?) Completely disgusted and cringing inside and out, I escaped to the cash registers.

Not only was I totally offended, I was questioning whether this was even a legitimate thing to be offended about. Was he racist to immediately point out my race without knowing anything else about me, or does this have to do with my own issues and sensitivities with being Chinese? It’s not offensive to ask someone where they’re from, but I think it’s offensive to demand to know someone’s specific race within seconds of speaking to them for the first time. It’s also offensive to establish from the start, however indirectly, that because I am this race, I must not be from this country, I don’t belong here, and therefore, I am an Other. 

The more I think about it, the more I cannot believe how rude this guy was. I have not been this angry since I was living in my old Brooklyn neighborhood, on the Prospect and Crown Heights border, and constantly having the old locals holler “hello” to me in Mandarin and Japanese.

It is absolutely racist, plain and simple. The lesson to learn from this is to have a stock answer ready to go when this happens again, which I just came up with, and it would go something like: “No offense, but I don’t want to talk about this, so please either ask me something else or leave me alone.” Or simply “NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.”

“Of course, what one is interested in writing about often comes from what one has remarked in one’s immediate world or what one has experienced oneself or perhaps what one’s friends have experienced. But one takes these observations, feelings, memories, anecdotes—whatever—and goes on an imaginative journey with them. What one hopes to do in that journey is to imagine deeply and well and thereby somehow both gather and mine the best stuff of the world. A story is a kind of biopsy of human life. A story is both local, specific, small, and deep, in a kind of penetrating, layered, and revealing way.”
“He laughs, smooth, beautiful, and tenor, making you feel warm inside of your bones. And it hits you; maybe it all boils down to this: people will do anything, anything, for a really nice laugh.”
— Lorrie Moore, “How to Be an Other Woman”
“It was, in fact, as though the hundred and eighty feet that the suburbs rose in altitude above Newark brought one closer to heaven, for the sun itself became bigger, lower, and rounder, and soon I was driving past long lawns which seemed to be twirling water on themselves, and past houses where no one sat on stoops, where lights were on but no windows open, for those inside, refusing to share the very texture of life with those of us outside, regulated with a dial the amounts of moisture that were allowed access to their skin.”

Philip Roth, Goodbye, Columbus

God, he’s a great writer.

farmers’ market goods: zucchini, baby eggplants, tomatoes (orange and red), red bell pepper, kirby cucumbers, rainbow chard, basil.

also pictured: avocados from trader joe’s and a curious savi

dramatic clouds behind the museum, taken earlier this evening, like the opening act of The Tempest

walking report walking report walking report walking report