yours, tiramisu

flying back one hour and fourteen years

The plane I’m taking to China is appallingly shabby, especially after Tokyo’s sleek futurism. It’s a fitting liminal space for the transition: while I’ll miss Tokyo, I’m looking forward to not being the least put-together person on the streets. Going from understanding none of what I see and hear to about half is another plus, I suppose. (Though Tokyo has a LOT more English than where I’m going.) Still, it’ll be nice to respond to questions in the same language they’re asked without too much thought.

Seeing other tourists in Tokyo made me feel a small rush of relief, kinship. I’m not the only one lost here! Except it took me seeing a few of them to realize that when they see me, they probably don’t think the same. Fashion choices and occasional blank stare aside, I look like just another Japanese. It’s the opposite of what I experienced in Latin America, where despite sticking out like a sore thumb, I felt rather comfortable and assured in my surroundings. (At least in the grand scheme of things.)

My mom actually lived in Japan for a few years in her twenties. I’ve seen a few rosy film photographs from her time in our photo albums. Today I asked why didn’t settle down if she liked it so much, instead of moving to the States. She echoed Biden’s comments from a few days ago about Japan being a “xenophobic” country (which solicited a weak protest from the accused). These aren’t pretty things to say or hear, but as with most things contain a kernel of truth (the size of which varies, of course). I imagine I’d find it difficult (if not downright impossible) to assimilate, and the realization that such a beautiful country is essentially off-limits for me to settle down in makes me sad.

While strolling down the streets of lidabashi I daydreamed about how I would have turned out if my parents had in fact chosen to settle down in Japan instead of the States. It’s a little thought experiment I run every time I’m in a new unfamiliar place, but something about my mom actually living in Japan and us passing as Japanese (at least in appearance) makes it far easier to contemplate.

What would my Japanese self have chosen for a career? Would he still like to write, play soccer, listen to piano concerti? Who would he love? What latent talents and affinities has he discovered that I haven’t? How many of the things I like and dislike now owe their roots to my environment rather than my genetics? If I ever had a chance to ask a genie one question one of these would surely be up there. What things did I stumble upon by chance, and what parts of me are etched on my soul, destined to flourish no matter the circumstances?


Only one cousin on my mom’s side still lives in China. When we booked our trip a few months ago I asked her to come home so we could see her. My wish was granted, except instead of being back to see us, she’s back for her father’s (my late uncle’s) funeral. I hope she’s holding up. I wouldn’t even know the right words to console her in English. In Mandarin? Forget it.

My mom keeps looking at this photo my aunt took a month ago of my uncle smiling at dinner. She says it’s the last photo they have from before he went to the hospital. In it, the skin around his eyes crinkles from his toothy grin. His dark skin doesn’t show a single wrinkle anywhere else. He looks so young. I can’t believe anyone can look like that while their body is falling apart on the inside.


When the plane jolts and slows to a halt everyone gets up and starts pushing their way off the plane before the fasten seatbelt sign has even turned off. One man is in such a hurry he bowls me over, grunting in annoyance. My mom laughs. That’s the way we are, she says.

Customs is more of the same. The officers are gruff and issue orders expecting them to be followed—no apologetic head bowing here. The travelers yap loudly through customs and many fumble for cigarettes as soon as they see the gray smoggy sky. They make me miss quiet Japanese cleanliness and decorum already.

#english #life #travel #wordvomit