By Kristin Chang
SO we went to the fountain first, with a Buddha in it. So they asked us where we could eat dog. So we said China, not because we’d then known anything of their carnal expectations but because we always answered China to everything, chances are it was right.
SO they asked Isn’t this China. So we left them at the fountain, with the Buddha in it, naked and fat and semiprecious. And we went to calligraphy class, on time, without them, and filmed a Harlem Shake TAIWANESE SCHOOLGIRLZ version for our school Youtube channel, with our teacher in it. Then we did our characters in our best hand and horsehair. Calligraphy, Folks, is the ultimate expression of antiwesternization, and so is the process of inviting the Outside into calligraphy class. No audience, no performance.
Says the dean, who is Japanese, or maybe his name is just leftover from the occupation, though I should say not a leftover, I should say relic or better yet treasure宝.
Treasure of the occupation. Who isn’t. My mother comments on political topics all the time. She says There is a name for what we feel for the Japanese and it is called Stockholm Syndrome. Her name is Akira明.
Later, when they find us again, wet from the fountain, near naked, we are not saying how many times we have peed in fountains and then licked the surface, they are changing their location pins on Instagram from China where you know, it is actually illegal for white people to use Instagram from the inside and especially to tag locations...how many doorless stallless public bathrooms have been Attempted-Snapchatted, Who are? the people responsible for setting up the system that blocks pictures of exposed toilets, the exploration of dark deep holes口口口.
We start taking them to see Neon God at Ximending but they end up taking us to a temple party, sniffing the whole time, not as if the very essence of our country stinks, but as if they are disappointed that it doesn’t. They are hunting for Neon signs of the glyphic Third World, not just regular old poverty or squalor but something really Undeveloped, like a triad with a dragon tattoo prostituting schoolgirls on the back of a dragonred Vespa.
Or maybe the starving people just have to be robed. Half filth half silk.
They’re so dark黑, ZiJun says, of the Americans. ZiJun wears skinwhite白ning horsefat in her sleep. It comes in a tub. This is allowed. Our Japanese dean told us not to call them fat, or to make comments about Britain, to be safe.
The temple party is, predictably, in a Buddhist or Taoist temple on the border. Right is New Taipei, left is Taipei, Taipei like the strangely pristine nut embedded in the meat of a lychee. A slab of raw pork to the lower half of your face and breathing in, is New Taipei.
Find us later? one of them says. She is the darkest of them, actually I think she is Eastern东. She wears a camera around her neck, not one periwinkle and digital but an actual bigblack boxy camera with a fisheye lens. Her eyes match the lens perfectly. The whites are like strong yolks. Her breath is yeasty, I see her tongue rise like a worm rained out. She pats my arm. She smiles at me and indicates the bar to a lighterskinned friend, no bartender, just a drunk salaryman in purple shoes singing Michael Jackson karaoke-style.
She sniffs and finds the scent, she follows.
They think they’re so clandestine, I say. WHAT? says ZiJun. You just hate western西 people.
I don’t, but I do have a feeling of being the third layer of slickness between two wet petals, the one that stains between your fingers. My eyelids cramp. Don’t let me leave without you, I tell her over my shoulder, trying too hard.
The Eastern girl is back and she flicks Buddha’s ear as she passes. Later, that’ll be the only thing I really remember her doing. I will wonder, with disproportionate guilt, whether she cracked it. I will no longer enter Buddhist temples in fear of finding one with a long cracked ear. I will go anyways.
Man in the Mirror to Smooth Criminal, and then it’s Thriller迈克尔, and then we’re moving. Her left nostril flares larger than her right, strange that I can see it, so charmed by it. I kiss her in a small spot of light, with the blade of her hand cleaving my buttcheeks, how strange. I leave without ZiJun. She’s with the drunk salarymen.
The girl steals one of the temple’s tatami榻榻米mats. The people flailing on top of it don’t notice. It’s 4 by 6, I say, proud of my fast conversion. What is it? she asks as she’s carrying it out. She straps it to the back of her rented Vespa. I’d guessed it was the pink one but it’s not, it’s just black, and dusty. Treasure of the occupation, I say, and laugh. Then I realize I’d said it in Chinese and we ride back to the student dorms, and she takes me to her room, the biggest one I’d ever seen, minus the Dean’s, who invited us there for hot soy milk and occasionally to preach abstinence.
She’s brought her own desk lamp, the kind with a modern plastic tear眼泪drop shaped hood. She says I’m sweet. I repeat it, sweetly bad. There’s an unopened roll of meatpaste on her standard desk, a gift she won’t eat but she’ll bring home. There’s something irritatingly premature in the way she’s left her walls blank.
ZiJun after midnight: You liar, I wish you dishonorable death眼 and no emojis.
I’m back in my own room by lights-out, so I call my mother.
Hall-O? Yesss? You miss me?
I try to remind her of all the political things she’s said but the runny smoke烟 in her voice crystallizes over the surface of the phone. Everything sounds sugary, submerged. It’s a phone from the 1990s, beige plastic. She starts in on a Congressional candidate, called kawaii可爱 by the press, the one with a water dog AND a Spanish西班牙 Cockerspaniel. My mother, I imagine, sprawled on her back on a mat, squirming like a seed pushed into my palm, rained out, the ceiling blind to her. The next time I call her I resolve to tell her. Taiwanese, I realize, we have our own name for Stockholm Syndrome: Sweet甜 capture.
Kristin Chang lives and procrastinates painfully in Cupertino, CA. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in BOAAT Journal, Word Riot, Dead Ink, Wu-Wei Fashion Mag, and elsewhere.