Ivan is blond-headed and blue-eyed and obsessed with the Orient. He is proud to know the differences among Asian cultures. He tells me the Chinese government is corrupt and Koreans have wide faces. He tells me about Vietnamese food and Indonesian Muslims before backtracking on the Koreans—their faces are broad, not wide. The Japanese, he says, are badass.
We are both aspiring writers, and he tells me in today’s complicated social climate readers are sensitive to cultural appropriation, and I must exploit my bona fide pedigree and write something Japanese. He says I was lucky to be born Japanese, although the concept of luck is admittedly more Chinese than Japanese.
He longs to feast on those delicious Japanese narratives—samurai and ninjas, passive-aggressive daughters, passive-aggressive mothers. Mochi-pounding and sake-lifting on New Year’s Day, small families with big grievances, prayers for hungry ghosts and green-skirted river monsters. The problem is, however, if I do write a Japanese story, he won’t find any of these things and he’ll blame me for his disappointment. He’ll wonder why he didn’t read that story about the Jewish tattoo artist instead. She took a tough stance with a needle; what profound things he might have learned. But no, he chose to read my story about a Japanese girl, and she’s barely Japanese. She’s barely even anything at all.