Saturday, March 3, 2012

An Unpopular Question

If you have never browsed the website www.engrish.com you need to go there now and check it out. I know it is not politically correct to exploit the Asian's English faux pas but its pretty irresistible. My mom lived in Japan when she was in high school and my sister Stephanie served her mission in Osaka and when I was a kid for some reason we had an endless stream of Japanese foreign exchange students live with us. They always came with literally a suitcase full of gifts and oragami paper for me and literally more than half of them were named Yoko. We always got very attached and I always cried at the airport when we sent them home and promised to keep in touch but I have to admit that it harder to keep track of a Japanese girl named Yoko for more than a little while. At the time the Japanese Yen was insanely strong so they were always crazy rich and our entire country was pretty much like Tijuana to them. They thought everything was so cheap and spent freely. I was always struck by how freaking smart they were. They were teenagers fluent in a second language and we could quiz them and quiz them and could never stump them. And we inevitably asked them to attempt to pronounce the word "purple". Over and over. "Say purple." "pulper" It was funny every time. There was always a big party at the end of the group's stay and somehow they would all produce a fresh suitcase of gifts for the occasion. I can still fold up a crane in sixty seconds and if pressed can produce a goose and a pig as well. Every few years or so I put my oragami skills to good use entertaining my kids in sacrament meeting with a torn up program.

For my birthday we went to Benihana and spent a fortune on unauthentic Japanese cuisine. I got the idea to go there in a book I read where a mom took her kids to Benihana and one of them vomited all over the hot grill/table. I should have taken that as an omen but instead I figured that the odds of my kid actually puking there after I read that story were practically non-existent. I should know by now that reading the essay actuallly increased my odds of seeing puke sizzle a hundred times. I couldn't believe my eyes when I looked over at Jack and saw him turn a light shade of green. There is no faster mathematician than a mom calculating the distance between running for the door and running for the bathroom. I chose the front door because I wanted to avoid the anger I would feel if I got to the bathroom dragging a leaky kid behind me and got any resistance to enter the Ladies' room vs. the Men's room. This wasn't my first time trying to outrun a gag reflex.

My original point about Benihana was to tell this story: Before the chef came to the table I pointed out that these restaurants try their best to staff the place with authentic Japanese people but in Arizona they are guaranteed to slip in a Mexican or two into the lineup. I was crossing my fingers for an authentic Japanese dude and once again I put it out to the universe and tempted fate. We not only got the only non-Japanese chef in the place, we got a white boy missing all of his teeth but one in front. His teeth are probably wherever his missing personality is.

The waitress was as Japanese as humanly possible and my mom announced to the table that she knew the woman was from Japan and had always had a special talent for spotting Japanese people. This was hilarious to me for some reason. I didn't think it took a special inborn talent. Look for the dark hair and squinty eyes. It turns out that I have The Gift for spotting Japanese people so developed that I didn't even know anyone didn't have it. My mom claims that other people struggle to tell the difference between Chinese or Korean or Japanese.

I would also like to point out that this week I heard Jack utter the phrase "Me Chinese. Me play joke. Me go pee-pee in your Coke." How in the world has that survived all of these years? I was floored. Who is the genius who wrote that line originally and why are they not getting a nickel every time a white kid pulls his eyes back and steals his intellectual property?

So when we got to talking about what makes a Japanese person different from their Asian counterparts I was reminded of a question that has plagued me and that I have asked a hundred people and never received a satisfactory response to: What do Asians put on their driver's licenses as a physical description? Hair: Black. Eyes: Brown I understand that they all look different from one another, I just don't know how to quantify it for the DMV. Do they even bother with a physical description? Millions and millions of people living on top of one another with the exact same physical description. The EXACT SAME. Then it occurred to me that this has got to be a problem on the majority of the planet. Africa, Asia, India, South America (kinda) Those of us living on a continent where you regularly run into blondes or red heads or blue-eyed freaks are seriously outnumbered. Seriously. When I ask this question people always laugh nervously like I am being openly racist but I swear I am not. I just want to know. Do they have some set of descriptive traits that we don't use? If you were underage and wanting to get into bars couldn't you just borrow anyone's license? See, now you're uncomfortable.

One on my mission in France a woman asked me if I was "a bit Japanese?" I thought for sure I was mis-translating the question. I was fluent in French at the time but I made her look it up in the dictionary anyway to confirm that I really did know the meaning of the word "Japanais". I am literally the palest person I have ever seen and I have large light green eyes. I am 5'10". She thought I might be a Geisha. Turns out I have the palest skin other people have ever seen too. I wouldn't do well in a Kimono and I am bad with a set of chopsticks but if you ever have a minute I can make you a fabulous crane.

3 comments:

Nick said...

I remember one day in San Diego when you bore the flag of Japan on your back.

Staci Kramer said...

Actually I was branded for years with that damn flag. I never knew a sunburn could bleed. How dumb could we be to spend the entire day at the beach with no sunscreen?

Sinéad & Guillaume said...

I thought your special talent was recognizing Irish people.

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