It was the sort of thing that shamed me regularly for the sort of upbringing I'd had—my father had committed us to assimilation and had not wanted us to speak Korean.
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He had died when I was young, though, and the language gap left us estranged from his family afterward. In , we were putting these connections back together—I had just gone to Korea with my family that summer, and my grandfather had given me these books. But there was still so much no one had ever taught me. I practiced it as he watched and corrected me.
Roses re-emerging all through the garden.
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I think it's cursed there, that rose. There's no record anywhere of what I can now see the dream was about: I knew what rice queens were, and they didn't usually go for me. When I worked at A Different Light bookstore in the Castro in s-era San Francisco, I remember selling them copies of OG magazine—short for "Oriental Guy"—these men fantasizing about the sex trips they took to Asian countries like the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, all of them in search of smooth young Asian men living in precarious economic conditions who were willing to do things sexually for, well, probably less than the cost of the magazine, in order to survive.
I had also been to the gay bars in San Francisco for Asian men, to discover they were for Asian men looking for white men and vice versa. As someone who was half, I was just exactly not enough of what each type wanted—exactly enough to be invisible to them or at least not eligible as desirable.
They still walk by me sometimes, these mixed Asian and white gay couples, and I smile as both men seem to project their insecurities on to me, holding hands a little tighter as they walk by. As a result, I gave up on the idea that I would ever end up dating either kind of man—the gay white man who liked Asian men was likely not ever going to ask me out.
I remember dancing with a white man once at a club, and he reached over and pulled my shirt front down to reveal my hairy chest. He looked shocked and then turned and left the dance floor, not even a good-bye, like I'd lied to him about the goods. I like Asian men, he said, after this confession.
It's why I lived in Japan, why I studied Japanese. I tried to imagine it. Having an erotic imagination so focused on one race of people. All that my ex-boyfriends had in common was me. Questions I didn't ask ran through my head. Were you even gay if this is what your sexuality was?
What was your sexuality if it was based on race and not gender preference? Especially if you were white?
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He vanished after that conversation. We never spoke again. In retrospect, I think he was letting himself out of the relationship by saying these things.
Either way, I think we both knew, after my question and his answer, that there was nothing further for us. I left him some phone messages, none of which he returned.
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I don't know if he worked things out with his Japanese ex-boyfriend or what; I recall checking on him at that university and seeing at some point he had been given tenure. Now when I look for him, there's no sign of him.
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It's hard for me to say what it meant to me, the time you spent looking over my family books. I'm writing to my grandfather this afternoon and will write the character on the envelope, and even pray for a little of my grandmother's calligraphy talent. In one scene in the movie, a young Caucasian man eyes and approaches the main character Ryan as he and his love interest Ning dance in a nightclub. In a bigger sense, I think this imaginary situation touches something deeper and real in a lot of us.
Ryan is a character who embodies the first-generation story of an Asian person born into Western society. Reflected in the fragments of his personality are echoes of Asian gay men who live in Western countries. People whose everyday lives becomes a negotiated and cultural amalgamation of Asian, Western and queer identities. Do we belong to either western or eastern culture? Are our desires influenced by our struggle for identity?
And what commonalities lie within our collective psychological experiences? The tension of east and west and some of its complexities are especially exhibited in our dating scene. In popular gay Asian colloquialism, there lies the cultural notion that desires revolve around two specific racial choices — rice or potato? This divide seemed commonplace, even manifesting itself within a speed dating event in Sydney.
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At the event, we were given 12 dates at five minutes each and no one was allowed to talk about work. Interestingly a lot of the people I came across were open to everyone in terms of race when I asked them. I wanted to pry even further though, so I inquired if there were any patterns or differences in their dating experiences when it came to dating either white or Asian men. Three people separately mentioned smell which I guess is fair. A guy called Don told me he felt more comfortable with Asian guys since more of them wanted something similar in terms of a relationship , while Caucasian men were either interested in a hookup or seemed much older than him.
Another person, Jason agreed with this and said that he preferred Asian men because they were similar in their traditions. Jason also felt that other Asian men were culturally more family orientated and more open to monogamy and dating, whereas western guys appeared to be focused on sex. As Eric continued to talk, he revealed how he became more comfortable with his cultural heritage growing up.
It was during that process he became more open to dating other Asian men. Jason also recalled a similar experience.