1. On a layover in El Salvador, I noticed the staring. I kept locking eyes with strangers—the old man by the window, a woman digging through her purse, the child coming out of the bathroom. I felt flattered until I heard, “¿Quién es la china?”
China: a small porcelain doll on display for the world to see, fragile, foreign, china.
2. I grew up reading the Western classics in Korean. They came in full-shelf packages: Les Miserablés, Little Women, King Lear, translated to satiate a child’s growing mind.
When the words were finally read to me in their original form, I cried because I did not know how to pronounce Gloucester.
3. They say the term gook originated from mi-guk, the Korean word for America. My people shouted mi-guk! at the pale-faced, jeep-roaring, gum-chewing liberators, pointed and hollered mi-guk! the way our white saviors have come to shout gook.
Gook: flat-faced, stub-nosed, slit-eyed, yellow-skinned American.
4. A reddit thread that reads: “I am only interested in the best: Asian women. Why is that? Could it be their fine skin and long silky hair? Could it be that unlike white women, they remember what it’s like to be a woman: to be docile and submissive and respectful to a man? Could it be their delicate, playful personalities? I believe it is all of the above.”
5. A boy once recited Keats to me, as if he spoke the language of his forefathers: “bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art.” I remember wishing that they were my forefathers, that my bosom would rise and fall as a fair maiden’s breasts, that they had planted in me the same words so true and benign.
I lay naked in the provocation of our bodies hooked into a shadow, his soft brunette hair against the tan of my skin, and I let him speak to feel the Romance of what it means to be white.
6. I was there for the revival of Miss Saigon. Under the bright lights of a fictitious Saigon, the carnage of a 1975 bar scene unfolded before my eyes. I dwelled on the deranged romanticism of living through the ‘Nam, the unapologetic vulgarity of scantily-clad, stick-skinny women prancing around with topless G.I.s.
I wonder what it feels like to be thrown around. To be humped, cheaply bent over, to offer my every move to a man.
7. I was sitting in the passenger seat of a red Toyota Corolla, facing a boy whose arms were intertwined with mine. It was well past curfew but making out in empty parking lots is a favorite American pastime.
He flashed me a smile in the way that well-meaning boys do before muttering, “I love when you do your hair like that. It just looks so—I don’t know. Elegant? Like a geisha or something. I like it.”
8. “Do you have a boyfriend?” My mom asked one day.
“No, not really.” A white lie.
“That’s okay. Just don’t bring home a boy with blue eyes.”
9. During World War II, the Japanese snatched young girls from their homes in Korea and shipped them off in boatloads to barracks across the Pacific. Comfort women, we call them. They lay, teeth clenched, under the weight of the blood red sun as it rose and fell within them.
10. Comfort (n.): “a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint.” A state of physical intimacy awarded for bravery in battle. A state of constraint by the imperial army.
11. In Miss Saigon’s Dreamland sequence, one of the “girls,” Gigi, resists the advances of an American G.I. While he is impatient to undress her, she desperately tries to convince him to take her to America. He replies, “Oh, come on. Not tonight!” To which she pleads, “But I’ll make a good wife!”
The bar owner walks over, slaps Gigi, and throws her to the ground. To ease the sudden rise in tension accompanied by a musical halt, he says:
“It’s alright, gentlemen. It’s just Gigi. You know she likes it rough.”
12. The Japanese men who loved geishas colonized women who look like me—their lords once ruled my mother tongue and land. They ripped the sangtu off the heads of my fathers, exposing scalp, snipping away a reverence for our ancestors as they tossed hair-knots to the ground.
13. I wonder if Gigi really does like it rough. Did Vietnam like it rough when American soldiers fell from the sky?
14. I like being choked in bed. I like the feeling of fingers around my throat, of careful asphyxiation, of having the breath crushed out of me – I giggle.
15. I keep thinking maybe I like it rough the way Gigi likes it rough, and perhaps the real trophy of war is this doubt they’ve managed to cast.
– Kyung Mi Lee is a sophomore in Pauli Murray College.