Tokyo Dream

 

When I took my trip to Japan in late December, I had no idea what would happen next. All I knew was that despite other people in China trying to discourage me from going, I had to do it or I’d never feel satisfied.

I landed in Haneda airport the early morning of the 30th. A quietness filled the air. Various men in suits could be found sleeping next to open containers of beer; some homeless, others exhausted business men stuck waiting until the metro opened. The first thing I noted upon going to the bathroom were the toilets; all equipped with warming seats, bum washers, and other buttons I didn’t know how to operate. Two women standing at the sink counter next to me held a conversation in Mandarin. That’s when I realized that despite my lack of Japanese ability, hanging out in China for two years would prove incredibly useful in Japan.

I arrived at Iribashi Hostel near Shinjuku around 8 in the morning. The front desk informed that the check-in time was at 4PM. So, I dropped off my luggage and tried to find a way to occupy myself for several hours. Upon walking outside, I noticed that all of the shops were closed and the streets empty for blocks. Only 7-11 was open. Unlike the 7-11 in China, where absolutely nothing tastes like the junk food back home, this one had corn dogs and cheese popcorn which I eagerly devoured back at the hostel. I had genuinely missed real American-tasting junk food so much that my first two days were spent scouring the city, munching on the likes of Denny’s, Cinnabon, and 7-11 corn dogs. By day three, my body wanted to kill me. I decided it was time to taste some real Japanese food; after all, what kind of loser spends their foreign holiday eating the same crap they can get in their own country?

The Iribashi hostel had an unwelcoming atmosphere. It wasn’t like other hostels in large cities. The staff were uninformative and a bit rude, the beds were expensive, and it felt impossible to meet other travelers. Fortunately, I met Greg*, a friendly German guy, while sitting in the lobby and he taught me how to order a traditional Japanese breakfast from the hostel for 500 yen.

 

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That same day, we decided to explore the city together. At Akihabara, we walked around a bunch of electronics shops. I’ve never been a DBZ fan, but it was cool to get a dragon ball from one of the machines. In the comic store, there was only one other girl and it sort of confirmed just how large of a role gender still plays in Japanese society.

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#4. Not bad for a first try.

Then we went to a sex shop. At first I wanted to buy a dirty manga but found it hard to justify blowing 1500 yen on such a thing. The dildos were everything you’d expect from the Japanese: all colors, shapes, sizes, price ranges, and models. Every floor had dildos, including the 4th floor, which we found out rather embarrassingly is off-limits to women after being accosted by a flustered clerk. Eventually, I settled on a pair of black cat ears, clipped them to my braids and continued walking around Akihabara.

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The middle finger was accidental in this pic. I swear. haha

That night, Greg invited me to a local New Year’s Eve celebration at another hostel. We went with two locals, a Singaporean, and a Korean guy. There were food vendors everywhere, a large temple crowded by tourists, and musicians playing in the streets.

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As we walked, the Korean guy spoke to me in perfect English. “Can you speak Japanese?” He asked.

I shook my head and told him I’d studied before but the language proved really difficult. He told me all about how he watched videos on Youtube to learn it and how the food wasn’t as good as in Korea. Then he disappeared from the group for twenty minutes.

The Singaporean girl, Rina*, carried on with Greg about law school and Asian society. Rina was studying in Korea and absolutely hated it the same way I can’t stand living in China. I couldn’t keep up with the conversation about law school so I kept an eye on the environment.

Everything you say that sucks about China also exists in Korea. The people are very judgemental and fake. They are not even a little bit kind. Japan is so much better. -Rina

We’d roamed to the middle of some crowded street when I began to hear the countdown:

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2…

My Tokyo dream has come true.

The day after, Greg and I went out for sushi. For both us, eating sushi in Tokyo was a life-long aspiration. He talked about about his work in law school and how he’d make it his mission to settle in Japan. I was considering the same thing.

“What are you gonna do when you get older and you can’t work in clubs anymore?” He asked.

“I don’t know.” I replied. “I don’t want to think about it. It scares me.”

The truth is that I’m a creative soul in a world that’s working very hard to make us obsolete. I’m not gifted in math or science. I haven’t got anyone in my family who could help me pay for the cost of going back to school and after how hard it was to get through my Bachelor’s degree with crippling depression and no meds the first time, I’d rather not do it again. At 26 years old, I know what I can do and what I can’t. I’m a storyteller and I’ll need to work damn hard to figure out how to make a living doing it before I get too old for my current job.

After sushi and beer, my German friend mentioned he’s unaccustomed to drinking during the day. I informed him that everyone day-drinks in New York and it’s totally cool, but he insisted I’m some sort of alcoholic. I laughed it off as we walked towards the subway.

Later in the day, we went to Ueno Park. Swarms of gulls, crows, and other assorted birds gathered near a crowd of people throwing bread.

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“Wow, Japanese people are so kind and in tune with nature.” I said. “You’d never see this in China. They’d probably just kill these poor creatures for sport.”

He nodded as we stood there watching the birds, fluttering through the air and settling on peoples’ hands. A trust existed in this place between humans and the natural world in a way I hadn’t witnessed anywhere else on earth. A long-haired man with a pointed beard came to Greg, giving him several pieces of bread. The birds settled on him immediately. I snatched a few pieces and stood patiently with my hands out. No birds came. Perhaps, they could sense something unsettling within me. The residual energies on me hadn’t dissipated yet. I knew it wasn’t my time so I didn’t force it.

On our way home, Greg joked about finding a love hotel. You know, for the novelty of doing it in one while in Japan. I laughed until I realized he was serious. I just wanted to be friends. I felt insecure because he was younger and more successful than me. After a bit of drink, he kissed me in the elevator. I made an excuse about needing to do something, hurried back to my room, and laid down to stare at the ceiling for hours.

The next day he told me he’d be leaving for Kobe soon and we should probably go to a love hotel before he goes. I told him I just wanted to be friends. I was on holiday. I didn’t want to be pressured into random sex.

I’ve reached the point where I feel there’s absolutely no benefit to random casual encounters. I always feel awful and dehumanized afterwards; like I was just a plaything for some guy, a footnote in the chapters of his conquests. I’ve been used by so many bad people in my life that I’ve reached a point where I won’t do anything with or for anyone unless I can personally benefit from it in some tangible way. No, an orgasm is not enough. Vibrators can give me an orgasm. I need an effort. I want a real relationship and I absolutely will not settle for anything less anymore.

The day after he left, I couldn’t find anyone else in the hostel to hang out with. They’d all come in tight-knit groups, left early, and came back late. So, I decided to do some things by myself. First, I went to Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens.

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After the gardens, I explored a music street and bought a harmonica.

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Later, I went to a sauna with a girl I’d met in a hostel in Taipei. She’d been studying tea culture in Tokyo for years. Unfortunately, Japanese hot springs and saunas don’t allow people with tattoos to enter so we had to get creative with covering the three big ones on my upper back, outer thigh, and upper arm. We stopped at a pharmacy to buy large bandages and put them on in the bathroom.

Inside the hot spring, I’d never seen so many naked women in one place. Honestly, most of them looked fabulous. Me and my friend made a quiet joke about a girl on the other side with huge, buoyant breasts that seemed to float in the water like life rafts. After the sauna, we went to the changing room where we met a Chinese family who chatted with us until we got to the metro station. I got to meet this cute little mixed girl:

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Her grandmother says she can speak Japanese, Chinese, and English. The kid’s going places in life!

Because I’d been cheated out of my salary in China the month before, I needed to be careful with my money. This meant only buying a few small souvenirs, skipping Disney Land, and using a Chinese app to find guys to take me out for dinner some nights.

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Caviar and sashimi. What can I say? I’ve got expensive taste.

Enter the MoMo equation. I couldn’t afford to go out every day so some days were spent in my room texting guys on this app out of boredom. Eventually, I ran into a Japanese guy. I didn’t think much of it at the time. Due to Tokyo’s large Chinese population and it’s proximity to the mainland, many people in the city can speak and understand Mandarin. It was nearing the end of my trip and I felt drawn to this guy. There was something about him that seemed really special. I told him that I’d done everything I wanted to do in Tokyo. The only thing left was a night out in Roppongi.
That Saturday I stood nervously near the exit. My phone had no 4G so I needed to bum WiFi from a cafe nearby. I got a notification on Line. Looking up, I saw this tall, smiling, handsome Japanese guy. His first word was “wow”. I tried not to act flustered as I adrenaline-spat several sentences in Chinese. Then I realized his spoken Mandarin wasn’t quite as good as mine, but it was enough.

A Japanese guy and an American girl walk into a bar. They order drinks in English and speak to each other in Chinese.

We ordered several shots of vodka and talked about what a fucking stressful chaotic mess China is. I told him my dream of moving to Tokyo, showed him the harmonica I’d bought at a music store on Day 4, and some pictures of the food I missed cooking.

We decided one bar wasn’t enough so going to a dance club was the next mission. The first one wouldn’t let him in because of his shoes and their dress code policy. The second place let us in because the bouncer liked my hair. In the club, I got drunk as hell and introduced him to twerking. Then I puked.

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The pre-puking/pre-twerking pic, I promise.

At our hotel, I told him I was so embarrassed but he seemed fascinated by me. We made dirty jokes, laughed, listened to music, and cuddled. Then I realized that I genuinely liked this guy. He got me in a way no American or Chinese guy ever could. Chinese guys would often call me fat because they only like anorexic, stick-figure looking women with translucent skin. Japanese dudes are real men and appreciate curves and a bit of tan. He told me my body was perfect. It was the first time I felt good about myself in years. No one had ever told me that before.

Slightly hung over, we went to a pet shop to stare at over-priced cats and dogs, then we got sushi. While we sat down, a few strange glances came our way as some people wondered why a black girl and a Japanese man were speaking in Mandarin.

“My name is Akira.” He said.

I told him my full name, which I never do for anyone and then asked him to call me “Dee”. He smiled and addressed me as I liked without hesitation, question, or argument. It was really nice, for once in my life, to be treated with actual respect.

My flight to Taipei was that evening but I vowed to come back; not just for him but for myself. After seeing how wonderful life could be, I no longer felt like I wanted to die. I no longer felt the rage, frustration, and pain that I felt so often in China and back in the States. Tokyo is the place on earth I’m meant to be and I knew it from that moment on.

After a month of searching and a coincidental Skype interview on Valentine’s Day, I received a job offer directly from a school in Tokyo. I hope to be there before the cherry blossoms stop falling. That’s the final part of my dream.

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On Growing Old

​Growing old is for people who have a reason to, for people with a real purpose in their lives and enough luck and opportunity. As for me, I wouldn’t mind not growing old. I accept the fact that as a sojourner, living pretty harsh and randomly, I probably won’t make it to 40. And that’s fine. Like a dog, I live in the moment and sometimes I sleep outside. Sometimes strangers feed or groom me, sometimes I go without. At least I always have something to talk about. I’m living my biggest dream: to travel the world. That’s all that matters now.

Guiyang Capsule Hotel 太空舱旅馆

Guiyang Capsule Hotel 太空舱旅馆
The future is now

While most people associate capsule hotels with space-conscious Japan, cities in China and Taiwan also enjoy the style. This is the first capsule hotel I’ve stayed in and it does not disappoint. 

The capsule comes equipped with everything you need for a good night’s sleep including a TV, fan, heated blanket, light, charging port, mirror and multiple shelves and hooks to store your essentials.My only gripe about this set up is that there is only one outlet so if you’re a techno geek like me, you’re gonna have to plug stuff in one at a time. 

I booked the hostel using the English version of Ctrip and selected the “pay at hotel” option. The owner, a local in his early 30s, is incredibly friendly and offered me a discount of 150 RMB. In total, I paid about 600 RMB for a 10-day stay; definitely a bargain compared to Japan.

Sidenote: For some strange reason, many Japanese capsule hotels won’t allow female guests. For all my gripes about China, I give them credit for being light years ahead of Japan in terms of gender equality. 


One caveat is that finding this place is like going through a hidden maze. It’s tucked away in an alley just off of a sidestreet. I had to stop and ask for directions several times in Chinese. If you can’t speak Chinese, ask a friend for help as the owner also can’t speak English. If you find yourself in Guiyang during your China travels, don’t miss out on this amazing gem. 
Guiyang Capsule Youth Hostel 贵阳太空舱青年旅舍

正新街9号富水花园d座11楼3号

Back in Guiyang

I realize I haven’t really written anything here for almost a month. This month has taken me on a ride to hell and back. If you’ve been following this journey, you know that I write very candidly about my life. What I’m about to share may make some of you view me differently, but if that’s the case then this story simply wasn’t meant for you.

My 26th birthday fell on the 17th of last month. I was alone in Shanghai: depressed, sick to my stomach for days, and watching the time pass. Around 11PM, my phone rang. It was my ex boyfriend from Fujian. He’d taken a train from Changzhou to Shanghai, he said, for my birthday. I didn’t want to see him. In fact, I told him off and blocked him several times. He just kept using other peoples’ phones to call me. Finally, I gave in, because I was exhausted and spending a birthday or holiday alone abroad is among one of the worst feelings known to humankind.

It turned out that he hadn’t really come for my birthday, but to have hot pot with a bunch of his old friends. He didn’t even get me a gift. Then he told me that he didn’t have anywhere to sleep, so against my better judgement, I allowed him to stay at my place. Things happened and needless to say, he was the first to become aware of a rather embarrassing problem I’d quietly dealt with for weeks. Finally, it had become too much to bear.

The next morning rolled around and I dragged him to the hospital with me because I felt afraid to go alone. Chinese hospitals, for the most part, are terrible — unsanitary, unlikely to have English-speaking staff, and also a big waste of money if they’re privately-owned. They can diagnose problems but the treatments they recommend are often ineffective. Bottom line: don’t get sick here.

The doctors told me I had BV and I was pregnant. I’ve only been pregnant twice. The first time, I was 16 and married to a psychopath, miscarried, and thanked the gods for it. The second time, ten years later, I was in a foreign country, alone, with only a rudimentary understanding of the language, no residence permit, and no husband. The first time, the doctor congratulated me as if I was supposed to be happy about being a potential teenage mom. I wasn’t. The second time, staff at least had the courtesy to ask me if I wanted it or not. This is a deeply conservative country that frowns upon single motherhood. A large percentage of the population remains uneducated about birth control and STDs. Abortion, unfortunately, is often used as a form of birth control in China. Sad, considering the pill can be purchased at any pharmacy over the counter for just 20RMB.

After delivering the news, the doctors gave my ex and I time to discuss alone. I couldn’t stop crying. The ex told me he wanted to kid but I knew we were both unequipped to care for a child. He said his parents could help us, but his parents live in a small city in Fujian. It wouldn’t be a good place for a mixed child to grow up. I remember what it felt like growing up mixed in St. Petersburg, FL over a decade ago, surrounded by swamp rednecks. I’d never doom my own kid to such a fate.

Yet, at the same time, I felt really tired of this job. Sick of the gross comments about my body. Sick of the random fondling. Sick of the price haggling. Sick of all of it. If having this kid could give me a chance to have my basic needs met so that I could strictly write for a living then I felt ready and willing.

We took the train together to Changzhou, a small city in Jiangsu province. I never liked small cities; not in America and certainly not in China. But without being able to work in the KTV, I had no choice. I couldn’t afford to live in Shanghai without working my ass off. Such is the way of city life.

The first two days felt like honeymoon bliss. All of the arguments we’d had before seemed to melt away. We’d get up early together, go to his seafood shop, cook breakfast, and I’d play on my phone while he worked for 14 hours. After work, sometimes, he’d parade me around to his friends at some Chinese dinner party. He felt happy about my pregnancy and slowly, I started feeling happy too. I thought, maybe at long last, there’s a normal, peaceful life available to me.

But God, if he’s real, is a cruel prankster. During pregnancy, my clinical depression worsened to the point where I couldn’t get out of bed. Worse, I’d found my fiance a playboy flirt with mostly female friends. There’s nothing wrong with a guy having female friends. But when 90% of them are women and 100% of the conversations are flirtatious in nature, then it’s a problem. When I confronted him about it, he just denied it so I gave up.

The last night — the dinner party to end all dinner parties — he invited me downstairs to eat with some friends, including one of the girls he’d been flirting with. I chose to stay upstairs in bed alone. When the party ended, he climbed up the stairs to ask why I didn’t come down.

“My stomach hurt.” I said.

He looked at my phone and saw that I was booking train tickets back to Shanghai.

“Do you think you treat me well?” He replied. “I give you a place to sleep, cook for you, all your needs are met.”

“That’s not enough.” I said. “I don’t want this kid to have a hard life. I don’t want it at all.”

“You’re so lucky I chose you!” He snapped. “I was going to be with a Chinese girl who is much better than you.”

Nothing could shake me out of bed all day except for those words. I remembered the day my ex husband left me for an Asian girl. I remembered being in Macau and not getting any work, likely due to my skin color. I remembered how undesirable I am, even to the world’s most undesirable men. But I wasn’t gonna just sit there and take it.

I turned on the bedroom light and began gathering my things next to my suitcase. He took my phone from my hand. I asked him several times to give it back and he refused, saying he didn’t want me to leave. In reaching for it aggressively, I accidentally hit him. He punched me in the face and I punched him back. Eventually, we were on the floor fist fighting. He kept asking me to pay him back the 800 RMB that he’d given me for train tickets and miscellaneous stuff. I told him you can’t just randomly take back a gift. Then he ran out of the room, grabbed my purse which held my passport inside, and locked his bedroom door. I ran downstairs to grab a knife. If you threaten my passport, you threaten my life. He wouldn’t open the door so I started hacking at it.

Eventually his boss and coworker came running up the stairs to interfere. They of course told me that I couldn’t have a knife, but didn’t tell him that he shouldn’t be hitting me and taking my stuff. He spoke something in dialect that I couldn’t understand, then the sleepy pair headed back down the stairs. At this point in my life, I’m used to people not siding with me. I didn’t care to win over his colleagues, I just wanted to get the hell out of there.

I sat alone in a corner, bones aching, thinking about if I’d actually die from jumping out of the 9th floor window. Too bad the panel had iron bars over it. When he’d fallen asleep, I tiptoed into his room and slid a phone out of his pocket. It was his. Peeking at his face to make sure he hadn’t stirred, I slipped my hand in once more to grasp my phone.

With all of my things collected, I headed downstairs to find my shoes. They were missing. I couldn’t risk being caught leaving so I took someone else’s shoes since they’d clearly taken mine. Lugging a suitcase down nine flights of stairs in the middle of the night after an hour-long fistfight while pregnant was perhaps the point where I realized my life is pure shit and if I died the next day it simply meant fuck all.

Outside, I called my Xinjiangese friend, Mina, and asked for her help. The trains weren’t running so she suggested taking a taxi to Zhenjiang. The taxi driver quoted me 300 RMB so I got out of the taxi and walked to a nearby Ramadan hotel. They quoted a standard room price of 700 RMB. So I walked back outside in the pouring rain, luggage lock broken, water seeping into my clean clothes, and again saw that same taxi sitting there waiting. Smug bastard. I got back in and explained I’d find a cheap hotel near the train station and continue my journey the following day.

I couldn’t sleep well that night. A hot shower didn’t take away the aching. The bed, hard as brick, poked my bruised ribs. Around 6AM, I found my phone littered with messages from him saying he’s sorry and he won’t do it again but I’d been down that road before and I sure as fuck wouldn’t go down it again. I’d rather be alone than be with some lowlife.

Mina lived inside her workplace in one of the master suites. Stone and tile walls coupled with poor insulation made the interior blizzard-cold, especially at night. There was also no heat and no WiFi, of course. The first day I wanted to make some money so I came with her to work. There were so many girls, none of them good looking at all, and the tip was only 400/500. I didn’t even know that 400/500 level KTVs existed until that day. I’d never worked for less than 800 except for a few times when I was desperate. On top of having a shitty tip price, they had so few customers and the ones they had were incredibly picky with zero interest in foreigners. Around 11PM, exhausted from travel, freezing from lack of adequate clothing, and in serious pain, I retired to bed.

The next day we went to the hospital. Having Mina there meant everything to me. I don’t think I could have gone alone. I’d read one story on the Internet about a white American girl who had an abortion in a small city in China. Her Chinese was better than mine and she also had a local boyfriend which probably made things a shit ton easier for her. While there, Mina also decided to get her lady bits checked.

Women’s hospitals in China really go overboard with the pink decor. I felt like I’d landed in some kind of bad sitcom. The doctor asked me how long I’d been pregnant, if I was married or had a boyfriend, if I wanted it, and who the father was. When I said I didn’t know about the dad, they seemed confused. That’s obviously not something that happens in China very often. I knew but I was afraid that if I said too much it would just cause more problems and headaches. They ran several tests and approved me for the procedure the same afternoon. I used my Alipay (mobile payment) and transferred 2100 RMB to the hospital. American hospitals would never be so cheap and convenient.

The nurse led me into a room where nothing separated the examination tables except for a thin pull curtain. As I walked past, I got to see Mina’s brown-haired vagina getting steam-cleaned. That’s the stuff all good friendships are made of.

They ran one more test, then escorted me to another room where two beds lie next to each other. In the bed closest to the window, a very young Chinese girl sat under the covers playing with her phone. I spent a half hour in the bed next to hers, with a heat pack on my stomach. After the warm up, they led me into an IV room with a large screen TV playing Chinese soap operas. Mina and I appeared to be moving at the same pace. The tears leaked out on their own. Not sure if the pregnancy hormones overpowered me or I simply felt this sorrow from the pit of my heart. After taking out the IV, they led me to the surgery room.

I saw the faces of many doctors, the sharp tools, the bright light shining up my vagina.

“Can you understand Mandarin Chinese?” The lead doctor asked.

I told her I could.

“Soon we’ll be speaking the local language.” She said. “Don’t worry, we’ve done this so many times. You can sleep now.”

I woke up screaming. The pain was ten times worse than the natural miscarriage I had at sixteen. Stabbing sensations lined my insides. I’d been hollowed out, like a Jack-O-Lantern. It took four nurses to hold me up. I couldn’t stand straight. They led me to the recovery room where Mina had been waiting, holding an herbal drink. With shaking hands, I grabbed it and sipped slowly, but it all came out in an instant. I spent an hour bent over a wastebasket before the nurses informed me their shift was over. They didn’t give me any antibiotics. Mina helped hold me up all the way home. That night I slept deeply.

The next afternoon Mina returned with some antibiotics. I took it upon myself to buy one specifically to cure the BV they didn’t treat which had the potential to turn into something deadly serious. Fortunately, all antibiotics can be purchased cheaply over the counter in China without a prescription so I was able to finally get rid of that embarrassing problem.

I spent a week in bed with a heat pack snuggling against my lower stomach, ordering bad-tasting take-out. The food in Jiangsu province is terrible. In fact, I feel like — opposite of the U.S. — all the food in Southeastern China sucks. With the local food inedible, KFC became the daily go-to choice for sustenance.

After finishing my antibiotics, I decided it was time to return to work. The first day proved miserable. The customer drank himself sick, got way too handsy with me, tried taking all the girls, including the help, into the bathroom. Then they wanted to go out to another bar after. I refused and the bastard tried to hold my tip hostage. Fortunately, Mina knew what to do and tricked him by saying I’d come right downstairs. I never did. All this for a measly 500 RMB, 60 of which had to go to the company. I just wanted to earn enough money for my plane ticket but that was even proving impossible. I just took what was left of my savings and bought a ticket from Shanghai to Sanya.

In Shanghai, the old KTV I worked in closed to foreigners due to the death of a Korean customer and daily police checks. I once again reached out to everyone I could think of. Most didn’t know or just ignored me. Then there was one Mommy who always gave me a hand. She got me in touch with a customer for a dinner party. I didn’t know his girlfriend would be there. The entire night felt incredibly awkward to say the least. He was your typical Shanghainese man: arrogant, unwilling to learn English despite spending extensive time in English-speaking countries, and super rich. I went back to the apartment with this guy and his gf. Then it became clear that the guy wanted a threesome but the girlfriend didn’t. I slept next to his girlfriend while he paced the living room all night, which became clear when my midnight bladder stop called.

He asked us to go out and buy some fruit. The girl was nice, albeit conservative and plain. She bought me a pair of tights and took me to Starbucks. I tried to converse with her but she didn’t have much to say. After I returned to the guy’s apartment, he spent a long time praising himself and Shanghai, then he talked on the phone for a while, I dozed off, and he kicked me out.

Several hours later, the mommy called me asking why I didn’t have sex with the guy. I simply said there was no opportunity. Then she wanted me to call the customer and explain. I called and the bastard hung up on me.

That night the hostel owner returned early, thrilled to see me. He started flirting with me heavily and telling me he didn’t want me to go. The situation had grown more and more awkward so I left early the next day. At the airport, the mommy once again pestered me about that stupid client. She claimed I still had the guy’s sweater. I told her I’d ship it. I was going to until I read “Armani” on the tag. Then I thought about what an asshole that guy had been and decided to keep it.

Sanya, a lovely beach city on the island of Hainan, welcomed me with open arms. I spent the first night walking around, buying flip flops and a sun dress. The second night it was time for work. Then they dropped the bomb on me: this place was also only 400/500 and of course the higher level clubs won’t accept foreigners. I can’t describe the level of frustration I felt. I talked them into letting me work for 600. My first customer was a 70 year old Cantonese guy who didn’t even own a smart phone. He was bad-handsy, squeezing my boobs so hard that they hurt. He kept making gross comments about wanting to have babies with me. Still not over the abortion, I hid in the bathroom and burst into tears until they left. How could every day be this shitty?

The airfare in November is dirt cheap. I bought a ticket to Guiyang for 200 RMB and didn’t look back. This place had accepted foreigners since I started last year, though now they’re under new management. I’ve worked decently here so I’m unwilling to leave unless they close or something else. Although, after this horrible year, I feel that my China chapter will soon come to an end. The spring festival is coming in January which means everyone in China will go back to their hometowns or travel abroad. Being alone with nothing to do for an entire month is not on my agenda for next year, so I bought a one-way ticket to Japan; the place I’ve been dreaming of all my life. If 2016 was shit, I’m determined to make 2017 a lot better. If I can find a hostess club in Tokyo, then I will stay and never look back here. Wish me luck ’cause I sure as hell need it.

 

 

No Place Like Home: New York

 

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The Author in New York City, October 2015

I meet a lot of people on this journey. One of the common questions they’ll ask is: When will you go home? Rather than saying I never want to return to the U.S. again, I simply tell them I go home once a year. But really I’ve got no home. I’m a migrant with a passport. This article is the second in a series of posts detailing my six months of failed attempts to reintegrate into American society circa September 2015-March 2016.

By the time I’d arrived in New York City in mid-October 2015, I’d only been back in the United States for one month but it felt like six. Los Angeles had taken such a toll on me that I no longer looked or felt like myself. You learn who your real friends are when you come back from halfway around the world with nothing but a suitcase and the hope that you’ll be able to establish yourself quickly.

Previously, I’d spent four years in Albany and several months in the city. I called everyone I could think of after landing. A few people had moved to cheaper areas, others were simply too busy living the NYC hustle. Only one person stood waiting for me at JFK: my best friend, Clarese. Surprisingly, our white Hyundai sedan still lived to cough engine fumes another day.

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“Chillin’ in Ol’ Faithful”. Me (Left) and Clarese (Right), New York City, October 2015.

Clarese and I had a tradition of going to Taco Bell to celebrate special occasions or just random life events in general. I’ll admit that the west coast is more creative when it comes to fast food concoctions, but there ain’t nothing like Checker’s and Taco Bell in NYC. After stuffing our faces with MSG and sodium in a burrito wrap, we went to the infamous Blue Stockings Bookstore on the Lower East side to meet with our friend, Marina.

Marina gasped, put down her pen and notebook, and ran from behind the counter to give me a hug. We spent the day catching up before going back to her place in North Jersey. Every day, I needed to get up at 7AM due to Marina’s schedule and my lack of a key. Having worked in a night club for years, this proved to be a very difficult adjustment. I knew my friend had offered me a great kindness by allowing me to stay with her, so I decided to make the most of my days.

I went to Bank of America and opened a new account, begrudgingly, because credit unions don’t exist in NYC. Then, I asked my friend, Luna, about temping. She told me about an agency in Manhattan with plenty of work. I submitted my resume and within the day, they called me in for an interview. Fortunately for me, Luna proved herself a hard worker and dedicated employee. She’d quickly gained favor with the office staff. Having that kind of connection definitely increased my prospects of a prompt call back.

October 17th rolled around and I was determined to have a fabulous birthday in NYC. To my contentment, several of my friends from upstate and the city attended. We began the festivities with the breaking of a Kim Kardashian pinata (credit: Felicia Schaller) in Times Square. Her ass had been properly-stuffed with miniature vodka, candy, and assorted trinkets. Several pedestrians stopped for a moment to take pictures and sheepishly grab some of the fallen treats. After the Great Ass Breaking, we proceeded to Korea Town to sing Karaoke until the wee hours of the morn. My 25th birthday was the best birthday of my life.

After the party, life quickly returned to the mundane. I waited for several days without word. Finally, two weeks later, as my poor friend’s patience began wearing thin due to my lack of work, the temp agency called me back. Apparently, the fact that I could speak Mandarin proved useful to a certain health center located near Chinatown. The position of Care Coordinator required fluent English and Mandarin as well as the supervision of several staff members. The salary? 30K a year. It took my greatest effort not to laugh-cry over the phone.

Keep in mind that the average cost of rent in New York City is about $1000-1500 a month for a room in the outer boroughs. With a full-time job, the government would probably force me to pay around $500 a month for my student loans. I’d easily be spending around 2/3rds of my salary on rent and loan payments alone. True, like any big city, things like food and clothing are actually cheaper if you know where to go. However, I’d like to be able to save a little money in case some unforeseen disaster befalls me. Perhaps, I’d grown spoiled from living in China, where I could easily save almost 75% of my monthly salary even if I splurged on eating out all the time and buying random crap that I don’t need.

There’s an unfortunate stereotype that women aren’t aggressive enough in business and don’t negotiate their salaries. I wanted to break that, which to my dismay, resulted in the offer being rescinded and having no future callbacks from the agency. I didn’t only rely on them, however. That would be foolish. I also sent out resumes on my own to which of course, I received no call backs for interviews. This was around the time my depression really started to kick in hard. Not wanting to burden my friend any further, I made the decision to move back in with my college roommates in Albany.

Jessica, warm as sunshine, gave me a hug and welcomed Clarese and I back. Mase, Jess’ boyfriend, offered to fight me in a round of Soul Caliber IV. Brie, gracefully adjusted to life in Albz, asked me how China was.

“It was China.” I replied, not knowing how else to describe it.

There’s a feeling of isolation that washes upon those who return home from lengthy trips abroad. All this time, I thought I was the only one, that I alone was simply the world’s biggest f*ck-up: having acquired a wealth of skills and experience that led to nothing but a dead-end in my own country. Every day I felt like nothing more than a number. As I continued searching for work in vain for months, I fell deeper into a pit of depression. Days, weeks, and months blurred together. I spent a lot of time smoking pot and playing video games. It felt like my teenage years all over again: hopeless.

I gave up on the idea of finding a job in a small town like Albany, went on a sugar daddy website, and chatted up some Indian guy to meet with three times a week in New Paltz for $2000 a month. Indian Sugar was a professor as SUNY New Paltz. What I thought would be a simple assignment, proved to be a nightmare. New Paltz is a tiny town, even smaller and more remote than Albany, albeit closer to NYC. While he was away at work, I sat in his second apartment, bored, before I decided to go to a local pub for a quick fix. At the pub, I met a big, beefy guy with full sleeve tats on each arm. He was missing several teeth but he grinned without a care. After a bit of conversation, I found out that he had designer acid, which he gave me for free because I’m a cute girl in a bar in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon.

Upon returning to the apartment, I turned on some music. I could see the walls melting, quicksand in the floor, insects dropping from the ceiling. The thirst was overwhelming. I drank an entire gallon of water in a span of three hours and still couldn’t achieve satiation. Indian Sugar returned home, seeing me lying on the bed in a cold sweat. I told him I felt like I was dying and I wanted to go to the hospital. He laughed at my bad trip and tried fondling me which only made it worse. I tried to call my friend to come get me but he took my phone. I flipped shit. He suggested getting some food. We arrived at some farm to table restaurant in the middle of bumf*ck NY. I tried to eat a slice of vegan casserole but my stomach rode the waves. I went to the bathroom. My foot had turned into a snake which was being sucked into a portal.

I went back to the table, paranoid that other people would notice I was tripping balls. Wait staff took over an hour to bring us the check after we asked. Indian Sugar confirmed that my distorted perception of time wasn’t the culprit. The service sucked.

Waking up to this pot-bellied loser’s small d*ck rubbing up against my ass was the worst part of coming down from that acid trip. After three hours, he still couldn’t get off. I told him I had things to do and wanted to get back to Albany early. The dude was so pathetic, he didn’t even have the cash on hand. I sat in a car while he futzed with multiple cards at a gas station ATM. Worse, he tried to get away with only giving me $300 for the week. I forced him to get the other $200 on the spot.

The drive home aired an uncomfortable silence. After that, all bets were off. This guy wanted too much for too little money. One of the roommates was starting to become impatient and I felt I’d overstayed my welcome. Two of my friends had connections in the Washington DC area so I decided to go give it a shot. Clarese and I loaded everything I owned in Ol’ Faithful and putted our way south.

The other day at a bar, a British man told me that repatriation, especially from the Far East, is hard for a great number of people. Many folks ended up returning to their second country and several regretted going back home at all. I’m among the latter. In the final post in this series, I’ll explain why.

 

 

No Place like Home: Los Angeles

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Redondo Beach, L.A., 2015

I meet a lot of people on this journey. One of the common questions they’ll ask is: When will you go home? Rather than saying I never want to return to the U.S. again, I simply tell them I go home once a year. But really I’ve got no home. I’m a migrant with a passport. This article will be the first in a series of posts detailing my six months of failed attempts to reintegrate into American society circa September 2015-March 2016.

I arrived at LAX via Philippine Airlines on a warm day in mid-September. After a 14 hour flight, my legs felt like jelly. For some unspecified reason, we all sat in the plane for an extra hour after landing. Trying to access the airport WiFi proved useless. When they finally allowed us to exit the aircraft, I stood in the customs line. The WiFi icon at the top of my phone showed one bar but it was enough to send a Facebook message to my uncle. Clearly, he’d never taken a transpacific flight since he resorted to cursing me out for the extra hour or two it took to exit the plane and wait in the customs line.

“You can’t use your phone here.” An elderly TSA agent scolded.

“I’m just messaging my uncle to tell him I’m OK. My flight was delayed.”

The crusty old bitch shook her head and threatened to have me questioned if I continued to use my phone. Yep, I was definitely back in the U.S. Ten minutes off the plane and I already felt the joys of dealing with a militant police state.

When I approached the customs window, an obese Caucasian female with a messy bun looked at my passport, looked at me, then looked back at my passport.

“It doesn’t look like you.” She said.

“Yeah, I get that a lot. It’s an old picture. I was a dumb college student wearing too much makeup.”

“Your hair also looks different.”

“People change their hair.” I snapped.

I think she sensed my frustration. “How long were you gone?”

“One year.” I said.

She glanced over my documents once more for good measure. “Welcome home.”

I rushed through to find somewhere to buy a prepaid phone card for my unlocked, GSM phone from Hong Kong. The flight had landed in the middle of the night so everything was already closed. The WiFi had conked out as well. I searched for a payphone, inserted a few quarters, and dialed my uncle old school gangster style letting him know what gate I stood at.

I hadn’t seen Uncle Ted for almost ten years. He’d aged gracefully, but still looked scrawnier than a Chinese street cat. He gave me a hug and we got into his truck for the long haul to Fontana.

“I really want some Taco Bell.” I remarked. “I haven’t ate Taco Bell for a year.”

On that stretch of road, we’d come across three Del Tacos, several In n’ Outs, and a few other west coast fast food specialties, but no Taco Bell. Exasperated, I gave in to eating at Wiener Schnitzel.

When our truck pulled into the driveway, the sound of dogs barking jolted me alert. Back when I was sixteen, Uncle Ted had seven dogs. Now, they were down to two that I’d never seen before: a medium sized golden retriever whose name I can’t remember and a small tan mutt named Davie.

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This one eventually grew on me.

To be honest, I never considered myself much of a dog person. My parents had always preferred cats. Also, I’m pretty ill-equipped to take care of myself so I’m not sure how I’d be able to care for something as needy and time-consuming as canines.

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Davie the Stoner.

The first night I slept on the couch. I awoke the next morning to flies surrounding my body, buzzing around my ears incessantly. A pot of coffee sat on the kitchen counter. I poured myself a fresh cup then returned to the living room and switched on the TV. The dogs had also awakened, running into the room just to feverishly hump in front of the table.

“Um, why don’t you get your dogs fixed?” I asked Uncle Ted. He never answered the question.

Aunt Faith had switched to part-time work in order to care for her ailing, morbidly obese mother. They both sat around the house all day watching trashy daytime TV like Jerry Springer. Occasionally, the sound of groaning and moaning would interrupt whatever show I happened to be watching. God forbid doctors in the U.S. prescribe sufficient pain meds for a mobility-challenged senior citizen.

On the second day, I’d moved into the room in the back of the house next to Aunt Faith’s mother’s room. Day and night, I’d hear her groaning. If I left the door open, a scrawny feline would enter, feces hanging from it’s back end, leaving little trails of diarrhea about the concrete floor.

“Why don’t you guys put down that cat?” I asked. “It’s clearly dying.”

“I can’t go through that again.” Aunt Faith said. “We had to put down a lot of animals before. My heart can’t take it.”

“My heart can’t take watching an animal suffer and slowly die.” I replied after taking a puff of the joint we’d been passing around.

“When you have your own pets, you can make that decision by yourself.” She snipped.

As the days went on, I started to get more and more annoyed with Aunt Faith’s attitude and behavior, the flies, the dying cat, the dogs’ never-ending hump fest, and the groaning old woman.

Aunt Faith had some neighbors who also happened to be close friends living across the street. They kept calling me by my birth name which I hated because nobody calls me that ever. I hate that my bio mom gave me such a stupid, old-fashioned name.

Aunt Faith’s best friend’s daughter, Chantelle, was one of the people I hated the most. The first time I came to California at sixteen years old, I’d gotten in a big fight with her after she ran up the phone bill making international calls to guys from the Internet and blamed it on me. I’d chased her with a bat, determined to beat the ever-loving crap out of that useless fat slut. That day Aunt Faith had become uncharacteristically angry to the point of locking me in my room and threatening to put me in a mental institution. It’s no surprise Chantelle slept with a black guy and had a mixed toddler by the ripe age of twenty-one. The kid’s name is James. I immediately felt sorry for him. He’ll grow to resent this family the same way I do.

The second week, Chantelle brought James over to play. The house phone rang. Aunt Faith picked it up and immediately began screaming. My Aunt and Uncle’s adopted son, Arthur, a high-school drop out with a knack for computers, had married a Mexican man. It took my conservative family forever to accept, though I believe they still don’t treat him all that well.

I don’t remember exactly what was said, but I heard my white aunt drop the n-word mid-conversation within earshot of James. I tried to explain to her why she shouldn’t say that, but she shrugged me off.

I didn’t want to believe Aunt Faith is racist. But I’ll never forget the last day at their house. I sat in their bedroom watching Springer as usual. James occupied himself with the dogs. One episode about cheaters showed a black man and a white woman before cutting to commercial break.

“Of course, black men always cheat.” Aunt Faith said as she shoved tortilla chips in her fat mouth.

When they returned from commercials, it turned out the blonde white woman had cheated on the black man. He had proof and he was ready to break it off with her. She said she didn’t care because she could get any d*ck she wanted.

I grinned at Aunt Faith. “What was that about all black men being cheaters?”

That same evening she continued to bug me about not having a job. However, without a car, living efficiently in California is impossible. I did buy a bike from Wal-Mart but I only got about two rides out of it before the inner tube blew.

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RIP Piece of Sh*t Wal-Mart Bike. September 24-25 2015.

They wouldn’t let me borrow one of their two cars for job searching. I thought perhaps Aunt Faith’s sister, Aunt Sue might help. The first time I saw her in twenty years, she strolled into the house hunched over a metal cane and gave me a half-hearted hug. She was the only openly liberal atheist in the family so I thought she might be sympathetic to the practicality of my situation. I asked if I paid for gas and insurance if I could borrow her car from time to time for job interviews.

She smiled, shook her head, looked me dead in the eye and muttered, “You poor thing. You’ve always had so little in your life.”

I was taken aback by Aunt Sue’s condescending attitude. Even the most self-proclaimed liberal member of my family wouldn’t help me a little bit.

“I don’t need your pity.” I scoffed and sprinted to my room to start packing my bags.

On my way out the next morning, a few tears welled up in the corner of my eyes. I hadn’t seen that they’d still kept some old photos from my childhood. I couldn’t help but contemplate what my life would have been like if I hadn’t been born into this family.

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Dad, Mom, and yours truly. St. Petersburg, FL. 2005.
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From left to right (front row): Uncle Ted, Mom, Bio Mom, and the author. Clearwater, Florida. 1997.
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Grandpa, Grandma, and me. Zion, Illinois. 1995.
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Me, Bio Mom, and Step Dad. 1995.

I took a train to L.A. proper and stayed in a West Hollywood hostel I’d found through AirBnb. I tried to make it in L.A. on the public transportation system but that proved futile. Desperate and frustrated, I took a taxi to the airport car rental. Two weeks before my 25th birthday, I still had to pay double because I was supposedly “underage”. Never mind that I could buy beer for three years and legally live on my own for six. I tried to negotiate with them but no dice. It’s America. No one ever cuts you a break, especially not greedy corporations and insurance companies.

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I paid way too much to rent this VW Jetta, but damn she was a smooth ride.

I bit the bullet and signed the papers, forgetting that after years of living in New York and Asia, I wasn’t confident in my driving abilities. Fortunately, I had a side-kick: a blue-haired, dark-skinned, combat-boot-wearing, gay boy from London who taught me a thing or two about make-up. His name was Rob. I’d met him at the hostel and we’d quickly become fast friends. We both hated L.A. with a passion. We made jokes about eating ice cream to celebrate if a massive earthquake hit the place. People say New Yorkers are rude, but actually I can respect people from the Big Apple. Their perceived rudeness is simply a manifestation of genuinely honest frustration with the slow pace at which the rest of the world moves. In L.A., people are just mean for the sake of being mean and faker than Kim Kardashian’s robbery in Paris. Plus, you have to drive everywhere due to massive amounts of urban sprawl. F*ck that.

Rob and I tried going to various clubs for work but we didn’t fit the standard; a nice way of saying we’re too black and alternative. They only want boring blondes. The day we rented the car, I sat with Rob in a darkened side street waiting for him to get a laptop from his uncle. We had enough time to roll and smoke two blunts before the guy even picked up the phone. I’d fallen asleep in the car only to be swiftly awakened by shouting from outside the passenger’s seat. Rob had a crowbar in hand while he stared down a portly, gray-bearded man in a plain white button-up.

“You better give me my sh*t right now!” Rob screamed.

“Get off my property.” The uncle replied, throwing the laptop bag on the ground near Rob’s feet.

Rob kicked his uncle’s car and fled to the passenger’s seat with the merch. We drove off in a hurry. I saw Rob’s uncle shaking his fist and running after the car in the rear-view mirror before I turned a corner.

“God, I hate it here.” Rob cried. “My family sucks. I just wanna go back to London.”

“My family sucks, too.” I replied. “That’s why good friends are important.”

I checked my Facebook and saw a message from the boy I’d been dating for three months in China. He wanted to break up, likely because I’d been gone for too long. I also couldn’t hold back the tears. I parked in an empty lot nearby. We slept in the car that night with the help of some Valium I’d brought from Thailand.

The following morning Rob decided we needed to find another AirBnb. He’d been staying at an old woman’s house in a Beverly Hills. I went there with a few friends to change clothes and get ready to party.

The old lady came in and started screaming at us to leave immediately or she’d call the cops.

“I paid for this place.” Rob shot back.

“You didn’t pay for all your friends to hang out here.” She said.

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Making these facial expressions subsequently didn’t help the situation.

Rob began packing his things in a huff. We hailed an Uber to help him get out of there. Rob and I went to the L.A. LGBT center which sucks in comparison to the one in NYC. The LGBT center in L.A. only helps people under 25. I was two weeks away from being too old. Rob, at just 20 years old, had plenty of time to screw his life up as much as me.

After successfully dropping off our things, Rob decided to get some swag. We took the car to a nearby boutique selling designer goods. This place was selling socks for two hundred dollars. After looking around at the sub-par merchandise on display for outrageous prices, Rob suggested a nearby designer thrift store.

We entered the store only to immediately get followed around by Team Barbie. I didn’t plan on buying anything since I knew it would be more junk to carry around. I went to the dressing room to try on some clothes just so I could post pictures on Instagram. Five minutes later, I came out of the stall only to see Rob dashing out the door with a used Gucci bag. Bimbo #1 trailed after him. He had the car keys so I left everything behind and sprinted, but he’d already exited my line of sight. I called him several times. No answer.

Finally, I found a bar within walking distance, ordered a Guinness and waited for the phone to ring. Sure enough, it was Rob.

“Rob, what the actual f*ck?” I yelled. “How could you be such an idiot? We could have gotten arrested.”

“But we didn’t get arrested.” He replied casually. “Where are you now?”

“I’m at a bar next to a comedy club. Hurry up!”

I sighed with relief as Rob pulled the car around a half hour later. We did make-up in the rear-view mirror then swung over to some famous clubs in West Hollywood. On a Tuesday night, the bouncers weren’t checking IDs that closely so Rob was able to sneak into the club.

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That guy on the left is the VP for the finance department at Sony. No, they aren’t hiring, of course.

Our day time excursions involved trips to the LGBT center and Whole Foods in West Hollywood. Once while at a Whole Foods, I saw a man sitting at the table next to us. Overhearing his conversation, I couldn’t help but notice he had a remarkable wit about him; an East Coast flair.

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This is Dan aka East Coast: a 35-year old homeless aspiring actor.

Dan got a lot of rides in our car. We were the Three Hollywood Rejects. Unfortunately, several days later, Rob’s constant insults towards Dan wore thin.

“Yes, I know I haven’t showered recently. I’m too worried you’ll watch me and get a hard-on.” Dan chuckled.

“Get out!” Rob screamed. “You’re disgusting! You’re a filthy bum! Go wash your dick!”

Without saying another word, Dan exited the car and walked off into the distance. After that, Rob and I had a falling out. I also started to get tired of Dan’s moochy behavior; eerily reminiscent of an ex I had in New York who shared the same name and iron clad wit.

I had to return the rental car two days before my flight. Due to the additional age-related surcharges, I couldn’t afford to extend the time even for a couple more days. The day I returned the rental, I tried sleeping in the airport, but LAX, unlike other airports, doesn’t have any benches for lying down because the city is full of rich snobs who want to punish poor people. I walked to a Starbucks near the airport and bought a large latte, opened my computer, then snoozed off from exhaustion. An employee came over to shake me awake. I found a five-star hotel and went into an empty stall and lied down. No more than thirty minutes later, some staff came into the bathroom to bother me, knocking on the stall door.

“You can’t sleep in there.” She said.

“I’m not sleeping. My stomach is uncomfortable.”

“Ok, well it looks like you’re lying on the floor. Why don’t you come out?”

“Can a person not use the bathroom in peace?” I shot back.

“You’ve got five minutes.” She replied. “If you’re still here, I’m going to call the police.”

Honestly, I wanted to kill that woman. It was one of the most humiliating moments of my entire life. Fortunately, I didn’t have to face her. I had no idea what she looked like. I sheepishly slinked out of the bathroom, in search of somewhere, anywhere to sleep undisturbed.

I took a bus to the beach in mid-day and sprawled out in my bikini with an eye-mask. Sleeping on a beach in the daytime proved to be the only way I could get any real shut-eye. No one would disturb me there. I could also get a free shower. Win-win.

By this point, I’d really had enough of L.A. I spent my last night on a subway platform surrounded by homeless people. Inside the subway car, blood stained the walls behind a shoe-less man. I counted down the hours until I could board a plane to New York City.

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It’s a lie.