Mama, like practically all Chinese adults I know, never, ever walked barefoot on uncarpeted floor. Our hardwood floors were too cold for her, “Jiao bingliang!” Without fail, every single day, Mama would say, “Aiyo, chuan shuang tuoxie!” imploring Ron and me to wear the plethora of indoor slippers (tuoxie) lying around the house. We all know what those slippers look like: the black pair of XXXL Reebok sandals, the plastic it’s-bumpy-so-it-massages-your-soles’-pressure-points-when-you-walk flip-flops, the bright red (good luck color!) bathroom slippers, basically any pair of sandals below $5 found at Ross.

The crescendoing schlack-schlack-schlack of Mama’s tuoxie coming toward my closed bedroom door was always anxiety-inducing. If I heard it, it usually meant that 1.) I’d be asleep and was being awakened more and more with each schlack until she would violently burst into the room to wake me up for work, 2.) I’d be asleep and was being awakened more and more with each schlack until she would violently burst into the room just to talk for no reason, or 3.) I’d be asleep and was being awakened more and more with each schlack until she would violently burst into the room to yell at me for not spending time with her.

My entire apartment is uncarpeted. Considering how old this building is as well as the fact that New York City isn’t exactly known for its “cleanliness,” my roommate and I never walk around without wearing a pair of our indoor-slippers.

Every once in a while, usually on a lazy weekend morning, the blissful darkness of my sleep would be slowly but surely disturbed with the crescendoing sound of schlack-schlack-schlack coming toward my room. With my eyes still closed, I’d undergo a Pavlovian response: my body would tense up, thoughts of, “Don’t come in, Mama! I’m sleeping! Why is she waking me up? What did I do now? Please just leave me alone!” would swarm my head, and I’d squeeze my eyes tightly shut, willing myself to fall back into deep sleep. I’d hear the loudest schlack right outside of my door–I’m practically holding my breath at this point, bracing myself for the door to be burst open, to hear Mama’s loud voice–but the schlack would continue past my door, decrescendo down the hall, and disappear into my roommate’s room.

I’d open my eyes, and I’m in my apartment in New York. Mama didn’t burst into my room to rudely wake me up, to force me to converse with her, to yell at me because I had upset her.

And in those moments, those few seconds, I always wish she did.

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My first time

It’s quite a funny story, you know.

“She looks like Mrs. Chin!” I could hear whispers multiple times throughout the day. Perhaps to a young middle school student who has around 3 other Asian schoolmates total and one Korean American teacher, I looked like Mrs. Chin’s twin. But to any other Asian person, it was like saying I looked like Trini from the Power Rangers. In other words, I look nothing like her other than also having an Asian face. By no means was I offended, nor was I preparing a long, comprehensive sit-down lecture about the oppressive and racist implications behind these children’s statements. I knew it was going to happen, and I was ready to slowly make my way into their lives as Ms. Su, the student teacher. Not the Asian student teacher, but just the student teacher.

Today, the Chinese teacher didn’t show up to teach her very first Mandarin class. The principal, faculty, and staff all asked me, “Do you speak Chinese? Do you speak Chinese? Please go teach the Chinese class!” They didn’t even ask if I actually spoke Mandarin, just “Chinese.”

So, I taught my first official class, asked to do so literally 2 minutes after the starting bell rang. I can’t read or write characters, so I taught a classroom full of white, black, and Latino&Latina kids the four tones, and had them pronounce ni hao (ma), jai jien, xie xie, and laoshi. It was, by far, the most fun hour I could have imagined.

Afterward, every time I entered a classroom or walked down a hall, I would hear someone excitedly yell, “Ms. Su, ni hao!” and “Xie xie Laoshi!” and “Ni hao ma, Laoshi!” Out of context, you’d think this school was full of ignorant and racist children, and that I was the most passive and discriminated student teacher. It’s still so hilarious to me, the irony of how it all happened. I’m so excited to hear another atrociously pronounced, American accent-ridden “Ni hao!” tomorrow. Because of course, they had all forgotten the four tones the second they ran out of class.


I am from invisible Power Ranger battles
always fighting with my little brother.
I am from stolen glimpses of my mother’s
red eyes and wet cheeks in the bathroom mirror,
Of my father’s crescendoing voice coming down the hall.

I am from blonde wavey hair and big blue eyes,
hearing about their soccer games and sleepovers.
I am from failed attempts to do my makeup
like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.
I am from failed attempts to do my makeup
like Lucy Liu and… Lucy Liu.

I am from my own dreams,
created and birthed in secrecy on my own bed.
I am from conditional parenting with unconditional love.

I am from the discovery of the color Yellow,
and how it fits in with red, white, and blue.
I am from the East and the West,
and now from the West to the East.

Under my bed, there is nothing
In a room I have just placed my displaced self.
I plan to keep a box below, as I
Redream, rebirth, remain myself upon my bed.