THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING OUT OF A CHINESE EYE
1. Eat so many almonds, eat them until you are full to the brim with roasted almond skin pieces and tiny chewed up almond pieces, and then look in the mirror and see if your eye resembles the nut.
2. Paint a self-portrait, really up close, and, like, really really up close so that your tiny eyes are way larger than life in the painting, and then in the reflection that you are painting in the pupils of your portrait self, paint the reflected light in the shape of a Chinese character. Any Chinese character will do, preferably one with lots of tiny strokes and dots.
3. Write a hybrid fusion fairytale. While you are writing the first draft, eat takeout from P.F. Chang’s. While you’re writing the second draft, eat takeout from Panda Express. While you’re writing the third draft, eat takeout from a place that is trying to be more fancy, and that actually uses the phrase “hybrid fusion” on its purple and red menu. In the fourth draft, start writing some of the sentences in Chinese. Your character’s mother says the sentence 看起來_高的, but you can’t figure out how to get the word _ into your document. You don’t know how to write it. You can’t get it called up into Google Translate. “Seems pretty tall,” you type into Google Translate. You type in “He looks tall.” “He’s tall for a Chinese man.” You still cannot get the last character you need. You type in “semi tall” and “kind of tall” and “relatively tall” and “he is tall enough” but none of these things brings up your character. You type in “tallish.” Nope.
4. The pinyin for the word you want is “mán.” You are sure the English equivalent should be “pretty.” But when you type in “pretty,” usually the Chinese side comes up with the equivalent of “very” or “extremely.” Feel weird about this. Does this mean you are using the word “pretty” incorrectly in English, or the word “mán” incorrectly in Chinese? Feel as if there is a mini Twilight Zone shifting apart and showing its cracks inside your very body.
5. Recall that this is not a good way to type in Chinese. There are other methods—websites, apps, software. Things you can download.
6. Download a Chinese person. But you will need both the Chinese brain and the Chinese body, and that most Chinese of things: the “HEART-MIND.”
7. The HEART-MIND is something that appeared in your English consciousness sometime in the last three years which is how long you’ve been amateurishly translating Chinese fiction into English. 心. Pinyin: xīn. The heart. But how many times can you stand to see the word “heart” in a piece of text? How many times before you run screaming from the page, the screen, the keyboard, the room, screaming emo, maudlin, cheesy, melodramatic, teen angsty?
8. Read the Wikipedia page on “Xin (concept): In Chinese philosophy, xin can refer to one’s ‘disposition’ or ‘feelings’, or to one’s confidence or trust in something or someone. Literally, xin refers to the physical heart, though it is sometimes translated as ‘mind’ as the ancient Chinese believed the heart was the center of human cognition. For this reason, it is also sometimes translated as ‘heart-mind’.” Wikipedia is teaching you how to turn Chinese into English. Wonder if it can teach you how to turn your Chinese feelings into English feelings.
9. Google “heart-mind,” which brings you to a blog titled “Dazed and Confucius.” It brings you to an entry in the blog titled “Heart-mind: 心 — a philosophical detour.” The blogger writes: “I absolutely love this concept….I agree with the Chinese, that heart and mind really are one. When you feel, you think. When you think, you feel. You don’t really think or feel; you think-feel.”
10. The subtitle of the blog is “A recent Harvard grad’s adventures in China”. The blog is from 2010–2011. On the “About” page, the blogger describes herself as “a 22-year-old California native and recent Harvard University graduate (class of 2010) who has thrown caution to the wind and decided to move to China after only studying the language for one year.” There is a photo of the blogger, a sturdy blonde-ponytailed girl with a wide round face, wearing a pink tank top and white shorts standing in front of the Great Wall. In her “About” text, she states that she “currently live[s] with [her] boyfriend of two years…who studied Chinese for four years at Harvard.” She states the full name of her boyfriend.
11. Decide that this is significant. She is clearly not Chinese. A Chinese person would never do this. Do what? Well, any of this. Make very huge blanket statements that are so huge they have no meaning. Look up the blogger on Facebook; this is easy because you know both her full name—which is in the URL of her blog—and the full name of her boyfriend. And that she is from California. You find her in basically one second. She has moved back to California, and works at a law firm, and just had a baby with the boyfriend from her blog from 2010. Note that he is probably now her husband, seeing as she has taken his last name. Wonder if she ever still ponders the wonder of this Chinese concept, of the heart-mind, as she once did seven years ago.
12. Five hours later, rub your elbows which are numb because you’ve been leaning on them for five hours straight, tunneling into your computer’s infuriating knowledge of Chinese. Five hours later, you find it. 蛮. Mán. You used the pinyin feature in Google Translate, and started blindly selecting Chinese characters that popped up as matching homophones, though the diacritic tone marks are all over the place. Luckily, it only took a few tries to get to the right MAN. 蛮. As an adverb means: quite, very, pretty. As an adjective means, barbarian, reckless, fierce, rude, unreasoning. 看起來蛮高的.
13. Use your sideways vagina as a pretty barbarian eye. Be slightly unsure as to what this means; after all, you’d never even heard of this sideways vagina mythology until very late in your life. Be slightly unsure, but be quite sure that your mythological sideways vagina can be both an eye and a mouth too, and don’t forget, it’s already a vagina. Use your sideways vagina eye to eat up almonds and be an almond. Make almond jello. Piss yellow until your skin turns yellow. Chopstick-corral rice into your vagina mouth. Eat every last grain, or else your lover, your future husband, will have one pockmark, one blemish on his face for every grain you leave. Make him study Chinese for four years, at Harvard, four years for every grain of rice you can’t bear to take in.
Bonnie Chau is from Southern California, where she ran writing programs at the nonprofit 826LA. She received her MFA in fiction and translation from Columbia University. She is a Kundiman fellow and her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Flaunt, Timber, Drunken Boat, Queen Mob’s Tea House, The Offing, and other publications. A former bookseller, she currently works at Poets & Writers in New York City.