Cinese di merda

Cinese di merda!


This was hurled at me like a badly thrown javelin. It fell wide from the mark but the intention stung nonetheless.


The Puma-hoodie, Nike Air sporting Italian youth more or less just called me a shitty Chinese. My friend, who was sitting next to me as we waited for our bus, stared at me open-mouthed. Probably out of embarrassment, since she was Italian. Strange, how we feel responsible for the actions of our compatriots like they’re an embarrassing significant other meeting our parents for the first time.


My first urge was to shout back. Not abuse though. You see, having been abroad for a while, clarifying the difference between ‘Hong Kong’ and ‘China’ has become an instinctive reaction. Ah, you see, I’m Chinese but there’s a difference. The convoluted explanation of colonial history inevitably peters out into a shrug in the face of the I-don’t-see-why-this-matters expression of the person I’m addressing.


It’s not the first time I’ve been on the receiving end of racist treatment. Spend enough time in places where you’re obviously a foreigner and some idiot is bound to do something to you. The sniggering Albanian youths throwing tissue pellets at me for the best part of a two-hour long bus ride. The waiter who serves every single table except for mine. While these may be annoying, they don’t really hurt. In the first case I was too pre-occupied with doing a deal with the devil at every mountainous turn to be bothered with the pellets anyway. The point is, these incidents didn’t hurt personally because they weren’t accusing me of being anything.


But Cinese di merda. That’s different. To make matters worse he might actually have a point, and an accusation that you know is true is always worse than one that’s false. For a moment I was 14 again, my face stinging as my mom told me that the baggy T-shirt with a dinosaur on the front was, contrary to what I thought, anything but cool.


First off, I got offended for the wrong reasons. I was more bothered about the fact that he called me ‘Chinese’ than anything else. And yet, I am. National identity for me is a bit like the fact that I have Justin Bieber on my iPod. It’s something I don’t feel anything in particular about until someone shoves it in my face, in which case I feel obliged to defend it. It came with the charts. It’s good for SOME situations! The anthem-touting adverts want me to be proud, a feeling I just can’t feel about any national identity.


Another thing is that, all things considered. I am quite shit at being Chinese. Or any nationality, for that matter. For various reasons, (probably because God was having an off day when he made me) I feel most at home when I’m not at home. If being a good Chinese means being able to recite classical poetry and tell the order of the 12 year Chinese Zodiac, I’m pretty much out. While we’re at it, why would anyone think a poem about being stranded from home is a good first poem to learn? Maybe the gushing homesick nostalgia of those succinct lines instilled in us from an early age an underlying propensity towards all things distant and tragic. Who knows? Also, why isn’t the panda part of the zodiac? Someone should start an online campaign for that.


But I digress. I guess I just enjoy pretending to be in a group that I don’t belong to. Sometimes it’s subconscious. Since English isn’t my native language, I don’t have a ‘default’ accent to fall back on, and it changes according to the people around me, or the TV shows I procrastinate with. A couple of days with a friend from Texas is enough for a few ‘y’all’s to slip into my vocabulary; a binge-session of Doctor Who leaves me with a slight Scottish drawl, kudos to David Tennant. Sometimes this gets me into awkward situations, as people think I’m making fun of them when my accent morphs into a bastard child hybrid of their own one and quasi-American. The Mumbai bakery shop owner’s burning stare as I said ‘OK’ in what must have come across as a mocking Indian accent accompanied with the sideways head-bobbing ‘nod’ I picked up after two weeks, is still vivid.


But really, am I that different from the rest of you? Don’t we all want to experience being someone we’re not? I don’t know about you, but half of the time I lie, I do it for no apparent reason other than creating an alternative image of myself. The thrill of convincing a taxi driver in Beijing that I was from his city and grew up in an orphanage tells me more about myself than I would like to know.


And indeed, isn’t it the same with the host of ‘national’ symbols around us? Minute differences in pronunciations or a few extra letters in the alphabet gets magnified out of proportion; miniscule differences in foods warrant a different name and nationality. It seems that we are intent on creating small differences so that we can celebrate them under the slogan of tolerance, while deriving security from knowing what’s ours and what belongs to the omnipresent them. Nationalities aren’t there for us to be proud of. They’re there so we know when we’re experiencing something new.


My friend opened her mouth to shout back, but I mumbled something like whatever. She looked at me, exasperated, as the offending youth ran away with his amici. Our bus came, surprisingly on time. She waved it down, her Thai, Hindi and Chinese wrist charms rattling audibly. We boarded the bus, which happened to sport an advert for cheap vacations with pictures of grinning tourists and locals.


We passed the group of teenagers as we drove away, and I smiled as his electric blue Puma hoodie faded into the distance. I guess at the end of the day, I am a Cinese di merda. But so are the rest of you.



Freedom tastes like
sweat from the
‘one more’ push-

up that you
now have time
to do when

time becomes
flaccid like the
wrinkled skin

from a guilt-
worthy hour long


Post-exam freedom. 


I wish I
could go back
to that forgotten

patch of forest
we remember so
well where we’d

sneak away at
night to spin
threads of naïve

lyrics over broken
guitar strings and
shit wine our

burning fireflies flittering
with the world

in them like
the cackling fire
made from stolen

grocery store cardboard
and still-wet twigs
small but so bright


just a memory of a very special place

Dear Santa



The dull sound echoed for the umpteenth time that night. He was a slim, lean figure in a dark suit. Crouched over the lock, you could almost mistake him for a rebellious shadow. A trick of the eye.


The magnetic device he held in his hand looked futuristic. Indeed, it was futuristic. Handed down from generations it was far beyond any contemporary human technology. Such primitive creatures.

He slowly opened the door without making a sound, and slid into the apartment.


It was like the rest of the apartments in the building. Your standard living room, two bedroom flat. Similar to all the other ones he’s visited tonight, this one was decked with festive decorations. The plastic tree stood in the corner, conscious of its own fraud under the eerie lighting of Christmas lights. Laid out on the table was a single stocking.


Strange, how some things never change. That said, humans’ stereotypical image of his species were laughable. The fat belly, the red and white costume, the hat. Simpletons. And to naively assume that there was only one of his kind around. How on earth could one Santa do all of that work in one night? But that’s humans for you— even reality had to conform to their arrogance. It’s a pity his species were bound by their own ancient laws to perform this ritual every year, as an act of charity to their gods.


He froze. There were sounds coming from one of the bedrooms. Muffled voices. Whispers. Not the in-your-ear-secret whispers of lovers though— this was vicious, like two snakes strangling each other.


I don’t have to worry. They can’t hear me. This suit takes care of everything. Traceless.


He glanced at the single stocking lying on the dinner table. They haven’t even bothered hanging it up. But it won’t be of much use tonight. He wished it was otherwise.


He made his way slowly past the room with the hissing snakes, the voice of his Tutor echoing in his mind.


We have no choice. Our rules say that if the kid’s been good, and what he asks for is neither something to be done to someone else (to prevent ill-wishing), or over the annual per-capita budget, we have to deliver. That’s what the gods say.


Well, that’s just because they never had to deal with something like this.


He opened the door slowly, hoping that it would make a sound. But he knew it wouldn’t. The suit took care of that. He wished the parents next door could hear his footsteps and come to investigate. But the suit took care of that. Even if it didn’t, they would be too busy in their silent jousting.


In the room was child 7564. He remembered this number, and the asterisk next to it when he first got sent his List. James. 9 years old. Blonde.


The silence emanating from his suit was suffocating. I’m sorry. And he thought of the gods as he plunged a needle filled with heart-stopping fluid into James’ arm. He didn’t even check whether the child was dead. The technology of his species was light years ahead of that of humans.


As he left the room, he unfolded a piece of paper, torn from a school scrapbook, and left it in front of the door. Maybe the parents will find time to notice it. He exited the flat, heavy with the silence around him. The door closed.



Dear Santa,


I’ve been a good boy this year. Mommy and Daddy have been fighting every day and it’s really horrible. Mommy sometimes comes to breakfast with bruises on her face. They never talk and their smiles are weird. I heard them saying nothing will fix this. For this Christmas, can you fix this? If not, can I just die?





Quite a personal piece based on an unhappy childhood memory. Hope this makes up for the lack of content for the last few days. Like, follow and share to support.