Essays    Reportage    Marginalia    Interviews    Poetry    Fiction    Videos    Everything   
The Never-Ending Chinatown

I went on a jog this morning in a never-ending Chinatown.

Fiction | Flash Fiction
August 4, 2023

I’m going on a jog this morning in a never-ending Chinatown. I had just quit my job, trying to shake off the memory of Corporate America and the anxiety of an absent future. I change into something Lululemon, lace up my expensive running shoes, and close the door of my renovated apartment.

Chinatown feels compact, like a bento box—compartmentalized into shops of different specialities. A tea shop, an alcohol store, Peking Duck house, a Chinese bakery, a dim sum place, a delicious concoction of smells and plates of hot food, rotating trees of five-dollar sunglasses, misspelled T-shirts and caps, fake designer bags, tiny turtles swimming in a bright green bowl filled with water and a mechanical frog, crispy duck carcasses hanging in window displays, menus on the outside, and behind reflective storefront windows, people eating and drinking and having quiet and loud conversations, or not speaking at all. My feet keep padding on the concrete, avoiding dark puddles.

I run this path every day; I see the same people, smells, sounds. The familiarity feels safe. On my left, I hear a voice through a rusty metal door. It sounds like my father, the voice he would use when he was frustrated with us but didn’t know how to communicate it; sharp rebukes enveloped in emotion. I don’t think—I open the weary door, my fingers brushing against the flaking brick-red paint, and enter the kitchen of a noodle shop, which smells like my parent’s house and niuro mien in December, tender meat falling off my chopsticks, aromatic broth condensed from an entire day of boiling stock. 

Sweat, heat and smoke engulf me as flames beat around a wok and boiling oil seethes and leaps out of it with fury. I see a child playing with a basket on the floor, food scraps strewn and flies swarming. He looks up at me with furrowed brows. The chef wipes sweat from forehead to stained apron. I feel ashamed for some reason.

I think about the last meeting I had with my manager. He asked me, “Why?” And I said, “I just had to.” He said, “What’s next for you?” And I said, “Nothing yet.” He gave the team the announcement, which evolved into a prolonged, time-consuming banter about all the sports teams they tried out for in middle school. I sat there thinking about how everything would go on just like this.

When my mother made us niuro mien we would finish it in five minutes, and she would tell us to slow down and chew our food and ask us why didn’t we appreciate the work she put into the food she spent the whole day making for us, and ask us if it was good, multiple times.

I imagined my manager would go home that night and tell his wife at dinner that one of his employees quit, and she would ask “Why?” and he would say, “He’s a millennial.” She would say, “Was he good at his job?” and he would say, “He was really quiet.” She would ask, “What was he?” He would say, “Chinese, I think.” And she would nod in understanding. One of their children, four years old, would pull back the skin of the outer corner of his eyes and laugh.

The chef curses at me as I knock over a silver bowl full of napa cabbage. “Goddamn American! Get out of my kitchen!” he says in Cantonese, and I leave, running, in circles, hoping to find the place that both feels familiar and where I know I belong.