Li Kai is from the People's Republic of China. He is one of my roomates. Jia Chen is the other, also from the People's Republic. We are all foreign students. How flattering for me really, to just be a foreigner, as foreign as them.
Li Kai is a post-doc mathematician. Jia Chen is with me in Women's Studies. They're a useful touchstone - proof that America is not the only way. Li Kai juxtaposed against this sign throws America into relief for me.
America is capitalism - so much poverty, ugliness, sadness covered with such a cheap and cheerful neon veneer. America is rich - just look at the size of the cooker, the fridge, the gallon containers of milk. In America poverty is having your telphone cut off and no food in the fridge - not no access anyhow to these high-priced luxuries.
America seems as stubbornly blind to the demarcations of class as the Chinese revolution minutely categorized its citizens. In both places people seem to live and work around the official view.
Politics in America revolves around the individual and inalienable rights. Instead of left, right and class systems, the individuals cluster into minority constituencies and struggle that way. Women Studies is alive with consciousnesses - for lesbians, for women of color, for Jewish women, for the physically challenged, for large women and even for working class women.
Jia Chen is in her 50's - her husband was sent to the country during the cultural revolution. So was Li Kai's father. They were intellectuals. Jia Chen defends practises of the cultural revolution. I don't believe she would be here if she didn't. Li Kai is a little more critical - but essentially just wants the chance to study mathematics. But though there might have been an attempt to take the intellectuals out of the university, I don't believe the university has been taken out of these intellectuals. Jia Chen and Li Kai both seem used to the privileges of campus life.
I watch Jia Chen studying. Jia Chen studies everything in America. She has put her judgement politely into abeyance - and at this point is merely assimilating information. Everyday she watches one of the hour-long soap-operas on TV. She follows the romantic dramas and entanglements of the lesbians around Women's Studies with the same dispassionte curiosity. Perhaps that's fair.
She is always thoughtful and measured and only excited when someone we have asked for dinner is late. As soon as the minute hand hits the hour of their appearance she rushes to the phone to find out where they are.
Other memories jogged by this photo. Further memories jogged by this photo. This Photo. All the Photos
On Being a Foreigner
Photos in Chronological Order
Map/Diagram of Story Elements