Saturday morning, 4th of July.
I was entering the farmer's market with my double stroller, passing the barriers that closed the street to cars, when I noticed him.
A small Asian man, probably in his fifties, with a comb over. Thin, upright, wearing the black dress shoes that every middle class Chinese man in China wears.
But it was the expression on his face that froze me. He looked around, without looking at anyone. The tents, the carrots and green beans overflowing from bins, the hot dog stand, the quilt you could win if you entered the $1 raffle. All the colors, so vibrant in the summer sun. And the sound of down-home violin and banjo music floating from the direction of the pancake kiosk. The red, white, and blue of the flag, dipping and flapping in a light breeze.
He looked around with eyes wide and half a smile.
And I thought: "Dude, I know exactly how you feel."
But he'd never know it, because I'm just another white face pushing a stroller.
I passed him again later. Still, he had that wide-eyed wonderment. I stared and stared, hoping he'd return eye contact.
He didn't. He passed on into the crowd, and I had to blink twenty times to stop tears from running down my face. Why did I feel like crying?
And then I knew. For maybe the millionth time, I wished I had an Asian face, so that maybe he would give me a second glance. Maybe he'd see, just by one look at my outward appearance, a few of the things that make up the inside of me.
Maybe he'd guess little details too: that dim sum is my favorite meal; that I know there's no such thing in China as a fortune cookie and General Tso's chicken; that I probably speak his language; that I know all this is completely overwhelming. Just this, being here, in this country on the fourth of July, with all these white and brown non-Chinese faces, and all this grass and blue sky overhead.
I've been there. I am there. "Sir, whoever you are. I can relate to you."
But he passed by into the crowd. And left me gaping.