A Woman Who Stares Politely

  • Sumo

As my birthday present to myself this year, I enrolled in a creative writing online course through the continuing studies program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The second assignment to craft a personal essay. I ended up with this.

I am a woman who stares. Not directly at you, of course, as that is rude. I look around you, taking in your clothes, accessories, the way your mouth creates shapes as you form words, how you purse your lips and the manner in which you eat.

Fingers snap in front of me. I blink.

“Hey,” Erik says. “You gonna eat?”

I am a woman who stares, absorbing my surroundings, processing the interactions among people, plates, chopsticks and glasses, often oblivious to what’s in front of me.

The wait staff moves about the tables in a languid manner, talking quickly in Mandarin and jotting down scribble on their little pads. One young gentleman bounces quickly from table to table, filling teacups, water glasses and fetching items not scribbled on little pads.

“Oh. Yeah,” I say as I break open the paper packaging containing chopsticks. I spear a pot-sticker and set it on my plate.

I am a woman who stares, noticing the facial expressions of groups of people gathered round the tables. The group of young 20-somethings is the only table smiling and laughing. They poke at each others food with chopsticks, rest elbows on the table and conspire with those beside them before laughing joyfully with the rest of the table. The grandfather at the table next to them glances over in disdain as his son wipes the nose of a grandson, who shoves a large roll into his mouth. No one at that table smiles.

A family of five generations walks past, one of the younger sons, older than his siblings, grudgingly leading his grandmother past the tables as his other sibling follow behind. They pad slowly, balancing the desire to bolt for the door to freedom with the tradition of respect for their elders. The youngest child holds onto her mother’s hand, her other hand in her mouth as she looks up at the ceiling and tilts her head back to look at something else, her feet taking those awkward, lilting steps we later master. The father brings up the rear, pleased to have survived another dim sum ritual.

The potsticker is warm in my mouth. Juice spills out as I lean over the plate, wiping my mouth with a napkin.

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