The origin of others

I think it’s when I feel the unexpected, unimaginable shock of my feces dribbling down my face, I think that’s when I think: I lost. And, then: I’m quite literally shit-faced right now. I’m squatting, having unwisely chosen life in the fight between living by using the nearest squat toilet and dying by holding my diarrhea until I’ve the privacy of my Western toilet at home. After relieving myself, I’d grabbed the bidet hose, unknowing that its stream of water would be too powerful and angled at the piles of watery feces in the toilet pan. So, my feces flew. The target? My face.

Over my time here, I’ve tallied my wins and losses. I alternate between Ugh, life is unfair. and Take that, Indonesia!! There have been many, many wins, most notably my students, my proximity to the ocean, and the fresh fish for dinner. But the toilet incident came after a string of physical and personal losses. Some boy stole my favorite college sweater. I developed strange rashes, was gaslighted for months, and suffered sleepless nights in a noisy neighborhood that gained notoriety as the gathering place for Indonesian gangsters who chop off people’s hands. I felt caged. The local immigration office refused to process my visa or give back my passport. I risked arrest if I were caught traveling.

So, during my monthlong holiday break, I holed myself in my room with its glorious, familiar Western toilet. I binged several Korean dramas and slinked out only in hunt for caffeination. When I was down to an alarming number of clean pairs of underwear, I finally emerged. I trekked to the nearby laundromat, where the neighborhood children shrieked at the sight of their ghostly, ghastly foreigner.

BlaaaaccckkkkkkkPiiiiiinnnnkkkkkkkkkk! It’s the bule who’s American but has an Asian face! BbbbllaacckkPpiinnkk!! She’s back!!

And that’s all it takes to reset the scoreboard, to grow the resolve to face another day, to make heart eyes at my temporary home once more. It’s not because I’m mistaken for a K-Pop star. (Although, yes, I confess, I love it. I’m short, have uneven features, and lack a commodifiable talent. Back off. Let me enjoy this one.) It’s that these children and I gawk so appreciably at each other’s differences. We don’t look, pray, or sound like one another, but we still share the same sense of awe. I shudder when I watch them catch tadpoles in the rat-infested gutters. They shudder when they discover I only shower once a day. But our shudders are tinged with that magic stuff called wonder. Their unbridled joy at my alienness is undoing decades and decades of training to Otherize the stranger who’s different. It’s life-affirming.

Currently reading: The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships by Neil Strauss.