"Gate No. 1" by Zihao Kong
Second Place for High School Prose
“No services.” I landed in the US: 11 p.m. It was a brand new world that I would explore over the next seven years. Initially, I thought my phone would work, but it didn’t. I waited and waited, strolled back and forth, and attempted to get a place where the signal was better; however, the plan totally failed. With despair, I was trapped in this situation, but I knew I was not the kind of person who would give up and cry when facing hardships. Looking for someone to borrow a phone became my next plan, in order to contact with my host family, who might still be on their way to pick me up. At the airport, I was surrounded by a stifling silence: few shops were sporadically opened, people were sleeping or leaning on their seats, with detachment, and several men were drinking beers and watching a football game in the bar.
Anxiousness and loneliness suddenly spread all over my body, since almost all the people’s appearances were so different from mine: high-bridged noses, deep-set eyes, blond hair, and somebody’s mustache that grew all over his chin, which generated a sense of discomposure that haunted my mind.
I looked all around, scanning every person that looked Asian or Chinese so we could talk. I could ask to borrow their phone, since we were naturally more close to each other.
Soon, I saw a guy with an Asian face stepping out of the gate. He wore a casual T-shirt and jeans, smiled and dragged a medium sized suitcase with cute animation figures on it. “Here comes the chance,” I murmured.
“Hi, uh, I can’t find my host family, and I need them to pick me up. Could you lend your phone to me please? Just one phone call very short,” I said to him, with my clumsy oral English, hoping my speech somewhat moved him and to give him permission.
“Sure.” He glanced at me with a shallow smile, and I saw his expression reveal an implicit kindness and willingness. After few seconds, he handed his phone to me. While I was using it, several Japanese characters popped up. “He is a Japanese,” I thought.
At this time, my mind was floating with distractions. In fact, I didn’t expect that I would ask a Japanese for help. Isn’t it a fact that Chinese hate Japanese? From a very young age, I was taught numerous stories, either in TV shows, or from my parents, about how Japanese imperialists invaded China in WWII, how cruelly the Nanking Holocaust happened, and how Chinese pushed the war back and achieved victory. Due to my naiveté, my first impression towards the Japanese was sort of resentful. (But frankly speaking, I was still watching Japanese animation and cartoons, because they literally produced the best of them.) Should I just go away in order not to leave a weak and helpless image of a Chinese student to a Japanese person?
Nevertheless, I couldn’t waste this opportunity and his kindness to me. I called my host parents, hearing continuous beeps from the other side. I felt my heart suspended as beeps were going on, afraid that no one would answer. But finally, a woman answered the phone, saying she was already at the Gate 1 waiting. A sense of vitality flowed immediately into my fatigued body. My heart was now settled, with all of his help.
“Thank you very much. They were already waiting at the Gate 1,” I said. At this moment, I felt relief and guilt, for the fact that I’d held a strong prejudice against the Japanese for a long time. “Am I really deserving of his help?” I asked myself.
But from his perspective, he might not even have realized that I am a Chinese; he was just being kind to other people, without considering races.
The moon was hanging in the sky; its obscure light went through clouds and fell on the ground. I breathed a sigh of coldness, while I was standing in front of the Gate 1; even though it was summer, the night was still colder than China’s. Unfamiliarity also probably caused coldness. Anyway, I finally got out of the airport. As I sat in the car, I was pondering my “instinctual separation” towards the Japanese. All of a sudden, I remembered in 2012, when I was a young “activist” in a “Protect Diaoyu Island” protest.
Since the Japanese government’s declaration of sovereignty over Diaoyu Island, the whole of China was enraged, from top to bottom, which was followed by a series of anti-Japan protests in many major cities. My hometown was one of them, and I was one of the protesters. To be honest, this was the only one protest I’d ever experienced, yet, I thought, it was a riot, with violence, curses and all kinds of ugly deeds.
During that time, I believed nationalism was the propulsion that drove people into the streets to put up signs, shout slogans and boycott Japanese goods. But gradually, which nobody anticipated, the foundation of the protest was twisted and that fevered nationalism was tainted by racism. I saw a restaurant put up a sign saying “Japanese and dogs can’t step inside.” I saw a soccer game where Chinese audiences were cursing Japanese players while they were competing, and I saw Honda, Toyota, and Lexus 4S stores burned down and people’s cars (Japanese brands) smashed.
I used to be willing to talk about my participation in this protest, and a sense of patriotism rose when I thought about it. But in the car I realized, I’m not proud at all. People’s patriotism shouldn’t be expressed in a way of hatred and prejudice towards a certain race. That patriotism was irrational, as well as intensifying the “scar” between these two countries. Racism happened during this protest; people did not stop until the government instructed police to control the situation. To some extent, those radical protesters vented their patriotism to Japanese people, who were actually victims of governmental conflicts.
Now I could see that all kinds of prejudices that I used to have about the Japanese were immature and lacked deliberate thinking. It was not patriotism at all, but an impediment that insulated me from another culture and people. That was a total mistake of my mind.
Nobody talked in the car, except a few greetings that people needed to do the first time they met. My host mother remained silent and drove the car rapidly along the highway. The atmosphere made me sleepy. I didn't know if she’d ever talked with a Chinese before or anticipated having a Chinese living with her family. After all, in the United States, where all races and immigrants live together, everyone has some stereotypes—which could either be good or bad stereotypes—towards other races; they played a role in people’s first impressions. She might think I was not good at speaking English, but better at doing math problems or physics; she might think I can cook Chinese food. As we are getting along in the future, time will eliminate those stereotypes or prove them. For me, I used to have stereotypes, or prejudices against Japanese, until I met the man who offered me the kindest help at the airport. It might not be a big moment in his life, but for me it was. That moment eliminated my rooted prejudices and opened a bright gate that was once closed for so long.