Thanks to Craig’s List, I found someone to sublet my duplex while I’m in Japan. This will cover my bills back home, which will help me to not dig myself too deep into a financial pit.
The sub-letter is a Chinese guy who is earning a PhD in American Studies at the University of Minnesota. Zhang came by in February to look at the place and give me the deposit check. Yesterday he came again to get an orientation to the house.
He brought a friend with him, Winnie, probably not her real name. Also Chinese, she graduated from the program in Counseling Psychology last year and is working two jobs, one in a group home for severely mentally ill adults and one in some other kind of home for handicapped children, I think.
So the US will still grant work visas for people who are willing to do that kind of physically and emotionally demanding work. She probably makes minimum wage and gets no benefits.
It’s surprising, once you start thinking it through, how many things about a 900-square-foot duplex need explaining. I’ve been foiled many a time by Italian washing machines overseas, so I didn’t take anything for granted.
Zhang is renting the place for his parents, who are coming to visit for a month.
I didn’t want to talk down to him but I didn’t want to assume he knew things. “Your parents aren’t farmers from the Autonomous Mongolian Region, right?” I joked. I had a renter years ago whose family fit that description. She had not known what a waste basket was for. I suppose, on a farm, they just burned their trash out back like we used to do in St. Paul in the 70s.
Zhang laughed and said his parents lived in a big city, but not far from that region. They had just retired from their factory jobs and this would be their first vacation.
“You mean their first vacation since retiring?”
“No, their first vacation, ever.”
Zhang seemed a bit taken aback by the gas stove. “It’s a flame,” he remarked when I demonstrated. I assume his parents would know all about stoves. Maybe he never cooked until he had to fend for himself as a college student, and then maybe he ate in student dining or had a Bunsen burner in his dorm.
My compost bin also seemed a puzzle. “Why is this woman showing me a can full of garbage, and why does she keep it in her house?” I imagined him thinking. Winnie said, helpfully, “So the animals can eat this when you discard it outside?”
I said yes. Why not. I wasn’t going to try to explain how I am trying to save the planet by creating organic compost that I never use. And the animals do eat it.
Zhang’s parents have never been on a vacation, never been outside of China or on a plane. I’m not going to worry about them composting their food scraps.
I asked Zhang if he was done with school for the year. He has finished his coursework and is now starting his thesis. “I hope to finish in six years,” he said. I wondered what his goal was—to teach? Research?
You hear about the Chinese ability to think in terms of 50 or 100 years, unlike us Americans who are focused on where to buy our next bag of Cheetos. Would Zhang return to China to help inform his government’s plan to make America its servant? Does that sound parnoid? Well, I am just as vulnerable to my culture’s propaganda as any Chinese person is to his.
I felt I had to explain why I was going to Japan and not China. “My sister-in-law is Japanese, and she and my nephews are going, so that’s why I’m going.” I didn’t mention my daydreams if eating sushi for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
“I don’t know how my sister-in-law feels about me going,” I added.
“Inscrutable. That’s the word westerners use about Asians,” replied Zhang. I was glad he said it, not me. And I was impressed. I don’t think I knew the word “inscrutable” until I was 50.