It is nearing noon. She’s been driving for almost 4 hours, stopping a few times to stretch her legs, refuel the car, and buy herself enough snacks and caffeine to last a week. Driving alone is already challenging as it is, and after a while, singing or talking to one’s self is no longer enough to keep the boredom away. Therefore, once in a while whenever she passes a scenic route, she stops at the designated stops and enjoys the view. But every time she stops, her heart is telling her to hurry back to the car and continue the driving. It is obviously somewhat impatient.
She’s approaching the town now. She can sense it. More houses are visible on each side of the street, which is a good sign that a town is nearing. Even so, she is still surrounded by farms. Field of wheat is everywhere her eyes can see.
There, a sign is finally visible. She’s right, the town where she’s heading to is about 15 minutes away. A small beam of excitement is lighting up inside. Her heart beat is beating slightly faster. But there’s another feeling there too that she’s not completely recognizing. Can’t put her finger yet to name it exactly, but for sure it’s the opposite of excitement. Whereas excitement is propelling her to want to hit the gas pedal deeper, this other feeling is nagging her to turn the car around and going back to where she was coming from. There is a battle in her head now. Luckily, the excitement has a company, curiosity. And so she keeps driving, forward.
Finally, the first exit into the town is showing up. There are actually now two or three exits into the town. She chooses the one that’s taking her into the downtown area. She has no map, no GPS, and no clue of the name of the street she’s taking or where it’s taking her other than the knowledge that she’s heading into downtown based on what she read on the sign she just passed.
The downtown that she knew of was a very small one. She never really spent time walking around or doing window shopping in the downtown area. But she does have one particular memory of the area. It has one Chinese food restaurant. THE only one in town, a rare exhibition of the surrounding area’s attempt to put the word multi onto the cultural aspect of the town. There might be a Mexican restaurant too somewhere in the downtown area back then, but she was never exposed to it, so she has no clue.
She was taken by her host family to that Chinese restaurant once. Concentrating hard now to remember any bit of memory she can recall about that experience, but she barely remembers much, not even the meal she ordered. She does remembers one thing, though, how she felt about the whole experience. And she can sum up that experience into one word, weird. She felt weird because even to her Asian taste and eyes, the food and the whole atmosphere of the restaurant looked foreign. She felt weird because even though she was an Asian person in an Asian restaurant, she felt out of place. Due to the rarity of people of her same racial and ethnic group there, she felt as if all eyes were looking at her, watching her every move with the food, as if the restaurant suddenly acquired a prompter model to show them the proper way to eat the dishes. Yes, she was using chopsticks.
She felt weird because when she finally thought she could have the one thing that she had been denied of (not deliberately) throughout her months there, it was nowhere to be found on the table. When she asked for it from the waitress, she was given a thick yellow liquid sauce. It had a strong odor to it, the kind that took her breath away, literally. She braced her self and tasted it anyway, but quickly regretted the decision and vowed never ever in her life to allow her taste bud to go through such a shocking treatment. She never since enjoyed mustard again.
TO BE CONTINUED