The air was cold.
I wrapped my arms around me and watched my granduncle sip from his cup of tea like a drugged Buddha. My sister was flipping through the trendy magazines on the coffee table and my parents were sitting on the couch, not quite relaxed, as my grandaunt conversed with them.
The room was filled with furniture glazed deep brownish-red. The walls were decorated with ebony panels inlaid with mother-of-pearl in floral patterns. An upright piano–completely off-limits–sat neglected in the corner. Curio cabinets faced each other at opposite ends of the room. They contained jade and ivory items, the most intriguing a carved ivory object–spheres within spheres. I puzzled over how such a thing was achieved.
Suddenly, my grandaunt turned her attention on me. Sitting on a straight-back chair with gray laced in her short black hair, she was a self-assured empress.
“Tell me, what do you want to do after you get out of college?”
Out of college? I was still a middle school student, not even thinking of applying to any colleges yet. My interests varied from month to month. So what was I to tell her? “Um, I think…I think I want to be a doctor.” I let out a breath. That sounded suitably impressive.
And then, unbelievably, she turned to my father and smirked, “You’ll have to work harder now, won’t you?”
My father laughed, embarrassed.
Nothing overt had been said, but it had been implied that we were the Asian equivalent of poor white trash. And that I was too dumb to get anywhere without a gratuitous amount of money.
What irritates me now is that I assumed that such attitudes from older Chinese women were normal. Subtle (or not so subtle) prying questions, as well as social barbs laced with comparisons are their usual fodder. I only see the brittle but polished surface. Is this a generational thing? A cultural thing? A getting older thing? I don’t know, but I’m sure they will continue to plague me with questions like ruthless interviewers.