CHRISTINA YAO was born and raised in Shanghai, China. She came to the United States to pursue further education in science. She graduated from Columbia University with a doctoral degree in Genetics and now works as an investigator at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Her specialty is to analyze big data related to the brain, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder. While she was studying at Columbia, she enrolled in a writer’s program and focused on poetry and short fiction writing. Her literary work has appeared in Columbia Journal and The Baltimore Review. Her short story “Defection” was included in an anthology, On a Bed of Rice: An Asian American Erotic Feast (Ed. Geraldine Kudaka. New York: Anchor Books, 1995). She began creative writing in Chinese a few years ago. Her short stories appeared in a few literature journals in China, including Shanghai Literature and The Literary World based in Shanghai.
Read a section from Christina Yao’s story:
VACANCES À Paris
by Christina Yao
Only one of us could attend the annual cancer genetics meeting in Paris due to limited traveling funds in our research lab. My boss, Franklin Richard, picked me because he thought I needed a vacation. My colleague, Nancy, was happy that I could leave my family and work behind for a short break.
“Ping, you don’t have a life.” She had been saying the same stuff over and over again to me for four years. “Do all Chinese people work so hard?” she smiled, with a hint of teasing.
I answered in a matter-of-fact way, “Yes.” I knew I wasn’t a person who was fun to be around, but who cares?
I took a cab from the airport to my hotel. I looked out the taxi window and saw beautiful Parisian greenery everywhere. I realized that green was something I was missing in New York City. Is that why New Yorkers look so pale? I thought. I got more pale every day. Now, I began to understand Nancy’s comment, “Ping, you don’t have a life.” She meant that my life was so crowded with things-to-do that I did not have a moment to myself.
Everything is fine with me, especially my career. I finished my Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University and spent two years working on my postdoc at Yale. Afterwards, I moved to New York to work at a medical center. Realizing that the only way to get respect was to excel in my work, I hadn’t seen a movie or read a novel in four years. I have a family—a husband and a daughter. If I am not in the office or laboratory, I am commuting in a smelly subway or doing housework at home. I have no time or energy to desire anything else. Still, when Nancy asked me whether I had a life, she made me upset.
“Where are you from?” the pleasant, chubby driver suddenly asked me.
“China.” Even after I received my U.S. citizenship, I still had trouble claiming that I was as an American. I was afraid I would be asked, “Why don’t you go back to China?”
Xue-Fei, my husband, wanted to return to China. He was getting more and more upset that our daughter, Xiao-Jie, spoke perfect English, but very little Chinese. I think the real reason why he felt unsettled was that he couldn’t find his place in the States.
“China? My wife, Chinese, too.” The driver stared at me for a few seconds then commented, “Chinese women, beautiful. Good cooks, too.”
I hate being stereotyped. Yet, I understood that he said it as a compliment. I remained silent.
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