You know, that week: A Story of Belonging (Chapter 1)


Life on the island. Hot. Humid. Too many cars. But the fruit is delicious. The roads are too narrow for four lanes of traffic, but it happens. There's an advertisement on every building along with a store name, making every street a colorful spectacle. This isn't the west, though. This is Taiwan. Farms still merge with city life. Look over a bridge or behind a storefront and you can see where some of your food just came from.

And occasionally, you see a rarity: a westerner. This is the life Christopher has known for the past twelve years. It gets boring at times, but it's incomparable to the secluded life back home in California. Christopher came to Taiwan with a better job prospect than his own country could offer. It helps a lot when you're fluent in two languages, especially two very important languages.

Christopher's family is Taiwanese, but he was born and raised in L.A. As there were plenty of needs for translators in Taiwan, Christopher took the opportunity, exploring his family's country for the first time. Today that dream is going to disappear. He's about to tell his manager he's flying back to L.A. on the next available flight.

His manager has no idea what's coming. Christopher didn't want anyone to convince him otherwise. He speaks in English and the more he shares, the more heated he becomes.

“I'm leaving. I'm leaving because I can't stand to do this monotonous job any longer. There's no purpose. I should be doing something important with the skill set I have, but I'm stuck behind a computer everyday. And then, when I get off work, I have to walk through this smog-filled city with people who think I'm superhuman just because I speak English.

“The food's oily, the ground's dirty, the people are ignorant, and I just don't fit in. It smells terrible here and I'm getting on the next available flight out of here. Thanks for the job and I hope you find someone else to translate all of your marketing gimmicks. Goodbye.”

“Christopher,” his manager, Mr. Chen, starts to plead with him, “will you consider...”

The door shuts. Christopher already has the stuff he needs. He knew he would stay if he listened to what his manager had to say. It's time to go. It's time to go home.

L.A. has a less shocking Monday for Mary, the newest movie star who just became the face on everyone's news feeds. It's partly because of the creativity of the show she's on and partly for her talent that she hit the big time. The show is a futuristic melodrama filled with crazy gadgets and unbelievably cool characters. All the classic ingredients are there: deception, revenge, scandal, betrayal, romance, and plot twists with every episode. It was an overnight success and its main actress is Mary, a girl from middle of nowhere America. Now she's another L.A. Star, enjoying time off after the smash ending to the first season.

She had to adapt to the new fan base: big clothes, wigs, alien sunglasses, and lots of make-up. There's no escaping the fans, though. Especially the crazy ones. She walks down the busy skyline filled with people and cars and shops, not because she's trying to be seen, but because she still refuses to give up the normal life she once had, as well as the chance to find a decent guy. Now it's all the same. They are either much too crazy and sick, or too scared to say anything. There's always dating another star, but that feels too much like caving in. She's about to meet one of the crazy ones now; one of the fans before she made it big. That's what they all say.

It's a private tea house. You can get a snack, escape the sun, and relax, but how does someone uninvited find himself in the bathroom of an invite only shop?
That's Domitian. He has a job that mainly pays on commission, but he still sacrifices his time for the chance to make a great first impression. Today his timing is perfect. He has his chance to meet Mary. The one hundred and fifty-eight centimeter Latino department store worker leaves the bathroom with his hair slicked back and his shirt too tight around his chest.

Mary takes her seat and sighs deeply at the first sight of him. 'Here comes the speech,' she thinks to herself. And it will come. Domitian's face gets hot and his stomach twists as he stumbles over the floor, catching himself before coming within two meters of her.

“You are so stunningly gorgeous my love. I've seen all your shows and you are the most talented...”

Before he barely gets started with his well-rehearsed speech, a security personnel is already in his face, telling him to leave or he'll get arrested.

He shares the abridged version as he walks out, “I'll see you in every re-run. Just think of me. It's Domitian. I'm watching you. I love you.” The end trails off as Mary orders a drink and blocks the memory from her mind.

'Why can't guys just be normal?'

Sitting in the private shop alone gives her time to reflect on the last year of her life. She can't believe things could have changed that quickly. It's time to make a choice. Is all of this what she really wants? Will she give up the chance for a normal family to become the next big star?

She didn't know it would mean all this, but here she is: face plastered all over the country and yet hiding away from all the flashes. 'It's already here. I just have to admit it. Goodbye all you crazy men. It's time to flirt with Hollywood.'

The airplane takes off around evening time. It will be a half a day before Christopher touches ground again. He'll get to L.A. in the middle of the night because of the time difference. It's like he's flying into the past, going back to his old life. He's about to get his reality checked, though, because everything has already changed. He's a zombie when he jumps into his dad's car. It was short notice, but his dad had the time and a taxi would be too expensive.

“Hey Dad.” Christopher says in Chinese, jumping into the car. His family always speak Chinese to each other.

“Welcome back, Christopher. Did you bring everything?” His dad is referring to the usual dried snacks and cakes his family always buys when they make trips back to the island.

“I was in a hurry, so I just picked some things up at the airport.”
“So no pineapple cakes?”

“There's probably a couple in the variety packs.”

“Did you eat yet?” His dad asks the important question. His mom is already preparing their nightly meal at home.

“Not yet.”

His dad focuses on the road. Christopher lays back and listens to whatever pop radio station is on. It takes about an hour to get back to their house. As soon as they walk-in, they remove their shoes and the feasting is on. The house is huge compared to anything Christopher was living in in Taiwan. They have a front yard and two stories. For California standards, though, it's on the small side.

The evening marks a safe passage home for Mary. She drank three different drinks filled with sugar and ate a New York-style cheesecake. It was a little celebration for her. She no longer has to worry about strange guys. She's going to make it single and enjoy all the work she put into getting here.

The pictures start flashing with her first step out of the store. She puts a hand up and keeps walking. It's like there's no escape from the hound dogs. The sooner she makes it home the better, but it shouldn't be this way. Can't they just watch the re-runs if they want to see her again? This is curiosity turned approval turned excitement turned obsession. 'Remember your dream.' Which one?

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