The other week, I visited a friend’s house for the first time in a while and at the center of the coffee table sat a seemingly-floating metallic orb cascading water down from a top hole into a shallow bowl. It made a horrific jack-hammering whir as it ran and there was no way to hide the ugly black cord leading to the outlet against the eggshell white wall. She said, “This is my indoor cleansing fountain.” What I saw was a fancy new drink station for her cat.
There have been many eye-roll moments I’ve encountered on house tours over the years but the cringy-est moments are with White people who really try to make themselves look extra sophisticated and cultured. Like, I appreciate the offer, Carol, but I’m just here to share chemistry homework with your daughter, I would really rather not smell your cherry blossom hand lotion that you secretly got from Bath & Body Works.
I have plenty of my own experience on what is “Asian” in a house. My eyes and nose are used to the burn of green medicated oil fumes. I can spot the small ancestor shrines by the burnt remains of incense sticks jutting out of a bowl of raw rice grains up on a shelf and pay my respects before making myself at home. I know the gold-on-red calendar with the big Chinese character “LUCK” is near the kitchen.
My White hosts that insist on dragging me through their personal museums try very hard to impress me with their “exotic” collectibles. I imagine these tours are also offered to White guests that enter the premises but often times I notice some extra side glances towards me, gauging my reaction to some ethnic knick knack, if I’m impressed or have some story to share.
“Here is my picture with some children I met on a mission in Indonesia!”
“This is my kabuki mask collection!”
“I got this ivory Buddha head on vacation in Thailand!”
Sometimes it takes everything in me not to point out that it’s actually pretty fucking weird to display the decapitation of another culture’s religious figure like a trophy, particularly on the counter of their bathroom where they are flashing it at least every day as they shower or use the toilet. And lord help me if they have a fake katana sitting on their mantle, then say they’ve been studying bushido or something…
But the ABSOLUTE worst offenders are always the ones that act super enlightened from attending yoga sessions thrice a week and reading a self-help book about positive vibes. It’s more than just cool to them. They buy into that “energy flow” bullcrap and wikihow Feng Shui.
The thing is good old Feng Shui was about common sense. It wasn’t based on some sort of ancient mystifying sorcery. The orientation of furniture wasn’t fancy divination; it makes sense that an office desk facing the door is good for longevity if people aren’t getting spooked from behind every time a visitor comes in. Windows should face East because the sun rises and provides natural light instead of wasting candles, or in today’s case, electricity. A mountain behind the house was for good foundation. Generous wealthy people built water wells out front and welcomed people to come have a drink and cool down.
So, when I walk up to a door way and there’s a china pot on the porch and red tassels hanging from the frame, I steel myself to enter the domain of some real tryhards. Instead of the impression of worldly, I now see people with a tad too much money and a taste for the tacky. And if you’re paying for Feng Shui consultations… You’re being scammed, honey.
Hang Dois a second generation Vietnamese American determined to keep a strong hold onto her roots. She’s an aspiring poet learning to combine her experiences and creativity with activism.
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