gall and gumption

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Mysterious West: Revenge of Mr. Chin

Some years ago, on a visit to Jamaica, I was waiting at the airport in Kingston for my two younger brothers, who were coming from the U.S. to join my father and me. At that time (I don't know how it is now) travelers would exit customs and travel down a long, wide, windowless corridor that ended out on the sidewalk. If you were waiting for someone you waited at the exit from this corridor, doing a little sort of sparrow hop to peer into the depths of it for your first glimpse of whoever you were waiting for. I call it a sparrow dance because it's like the way sparrows sort of come in closer until some thing happens to make them hop away a few feet till they decide it's safe to come close again. With sparrows, maybe you shook out your newspaper or crossed your legs or stood up; at the airport exit gate what made you hop back was the police who would sort of shoo you away. Among those doing the sparrow hop at the gate was a group of Asians--Koreans was my guess and, based on not much more than the way they were dressed, I supposed they were missionaries. They were waiting for some more of their brethren and chatting away, taking turns peeping down the corridor from which, at long last, passengers had begun to appear. Uniformed redcaps pushed handtrucks with enormous stacks of luggage. One petite missionary lady found herself with a towering redcap with an equally towering stack of luggage almost bearing down on her. "Watch out, there, Mr. Chin" said the redcap.

Because among some Jamaicans, if you look Asian your name is Mr. Chin. Mr. Chin is Chinese, speaks Jamaican patois with a Cantonese accent (the effect beggars all description and can only be heard on the stage anymore and it's rarely done well even there), and runs a little grocery shop in a small country town. Even if you are a four-year-old boy from Japan, a 92-year-old Mongolian grandmother, or a pair of newlyweds from the Phillipines, your name is Mr. Chin.

Mr. Chin usually has a bit part on stage, he's not at the center of the action but his little shop with the soft drinks and the tins of sardines is over to one side. Somewhere about the middle of the action he will make an appearance there. The last time I saw Mr. Chin on stage, which was here in DC late last year, he was played by a Black actor whose makeup gave him a sort of greyish, putty color. He had applied some sort of tape to make his eyes look like they had that fold; it was not convincing, and neither was his hair. But in the middle of the action when it looks like the hero will never solve his troubles he has a confab with Mr. Chin who always has some long convoluted piece of Oriental wisdom, delivered in the Cantonese-Jamaican patois, and whenever I encounter him I pray he gets through his little scene without mentioning that "Confucious say..."

I'll tell you what makes me think of Mr. Chin. I was in the dollar store and I came across the happy Rasta with his giant spliff:



It was among the less spectacular Jesus things, the smaller virgins who aren't attached to gilt rococo clocks or Cinderella carriages or small waterfalls. And there was this, too: the happy Rasta couple getting it on in a hammock suspended over an ashtray that says "Legalize."



I believe Mr. Chin has got his own back now.

10 Comments:

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