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GOLDSEA | IDENTITY

How I Became a Country Club Desperado
Are we really who we say we are?
by T. J. Yim

re you a martial arts instructor?"
     That question was my first contact with a member of the country club my wife and I had joined. It came from a well-groomed middle-aged woman with an impeccable platinum bob. Her intentions seemed good, so I gently explained that I was a medical industry technical writer. As a matter of fact, I own a company that does technical writing on a contract basis but didn't want to sound boastful.
"There's this one guy who used to own a martial arts school but got sent up for raping his female students."
     "You don't look like a writer," she insisted. "You really look like a martial arts instructor. Are you sure you aren't a martial arts instructor?"
     We knew that the area to which we had recently moved didn't have a high concentration of Asians. But I hadn't expected this. I am by nature quick-tempered, which is why I had developed the self-control to resist my initial impulse to retort, "You don't look like you could tell a turnip from a hole in the ground." Instead, I called on my peculiar brand of physical humor and did a leaping snap kick à la Bruce Lee.
     "Yes, I'm actually a martial arts instructor."
     "You're quite good," she said without batting an eye. "I'm looking for a teacher for my son. He could use the exercise and the discipline."
     Before she could start grilling me about my martial arts school, I politely excused myself.
     A few days later at the driving range I was approached by a large man with a ruddy, jolly-looking face. "I hear you're a kungfu teacher."
     "Actually I'm a technical writer ..."
     He guffawed and slapped my back as though I'd just told a wonderful joke.
     "Hell of a way to make a living," he chortled, winked and nudging my side with an elbow as he stepped in confidentially. "Bet you get a lot of fine looking young female students."
     "Absolutely. They're the only kind I take on," I said, returning a ferocious wink. I made an excuse to hurry off before my temper got the better of me.
     A week later while waiting for a tee time I was again accosted by the woman with the platinum bob. She grabbed my arm and dragged me toward a tall thin Asian man about my age. "You have to meet Yoshi. He's one of the top acupuncturists in the area." She introduced me as a "very very successful" kungfu instructor. "You two will have a lot to talk about, being in similar fields," she said before heading back to her foursome.
     "I haven't met too many Japanese acupunturists," I said to Yoshi, trying to make the best of an awkward situation.
     "I'm not Japanese," he said. "I'm originally from Taiwan. And my name is actually David."
     "Don't tell me you aren't an acupuncturist either."
     "I'm a lawyer, med mal defense. I just told her some stuff to get her off my back." We shared a good laugh. "At least she didn't take us for sushi chefs or laundry men."
     "Or that guy that just got convicted for kidnapping and raping all those women!" It felt good to share the Asian male experience.
     That was the last I heard about the kungfu teacher business. It was a relief to find that, with the exception of an occasional stare, I was left alone to enjoy the club's facilities. Before long I had completely forgotten the incident.
     One evening over dinner, my wife -- a better golfer than I will ever be -- told me happily that she had become part of a weekly foursome. She was enthusiastic about the friendliness of the other ladies and how much fun it was to share in the gossip.
     "I didn't realize there were so many Asian members," she said.
     "I've only seen a couple," I said.
     "Well, the girls were telling me about some really colorful characters who happen to be Asian. There's this one guy who used to own a martial arts school but got sent up for raping his female students."
     "What does he do now?"
     "I think he writes for some kungfu magazine."
     I couldn't believe my ears. "I think I know who that guy is," I offered.




     "Just stay away from him unless you want to be tarred by association," she cautioned. "You know how these small town folks can be." She gave me a meaningful look as I pondered how to begin. But she was eager to finish sharing the gossip. "Then they told me about this other guy who used to be an acupuncturist but accidentally paralyzed a patient from the neck down."
     "What does he do now?"
     "Paralegal or medical insurance adjuster or something like that."
     As I was trying to digest the situation, my wife chattered on.
     "And there's this Asian woman who used to go around telling everyone that she's a corporate VP."
     "Wait, let me guess. Then they caught her for embezzlement and now she's a liquor store owner?"
     "A massage parlor madame."
     "Really?"
     "Someone actually caught her going into one of those places," said my wife, eyes widening in dismay. "Good lord, doesn't this club have any normal Asian members like us?"
     In the end I decided not to try to deconstruct those vicious rumors for my wife. What would have been the point? Just the thought of having her husband pegged for a convicted rapist who writes for a kungfu magazine would have flipped her out. She would have demanded an emergency club meeting or fired off letters to everyone proclaiming who I really am and made us both into laughingstock.
     After mulling it over for many hours I decided that I and the other gossip victims had committed the sin of violating cherished notions about Asians. They had therefore retrofit us with back stories that reinforced a worldview that offered comfort in a changing world. Maybe in another generation people like that would be able to accept us for who we really are. Meanwhile, I was glad to know that my wife, at least, had found some golf partners.
     "Do they know what you do?" I asked, trying to sound casual.
     "They probably think I'm a housewife," she said shrewdly. "I'm not dumb enough to tell them I'm a doctor."
     In time we did discover some Asian members who were seen as pillars of the community. One family owned a Chinese restaurant and the other owned a convenience store.

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