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The Distance (continued from preceding page)
 oriental or uncultured, an association some Asian Americans still make with Asian countries, especially China, as if Beijing is still the under-developed impe- rial city it was a century ago.
“It’s a long story,” I said.
“Tell me,” he said. “We have time.”
I told him about how my parents had come to the country years before I did. Before coming here, they had worked in a hospital in Beijing. My father was
a neurosurgeon, and my mother was a nurse in the radiology department. They had decided to quit their jobs in the winter of 1999 to pursue their MBAs in a joint overseas program. At the age of two, I was left behind with my grandparents in Beijing. They wanted to earn a stable job first before I set foot in America. It would take them seven years to save enough money for a house, and I joined them in Southern California in the spring of 2007.
Jason stared at my chest without saying a word. Light was trapped in his brown eyes, as if he’d been zoning out this whole time. I felt a bit insecure after telling him my story. An urge to make him uncomfortable— ask about his connections with China, Chinese pop music, and the Chinese language—was slowly push- ing its way up my throat. Then I remembered some Chinese proverb I’d learned in first grade. It was something along the lines of “if someone makes you uncomfortable, it’s their fault, but if you make them uncomfortable in return, you’re at fault.” I took a huge sip from my cup of ice water.
“So, how are your classes?” I said before he had the chance to ask another question.
He set his spoon on the ledge of a panchan and blew his nose, folding the tissue in perfect halves.
“Actually, you know what I think when I walk into my seminars and see my classmates sitting upright, all excited to learn?”
“What?” I said. I realized he wasn’t really looking at me this whole time, but at the cars, the people, the whatever that were outside the windows behind me.
“I think it’s sad how in a couple of months this pas- sion will inevitably decay. In twenty years, we prob- ably won’t have the same innocent smiles. And one day, we might come across an old song on the radio that reminds us of our golden age now, right now as we’re eating, and we cry silent tears as we drive past some pretty scenery, the orange night sky maybe, on our way home to eat dinner with our small children.
In that moment, we hope to return to this table, right now, in Myeongdong Sundubu,” he tapped the granite tabletop twice, as if checking in Poker.
“And you know what I think whenever I see my pro- fessors, my parents, my parents’ friends and basically just any adult?” Jason said.
I shook my head.
“I think god, they are slaves of their jobs, of money, of this responsibility to people they really owe no responsibilities to. And, and, I used to, you know,” Jason let loose his eyelids and wet his lips. His fingers were shaking, the nails making multiple tears and scratches on the paper menu beneath the Galbitang. “I used to think that if I pursue a path that I genu- inely like, then I somehow will be lucky enough to escape that inevitable mid-life crisis. But with the path I’m taking, you know bio and pre-med and stuff, I feel like I’m not all that far away from the destiny of burn-outs and mediocrity and my parents’ peaceful yet tasteless lives. In fact, I think I’m already there. Whenever I’m hanging out with my friends, I feel
like it’s not the present me that’s with them, but the forty-five-year old me, the father me, that’s trying to cling onto their youth.”
Jason was not a loud guy. In fact, his voice was quite soft like he’d just woken up, yet I heard him perfectly amidst the sea of Korean words flowing out of the middle-aged businessmen to our right and left. Those guys were red like tomatoes but downed soju shots like water. The way they ate Korean barbecue, sleeves rolled up, dipping the beef first in sesame oil and salt, then in sweet soy sauce, and finally in the spicy bean paste, and finishing it with an envelope of creamy white rice paper, put our pathetic sips of soup on a metal spoon to shame.
As I searched in my mental space for a coherent re- mark composed of maybe four or five big words to match the philosophical depth of his monologue, he looked away from the windows behind me and dived into the soup. “It’s hot,” he laughed, almost hysteri- cally, sticking out his tongue and panting like a dog. Then he blew his nose on the same tissue and crum- bled it up.
“Listen, there’s something I wanna tell you,” he said, still half panting.
“Yeah?” I leaned in.
He blinked twice and jerked his head up as if some- thing had suddenly struck him. He slowly picked up a

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