Mailbox

This morning I heard a knock on the door. I opened it, and found two young, well-dressed people smiling at me. “Hi, we’re looking for some help. Do you know anyone who speaks Chinese?” This was a first. As the WASPy-ish of WASPs, no one had ever assumed that I spoke Chinese before.

Responding with the obvious “No,” I noticed the questioner was holding some sort of slick-looking pamphlet, written in Chinese. I also noticed a hint of a sneer peek through his smile, as if he didn’t believe my answer. He followed up with, “Oh, well, do you know where we might find any Chinese speakers?”

“You read our mailbox,” I said, making no attempt to hide my irritation. It has our names written on it: Johnson and Ngo. He said, “Well, yeah, I was wondering…” I cut him off with, “That’s not a Chinese name.”

What a weird thing for me to say. So many uncomfortable aspects to this conversation, and I chose to focus on that one? I guess, in the (very mild) heat of the moment, it’s just what came to my mind first.

He hesitated for a second, then asked again, “So, do you know any Chinese speakers who live around here?”

“No.”

“Okay, thank you!” The questioner and his companion, a young woman who had not spoken at all, walked back down the stairs and out into the parking lot. I looked out the window: a car with two more people was waiting for them. They got in and drove off. They didn’t knock on anybody else’s door.

I assume the pamphlet was Christian literature, and these folks are trying to market their church to Chinese speakers. So they approach any house with an Asian-looking name on the mailbox, and then try to make friends. That seems like a poor strategy to me, but that’s their problem. What bothers me more is, they’re starting their pitch for Christ with a lie. “We’re looking for some help.” That isn’t a paraphrase, it’s exactly what he said. No, you’re not looking for help, you’re looking for your target demographic. I’m not a religious guy, but I suspect this kind of tactic would give Jesus a rash.

And you know, come to think of it, it does bother me that they’re trolling around for Chinese people. It would be pretty unpleasant to hear two middle-aged guys in “Make America Great Again” hats wandering around yelling, “Where’s them Chinese at?” Is it really better when it’s two non-threatening missionaries?

Well, yes, it’s better by a long shot. Still, if you’re going door-to-door interrogating people about their ethnicity in order to trick them into accepting your marketing material — that is what we call, in the scientific literature, “being a prick.”

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