Kaki So

So .

That’s it. That’s my Chinese last name in Japanese.


It happens to be an affirmative statement in Japanese, similar to that’s right.

Over 18 years in Japan, I’ve explained my name to countless waiters. There is a pause that lasts a lifetime, followed by a request to repeat that lonely, exotic sound —

“Yes, So. …What? That’s my name… It’s So. No-no-no-no, not its-so, just So. Yes, one letter…”

So I clarify, and sense the detachment in their voices as they realize I’m not really Japanese.


One day, I decided to change it.

It was a…

In a flash of green, an emerald sword shot out, straight at the middle-aged man’s left shoulder. Swinging his sword nimbly, the young man moved to cut through the other man’s elbow. With a sound like thunder, the older blocked the younger’s sword and threw his weapon straight at the younger’s forehead. The younger ducked right, and with a flip of the wrist, thrust his emerald sword straight towards the elder’s thigh-

I closed the book and checked on my grandfather. With his head leaning lopsidedly on the couch, the old man gently snored. …

“You’re not a pianist. Your cousin is, but you’re just a piano player.”

I was shocked to hear these words as an elementary schooler, fresh off a second place finish in a local piano competition. My father looked me in the eye and spoke again. “Piano player.” I clutched the trophy tightly against my chest. Almost a decade later, those words still echo in my head, a reminder of the comparison and competition that characterized my youth.

Toxic comparison is endemic to my family. Growing up as a second-generation Asian immigrant, my parents continually compared me to my older…

Grandmothers are like fairy godmothers, wise, kind, and loving, or at least, the female version of Dumbledore. That was my impression of grandmothers before the summer of 2015. So, when my own grandmother announced that she was coming to Canada with my grandfather to visit for a month, I expected the same. In my mind, I conjured an image of my grandmother and I sitting by the fireside. She would recall unbelievable stories from her younger years,offering me life-changing advice along the way. …

David Gao

I moved from Shanghai to Toronto at 13 years old. In Shanghai, I had attended one of the “Foreign Language Schools” — which means my school placed a special emphasis on its mandatory English language curriculum. So when I moved to Toronto for middle school, I thought I was pretty good at English. I was so wrong. Despite being able to write essays, there is one giant important word that I most definitely did not understand: Socializing.

I had friend groups back in Shanghai, many of whom remain my best friends today. But the “social scene” among kids in Shanghai…

I don’t normally visit the information desk in the railway station of my own hometown. But one day last summer I was with a friend of mine who possesses a hankering for adventure, which we share, as well as a propensity for talking to strangers along the way, which we do not. She dragged me into the center of Toronto’s Union Station, where the kindly-looking bespectacled man sitting behind the information desk looked delighted to see that he had visitors. He jumped up, smoothing the front of his plaid shirt, and asked if we knew about Kensington Market.

We had…

“Oh my god, so where are you from? “No, really, where are you ACTUALLY from? Like you know, originally? No, no, no, no, you know what I mean, like where are your parents from? Or like grandparents?”

Especially for visible minorities, this series of questions has been too familiar. And especially for those with more recent immigrant and refugee backgrounds, it has never been easy to answer. Answered with too few words, you get the follow-ups — often along with a smirk or accusation. Answered with too many, you’re suddenly recounting your entire family’s history to a stranger. …


The trans-cultural experiences of immigrant and refugee students and former students. For submission, please email: culturall.community@gmail.com

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