By Ha Jin
We sat in the neon light
on a cool evening of a summer day
drinking beer and eating salad.
You told me your story
similar to those of many others:
All your savings are gone,
the managers, the secretaries, the supervisors,
the police in charge of passports
all having received a handsome share.
Now you have nothing left there,
your color TV and refrigerator were sold
to get the cash for the plane ticket.
“But I was lucky,” you assured me.
“Many people have spent fortunes
and still cannot leave the country.”
“What are you going to do here?
Don’t think this is a place where
you can make a fortune by snapping fingers.
Starting poor, we have to labor for every dollar.
It is a place where money
can hire the devil to make bean curd
and your growth is measured by financial figures.
There is no way for us to get beyond
a social security number.”
“Anything, I would do anything,
as long as I can make a living.
At least, I am free here and don’t
hate others. Do you know what I wanted
when I was back there?
I always imagined how to get a gun
so I could shoot all the bastards.
That country is not a place to live—
I would rather die than go back.”
We stopped to watch seagulls.
An airplane was writing the word
FUN in the distant sky.
I wish I had left the same way,
but I brought with me all my belongings,
even my army mug and a bunch of old letters.