Ghosts are first introduced in Brave Orchid’s tale of her time studying medicine. Unafraid of the ghost that haunted a room in the dormitory, she agreed to sleep in the room only to be confronted by a Sitting Ghost, who climbed on her chest and sat heavy as a boulder,...
Ghosts are first introduced in Brave Orchid’s tale of her time studying medicine. Unafraid of the ghost that haunted a room in the dormitory, she agreed to sleep in the room only to be confronted by a Sitting Ghost, who climbed on her chest and sat heavy as a boulder, paralyzing her. At dawn, the ghost climbed off, and she told them that she died briefly at three in the morning. The next night, they burned the ghost out.
After this introduction to ghosts of the supernatural variety, the reader learns that all foreigners except for the Japanese are ghosts. Kingston says:
But America has always been full of machines and ghosts—Taxi Ghosts, Bus Ghosts, Police Ghosts, Fire Ghosts, Meter Reader Ghosts, Tree Trimming Ghosts, Five-and-Dime Ghosts. Once upon a time the world was so thick with ghosts, I could hardly breathe; I could hardly walk, limping my way around the White Ghosts and their cars.
In pretending to be the Newsboy Ghosts, the ghost of whom they were most afraid, the children pretended that the words had double meanings:
But those who could hear the insides of the words heard that we were selling a miracle salve made from boiled children.
To a child, these wonderings were fantastical as much as anything; to an adult they are clearly a refusal to accept American culture. Kingston and her family ignored the ghosts whenever they encountered them—in the grocery stores, on the streets, at the door of their home—and portrayed them to be less than human. When a Garbage Ghost overheard them and repeated in Chinese “The . . . Gar . . . bage . . . Ghost?” the children ran away to their mother. Brave Orchid’s response is this:
“Now we know,” she told us, “the White Ghosts can hear Chinese. They have learned it. You mustn’t talk in front of them again. Someday, very soon, we’re going home, where there are Han people everywhere. We’ll buy furniture then, real tables and chairs. You children will smell flowers for the first time.”
America, to Kingston’s mother, is a shallow reflection of China. But Kingston fears China, saying, “I did not want to go where the ghosts took shapes nothing like our own.” As she grows older and begins to examine and challenge the lessons she was taught, Kingston stops referring to Americans as ghosts.