Poetry: “Ni Hao to You Too” by Dorothy Chan

A white man says “Ni hao” to me
as I wait for my Las Vegas flight.
I can’t look at him though he’s now

sitting next to me with his ni hao nerve
since he thinks he’s so progressive
speaking Mandarin in his hunting outfit

but doesn’t he know that anyone
who’s seen a Rosetta Stone commercial
or been to EPCOT or read a fortune cookie

after chowing down sesame chicken
knows the Mandarin greeting for hello?
Or what about in Vicky Christina Barcelona

when Scar Jo makes a fool of herself
in front of Penelope Cruz who makes her say
something in Mandarin and all Scar Jo

can muster is a “Ni hao?” I cringe every time
I watch this scene because the nerve of her
to call the language beautiful if that’s all

she can say. And if you ask me, well,
I don’t even speak Mandarin since my family’s
from Hong Kong and heck, my Cantonese

isn’t even that good but I know it’s beautiful
when I hear my grandparents speak it on the phone,
and tell that to Mr. Ni Hao who’s still sitting

next to me as he eats his ham and cheese sandwich
and his wife reads her US Weekly—well, let me
turn around and say, “Hello to you too.”


Dorothy Chan is the Assistant Editor of The Southeast Review. She was a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship and a 2016 semi-finalist for The Word Works’ Washington Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Plume, Spillway, Little Patuxent Review, Dialogist, and The McNeese Review. Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart.

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