Things That Reassure You of Your Chinese Americanness

…Despite Feeling Most Days Like Any Other Tired Mama-Writer-Filmmaker Trying to Make Her Mark

Part in the Second

  • deveined shrimp is for civilized people. everyone else seems like they’re okay with eating the poo-vein… so eh, you know, if it rocks their world, i’m not gonna stop ‘em.
  • a kiss on the hand is quite continental, but real estate gives a tai tai (married biddy) happy palpitations. understand this, and you will understand much, grasshopper.
  • “pan-asian” cuisine is seldom practiced by those who know any ONE asian cuisine really well, so when many are combined, the result is a sum that’s lesser than its parts. you earn the permission to riff when you’ve mastered the canonical. so don’t be slingin’ your sweet and salty everywhere, and PUT THAT DAMN PINEAPPLE DOWN before you hurt someone. restaurants in seattle, site of much pseudo-asian “pan-asian” cuisine, i’m calling you out: the only part of “pan” and “asian” that is true is the use of a wok. (corollary: please stop those raisins immediately from molesting the poor basmati rice. they have no business being there.)
  • i’m convinced that feng shui was developed to help the ancients afflicted with Immigrant Gen OCD v1.0 declutter. no more, no less.
  • as a chinese american person, i have the right/permission to be inspired by cultures other than chinese, and i will insist that many of the world’s key inventions were in fact invented by NON-chinese. (breaking my mother’s heart as i proclaim this.)
  • chinese eat everything. (i once sat down to a dish of duck tongues. they were brown and thin with a groove down the middle and the texture of an industrial leather byproduct, like a cartilaginous shaving off a flavored canine chew toy. or perhaps a strap busted off an old huarache. and i’m sad to say they did NOT taste like chicken, unless the duck in question had licked the chicken in the neighboring pen.) i have adapted this wanton chinese omnivorousness to mean: eat all the world’s delicious things. skip the duck tongues.
  • i will slag my own people mercilessly but if anyone else tries it, off with their heads.
  • chinese names of people, cities, places in general, and food is filled with hyperbolic, euphemistic, wishful overstatement. hong kong? fragrant harbor. the name of any chinese male? guaranteed to have “genius” in it somewhere. buddha’s feast? a whole lotta tofu plus greens.
  • social forms involve lots of seemingly unnecessary curlicues (“please, let me treat you” “no, you’re my guest in my hometown” “no, last time you treated me, i promised to take you out this time…” ad nauseum). but i find it reassuring that what’s affirmed is the strong desire that the relationship be equal and reciprocal. it always seems terribly uncouth when a chinese american person leaps for the check and their non-asian friends put up the resistance of a doublewide flattened after a tornado. (unless it’s understood from the outset that the chinese american person is treating.) being chinese american means finding these maze-like forms tiresome, completely comprehensible, and yet somehow influential in forming opinions of people’s level of civilization.
  • old school: it is a source of pride in one’s hospitality, one’s hometown, one’s culture, and even one’s country to offer an embarrassing degree of hospitality to guests. to not offer it is the product of poor home training (read: grew up in america). new school: here’s the key, eat anything you want, and uh, can you water the plants while we’re gone?
  • those little dried shrimps in all kinds of dishes? why do they violate the no-poo vein rule, and what are they really bringing to the party?
  • old school: beijingers can’t stand cantonese, who can’t stand those snooty shanghainese, who think mongolians are… new school: will you just shut up about all that and represent? STOP WITH THE INTRA-CHINESE HATERADE. no wonder korean/american cinema is kicking our ass, and look how the mexican geniuses of film have got it goin’ on, and the iranians are coming on strong, as are the vietnamese/american filmmakers…
  • ok, swallowing bitterness is one thing, but someone needs to speak up about the nanjing massacres and the biological warfare NOW. it is time to spit up that bitterness before everyone who was alive then is dead. this one documentary produced by ted leonsis should be the beginning of a conversation, not the last word.
  • iris chang, i wept when i learned about your death.

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2 thoughts on “Things That Reassure You of Your Chinese Americanness

  1. I love the riff on “Pan Asian!”

    “Pan-Asian Cuisine” appeals to those who fetishize Asian culture without knowing it. I tuck my mother’s love (and book knowledge) of Feng Shui right into that basket: just a hair’s breath away from exotic oriental. It is her hippie impulse to love all that is different, which was OK when she birthed me in Japan in the 1950s, but seems pale and shallow now. And the (Asian) kids coming up now in Queens, got something else for ya. Evolution.

  2. cynematic on

    put it this way…would anyone make pan-european cuisine that combines french and italian, without bothering to get schooled in either??

    a lot of pan-asian food is lazy and uninformed.

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