Monday, March 17, 2008

Behind the Scenes of Chinese Restaurants

Cheuk Kwan's documentary "Chinese Restaurants" offers great insight into the stories of Chinese restauranteurs across the globe.  Aside from topics of acculturation, assimilation, cooking methods and personal histories of the restaurant owners, Kwan was able to focus, albeit somewhat briefly, on the wait and kitchen staff in various Chinese establishments from Brazil to Norway.
I found that the opinions of restaurant owners towards the local staff regularly appeared condescending, regardless of location.  Many non-Chinese restaurant workers in the kitchens, with the exclusion of chefs, tend to hold menial or mundane tasks.  In Madagascar, the female restaurant owner clearly stated that the local staff (with the exception of "one or two skilled workers") were simply unable to learn how to properly prepare authentic Chinese dishes. However, a contradiction exists in her reasoning since many Chinese restaurants throughout the world prepare inauthentic Chinese food in order to please local tastes and preferences.  If the Chinese food produced by restaurants is "fake", then how will locals such as the aforementioned workers in the kitchen experience the true tastes of Chinese food?  If ignorance is shed through education, why disregard non-Chinese and non-Asian kitchen staff as simply "not skilled"?  While I acknowledge that many issues factor into the situation, ranging from issues of socioeconomic status to potential racism, such questions cannot be overlooked when discussing workers in Chinese restaurants. 

"Chinese Restaurants" revealed the various hardships restaurant employees face in modern times.  Many kitchen staff have similar immigration stories, fleeing their home country in search of a better life and greater economic opportunities.  While the restaurant owners received a majority of the camera's attention, many immigrant workers can easily relate to the difficult journeys the Chinese restauranteurs and their predecessors faced in order to survive.  Immigrant employees continue to face such hardships, particularly those that entered a country illegally.  Waiters and waitresses in Chinese restaurants, if not locals from the region, encounter comparable difficulties.

Overall, "Chinese Restaurants" provides much more than simple critiques of Chinese food, but a glimpse into the complex history and world of the Chinese diaspora in relation to the numerous Chinese restaurants open for business worldwide.

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