Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bentonville, Kim Son, and Chinese Restaraunts

I found Chinese Restaurants to be very enlightening especially when it came to telling the individual stories. Honestly, I had no idea the extent of both Chinese immigration and Chinese restaurants (Norway?!). The movie challenges the idea of countries being homogeneous and that the U.S. is the only country that is a “melting pot”, for example, the Chinese influence in Madagascar. Furthermore, the movie challenges the idea of what is a Chinese restaurant (ex. New Outlook café). As a side note, I totally got choked up watching the very end of the segment on Noisy Jim and his funeral. I wasn’t really that surprised to see that each person opened a Chinese restaurant in order to survive but the more I think about it (and having read Manalasan’s essay), the dishes served at the each restaurant could be considered “fusion” cooking.

However, there were some aspects of the documentary that I didn’t find so appealing. The first is how the Hakka people were described in the Mauritius segment. I felt that it bordered, if not crossed, into the area of essentializing a group of people. Nevertheless, this seemed to happen only once. I felt, though, that the documentary’s strongest moments were letting the people and the stories unfold on their own (if that makes any sense) rather than the narrator’s journey or his interactions with them (so I guess kudos to the editing). By focusing on the individual’s more, the film was able to bring to the surface a more universal theme of Chinese immigrants and influences in their communities. Another small nitpicky part I found a little incongruous was I believe I heard him say Cuba gained independence from Spain in 1902 but wasn’t the year actually 1898?

As far as my own experiences in Chinese(/Vietnamese) restaurants, I find them to be comforting. For those that live around the Houston area (Go Spring!), ya’ll know what I mean by saying that Kim Son is probably one of the best around (and if you want, I could totally point out some others that are great). On their menu is the story of how the restaurant (chain) got started and from what I remember, her story (though a Vietnamese immigrant) very much resembles those from the documentary in that the restaurant was more about survival than someone who dreams of opening their own restaurant. However, it is interesting that no one ever points out that the restaurant serves both Chinese and Vietnamese dishes or is it just assumed that the two are interchangeable? However, whenever I go to a Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant I sometimes feel a little out of place. I think the main reason is that I don’t speak Vietnamese so I always feel a little awkward ordering. And as a last note, my parents did run a Chinese (Vietnamese?) restaurant for a while. And once again, it was more of a matter of making a living than fulfilling a dream. Their restaurant was in Bentonville, Arkansas (kudos to anyone that can name the importance of that city). Though they no longer run a restaurant, it is always interesting listening to them talk about it and how hard it was.

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