Sunday, March 16, 2008

Chinese Restaurants

I loved watching Cheuk Kwan's documentary on Chinese Restaurants for several reasons.

Firstly, it reminded me of the many places I've traveled to. I've been very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to places all over the world, but each time I leave home I can't help but wonder, will I be the only Asian in the crowd? It wasn't until now that I realized I'm never the only Asian. Asians have settled everywhere in the world. Even in my most recent travels, to Reykjavik, Iceland, I encountered three different, and fairly authentic, Asian restaurants. Needlesstosay, I was a little freaked out to see Chinese people speaking Icelandic as their native tongue.

Kwan's film also sparked a lot of thoughts about my own family's involvement in the Chinese food industry. Even our business, which started in Hong Kong and was brought to the US, shares the same struggles of hope, survival, and courage. I empathized a lot with the second and third generation children who were caught in the dilemma of whether to continue the tradition or whether to continue with lifestyle they grew up in, like we see with the Chinese- Brazilian family's son (i forget his name). I know that I have assimilated so much, and have focused my attention away from the family business, but also feel a sense of obligation to contribute back. After all, my family worked so hard to build up the business that I kind of owe all the privileges I have to it. I would also hate to see all that hard work die out because of my generation. Either way, this film really made me think about the incredible steps it takes to build a business in a foreign country and how I really need to learn more about my history.

Enough about me...some themes I noticed: Chinese as amazingly hard workers, assimilation of the next generation, providing for the family/valuing family, men as a symbol of strength but women as the real backbone behind the operation, arranged marriages (which I guess is just apart of generational differences), expectations on the next generation (usually to succeed at anything/everything the children pursue), and the idea of the "Chinese Apple-Pie" that we saw in Chan is Missing.

I really felt this film helped to set one thing straight - women do play an integral part of Chinese culture. We hear from Colette how her father told her to always respect and listen to her mother in law. As much as Colette did not appreciate her mother in law's constant demands, I think it really rubbed off on her and made her into the woman she is today. We learn that Manuel may be the face of the restaurant, but Colette is really the one responsible for the entire workings of the operation. We see this theme in some of the other restaurants too, like in Madagascar and a little bit in Brazil.

I'd like to touch a bit on the "Chinese Apple-Pie." I don't know what to make of this question of "authenticity" anymore. At the beginning of taking this class, I was very bothered by this lack of authenticity I noticed as a common trend in Asian-American culture. And I guess, to a certain extent, I still am. But I guess I'm beginning to see that this is just natural and almost impossible to avoid (which seems sad to me). After watching some of these Chinese couples and how many of them view the incorporation of their cultural surroundings into their cuisine as a positive thing, I've begun to question my notions of authenticity. Should it really be adamantly sought after, or if it is inevitable, why not just go with it?

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