Monday, March 17, 2008

Chinese Restaurants

The documentary and readings concerning Chinese restaurants were very interesting in their discussions of various Chinese families using food to improve their socioeconomic status. As people have already mentioned, I found it particularly intriguing how there were many accounts of owners making food not necessarily authentic to their own culture. Allison brought up the example in the Cuba’s artificial Chinatown where the most popular “Chinese” dish seemed to be more Italian in its make up. Despite this unique food experience and the fact this place was overtly made for tourism, he still maintains that there is traces of Chinese culture in this place. I found this to be an interesting note given the circumstances. Regardless, I think an important point was raised at the end of this scene where it was made clear that many restaurant owners have the main goal as serving the wellbeing of the community rather than staying true to their culture. Many think mainly in terms of the simple economic principles of supply and demand. Is this bad? A lot of people complain about how unauthentic Asian food is outside of Asia, but I think the films did a good job of exposing the view of how restaurant owners are trying to keep the overall happiness and interests of the general population in mind.

The films also addressed the idea of how owning these restaurants becomes a family tradition. There were numerous lines that represented the theme of “the restaurant being like a baby to my parents”. The children expressed how it is their job to continue the work on the foundation laid out by their parents. Such accounts closely correspond to the many stories from American immigrants finding a way to capture the American dream and expecting the second generation to follow in their chosen path so as to not let all their hard work go to waste. This is also brought up in the reading where an owner’s son expresses his discontent for the restaurant working lifestyle. However, he is immediately characterized as a “good son doing his family duty” in the next line.

I did really know what to make of the story in the reading about the meeting in the Wisconsin Chinese Buffet that decorated with all Korean artwork and even owned by a Korean family, and yet served the standard Chinese food. It seemed a little sad this family would stray that far away from their roots and have such little faith that a Korean restaurant could be successful. This parallels the previous story in the same chapter concerning the Vietnamese dishes. I think this maybe a testament to how Americanized Chinese food has become, and how it has become a staple of American culture as well. This is not to say that the number of authentic Korean restaurants outnumber those that have clearly been influenced by American culture, however, the average American thinks only of Chinese food when the idea of eating Asian food arises. Therefore, once again, if the overall idea is to cater to the people and make the most profit, this makes sense.

I also wanted to briefly comment on our assignment to describe our experiences inside Asian restaurants. I think all of us in this class have encountered a wide variety of experiences and feelings while dining in Asian restaurants. Most of them probably overlap in some way or another. Sometimes, when I sit down in some Asian restaurants there is a feeling of solidarity with all the other Asian American staff and customers in the restaurant. In some cases there seems to be a silent acknowledgement of respect and understanding of a common bond over shared experiences. However, there are times when being in an Asian restaurant can offer feelings of insecurity at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. When I go into a Korean restaurant, sometimes the workers can identify me as Korean and expect me to be able to speak the language. When they realize my Korean is not very good becomes an invisible barrier, and it makes me feel farther apart from them than if I had never even met them. These awkward encounters makes me personally question by identity as a Korean American. There is one other frequently occurring scenario that arises in an Asian restaurant. If I go out to eat Asian food with non Asian friends, a lot of the times they ask questions as if I am an expert on the food. This feels especially strange if we are eating at a Chinese restaurant because it is a subtle way of my friends revealing how they lump all the East Asian races together. These are the three major classifications of my experiences (and probably the sentiments of many other Asian Americans) when going out to eat Asian food. A lot is dependent on whether or not I am eating at a Mom and Pop type of place or a generic chain.

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