Made in China

[this is the rough draft of a project to be developed and is written in a deliberately different voice than my own.]

so, i’m tapping on the case of this aquarium and i’m waiting for the crab to move… to flinch… some sign of life. and nothing. not a damn thing. the only thing i see are the little bubbles on the edge of the tank- you know, the bubbles coming from the..um…the, you know…the aerator…the ones that ensure that there’s enough oxygen in the tank for the fish…except there are no fish in this tank-not a single one- only a crab and this crab is dead. my friend is tapping on the glass at my side..and i’m totally getting this nagging feeling that i have chosen the wrong restaurant to take these people. i mean, not only is there only one crab in this giant aquarium, but it’s dead… and upside down…and the irony is that we didn’t even come to this restaurant for crab- we came for crawfish. (irony or coincidence? i never can keep them straight since alanis confused the issue.) so, here we are, in the middle of chinatown- why? because i have this friend in from new york and she tells me- she says to me- ‘you know, i’ve never had crawfish before.’ and i totally take this as a challenge… i mean, i can’t let me friend go back never having eaten crawfish. sure, it’s not like this is new orleans, but still… when is the next time she will be down this direction? so, we go looking for it… and drive all the way down to the bay only to find out crawfish is out of season…and i mean, i honestly didn’t even know there was a designated crawfish season…i mean, they’re mud dwellers…there’s totally mud all year round, so what gives? anyways… once we’ve driven completely out of our way, my friend is determined that she NEEDS to eat some crawfish- like, TONIGHT- even more determined than me- so we call around and find this place on the completely opposite side of town (being chinatown) and once we’ve ensured that we can get crawfish served in garlic and spices and potatoes and corn…with a big bucket of beer, we start driving. and then, we get here and see this dead crab in this giant aquarium… and yeah, we decide to eat here anyways….okay-so, yeah- i’ll stop here and assure you that you are not the first to think this was probably an ill-advised decision at this point… two hours, seventy miles, and three empty stomachs will cloud your judgement, ok?

but you see, that’s the thing- how many times have you been sitting in front of some, like, horrific-looking dish… something that smells like ass…but you think, ‘ok, i’m in this totally expensive chinese food restaurant… this can’t possibly be all that bad… because i’m totally going to pay like $17 dollars for this…and besides, my asian friends recommended this place…or maybe it was my jewish friend… but that doesn’t matter, because, in THIS place, there are all kinds of fish in the tanks… and they are actually swimming around- all alive and whatnot.’ and in fact, the food is actually pretty good… except you find out that it never was chinese- it was vietnamese. like, the whole time. and you get completely frustrated because these distinctions are so difficult to understand. i mean, what the hell is general tso’s chicken… or is it general joe’s? and is THAT even chinese? and does it really matter, since you’ll find it at a chinese food restaurant anyways?

you know, i remember, as a kid, that my brother had this chinese friend- not vietnamese- like, honest-to-gosh, chinese… and oh my god, my mom, like, LOVED this kid- maybe even more than my brother and me. i mean, she had pencil lines marking his growth in our guest bedroom…and she wouldn’t even cover them up when we repainted- they are still there under the mirror-like, 15 years later. so, this chinese kid’s family had this restaurant. and we would order moo-goo gai pan and cashew chicken to go…and it would be so greasy that whatever that stuff was cooked in would congeal on the top even before we could get it home. and my parents totally loved this stuff. and i’ll admit that some of it was pretty good, but i guess that’s when i decided i hated sweet and sour sauce. (like- can’t stand it.) but i would always love going to pick the food up because they had this awesome mrs. pacman game at their restaurant… this little joint on main called best burger.

but that guy wasn’t the first chinese person i was exposed to- no, the first one was in pre-k. and it was this girl- who i actually really liked- who got mad at me one day and told me i was going to go to the devil… which i thought was weird, like, even at the time. i mean, what a bizarre thing to say. and i think i chalked it up to some language barrier issue. or maybe something cultural. but i guess that, looking back, that girl had a lot of foresight for a four year-old, because i now figure she may have had a point.

and the thing is, some of my asian friends have now deemed me honorarily chinese… and i’m not exactly sure why, but i think it’s because they know i’m obsessed with everything chinese- that i’m, like, totally FASCINATED. that i eat up pearl buck and amy tan like everyone else does harry potter- that i have a bigger crush on chow yun fat than i do on eric bana (although it’s a close call)- or even that, once upon a time, i wanted to take karate over ballet… if only, to be as cool as mr. miyagi, who-yes, i KNOW- was supposedly japanese. and so, i’ll take it- for whatever it means- and can’t help but be a little proud that my pals think enough of me to count me as one of the tribe.

and yet, the comedy (or irony) is that , i am never quite sure what is in fact chinese and what is some other brand of asian…like taiwanese…which is a whole other issue i can’t even begin to wrap my head around. and truth be told, i don’t know how many of my friends are actually from china, but from taiwan… so who knows if it even counts… their distinction, that is. (and from what i gather, they are just as confused about it all as i am.) but if we’re really going to split hairs, how much of my everyday…EVERYTHING is from china? i mean, how often do you pick up something- be it a crate and barrel coffee cup or like, a Barbie doll, or even a pair of freakin’ Levi’s jeans- and you see that label ‘made in china?’ and after a while, that starts to register somewhere deep within- like, to really resonate… MADE IN CHINA. and i wonder if that starts to mean something to my friends, too- that, when they think of things made in china, they think of Sketchers and Telluride tires before they think of themselves. and i imagine that, if i were in their shoes, i would be going through the worst kind of existential crisis EVER… but then, the flip-side of the coin is that, at the very least, they have a rich cultural identity to be confused about- whereas i am heinz 57 and not really enough of anything to thoroughly identify with liederhosen or baguettes or Ikea furniture.

but in the end, i wonder how these people might be willing to trade in their gorgeous culture for our homogenized materialism. like, was communism really that effective? i mean, obviously not… since the country in enslaved by capitalism these days, but the lines are blurred. did the cultural revolution irrevocably extinguish the traditional cultural pursuits, tipping the scale towards industry? as in, is the ethos most precious to those of us on the outside or those clinging desperately to the idea of past lives overseas, now lost?

and i guess i’m praying that i’m wrong, but what is china if not this center of mass-produced everything- everything we find synonymous with our western culture? and i wonder what would happen if i ever made the trip- the one i’ve always wanted to take- to china… and instead of temple dogs and pagodas and red silk robes, i see mini-skirts and factory smoke and taco bell. i mean, what if the dragon boat races are better HERE?

and i just can’t help but think to myself, i think, i can’t ever go… because i just don’t think i can take it- i can’t take the disappointment of seeing china, but not the china of my dreams.

and so, i meditate on this as i sip on my canned soy milk and wait for my cajun-style crawfish to arrive. and i peer out the window and across bellaire boulevard at the hong kong market that has swallowed the entire city block across the street- windows filled with aisles of red lanterns and desk-sized bamboo plants- and i suddenly realize that there’s always been enough china to go around.

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~ by ladamesansregrets on February 4, 2008.

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