Taiwanese Breakfast in SGV: Yimei

One of my favorite places to get Taiwanese Breakfast when I’m back in my hometown (San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles specifically, for you New Yorkers it’s like the Elmhurst, Queens of Los Angeles) is Yimei in Monrovia. Specifically, Yimei has my favorite sweet Rice Roll and Peanut Rice Milk (dipping with the Chinese donut). The Sesame Bread Sandwich with Beef (牛肉燒餅)is also good, but not as good as the one at Huge Tree Pastry.

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I usually actually order the above, mixing the Peanut Rice milk (米漿)with Soy Milk (豆漿)in that combo (混漿)warm in a bowl. Dip the Chinese donut in it, I like how they make it extra crispy here, although it’s not quite as dense is it might be.

The Sweet Rice Roll (甜飯糰)here is something distinguishing and made uniquely from other places, as per the usual, it’s rice wrapped around Chinese donut, but it has a sprinkling of sweet peanut shavings along with the sugar.

The fresh soy milk is also nice cold with the more savory items.

This place is actually a good twenty-five minute drive from where I usually stay, but I’ll go out of my way if I have slow day when I’m visiting back home.

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(Specific) Taiwanese American Worries About a Trump Presidency

I want to clarify something for those people who wondering about my unending rage and fear about the election, as if it needed to be substantiated further.

Not Black, Muslim, Latino, or LGBT, why you so angry and worried Bessie? Just so upset over an authoritarian danger to our country built on hate? An unqualified sexual predator beating out the most qualified woman in history, who actually did win?

Well there is one more wrinkle, I’m Taiwanese-American.

Taiwan is a functioning vibrant democracy, an island off the coast of China, one that is in fact a few legislative sessions away from legalizing Gay Marriage and a female President. Irony.

Keep Taiwan Free protest in NYC. Image from here.

Taiwan really only exists as not subjugated by China, although China constantly threatens us, because of post WW2-era Defense Agreements with the US, they don’t take the next step. Taiwan was known as “Free China,” though its people were hardly free, and used as a staging ground in the Vietnam War by the United States.

Taiwan became something else than the People’s Republic of China, aka China, after the remnants of the Kuomingtang or Nationalist government lost the Chinese Civil War, went there and took over, and after decades of struggle against that authoritarian rule, Taiwan is a liberal democracy that in many ways resembles the Nordics. This is a long complex history here that I’m trying to shorten into a few sentences.

Taiwanese Students protesting. Taken from here.

If Trump scales down US obligations in Asia, as he’s threatened to, we could cease to exist as a people. China would come and subjugate us, and that is exactly as horrifying as it sounds.

And that is my flesh and blood, and despite all my Americanness — I was born and raised in LA and am now a proud NYC resident, blood is thick- Taiwan is my friends and family, everything I came from. So maybe there is an added wrinkle in my fear, because it’s two nations that I’m fearing and fighting for now.

So don’t quote from Hillbilly Elegy and expect me to pull empathy from my heart after what they did.

I’ve heard a lot from immigrant like like me stock mock them these “White Working Class folk” (this is a false profiling of the Trump vote by the way, which would not have been won with the support of well-off White people and that ignoring non-Working class White people did not do the same) in frustration (now you know) and anger at their racism and willingness to act on it.

“They got beaten out by people who crossed oceans and deserts, some with no money and no English, who managed to carve out their American dreams.”

And now they could threaten those we left behind in the old country too? Can you blame me for being being like, fuck that and fuck them? The only reason why I’d advocate for policies to help them is insurance to pacify them so they don’t ruin everything.

So now you know.

I am not a skittle.

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On Monday, in a building that’s less than a fifteen minute walk from my apartment, the UN General Assembly convened to tackle the world’s worst to-do list, in particular how to handle the refugee crisis.  That same day, Donald Trump’s son referred to refugees as poisonous skittles. Now that same administration is poised to take power.  

I’m here speaking today as someone who is a person, a proud American, and not a piece of candy.   

I’ve been following the refugee crisis probably more than the average American, and I’m reminded of a lot of writing that’s been haunting me in the last few weeks, such as the above New York Times article on refugees in Denmark.  It’s pretty terrible, for pretty much everyone involved, clearly some worst than others.  

As much as we’re having problems with Islamophobia, xenophobia, and racism in the United States, it can pale in comparison to a lot of Europe.  This was quite vivid to me especially since I was just in Copenhagen and London shortly before the Brexit vote.

A Danish man actually tried to harass my friend and I when we were in Copenhagen asking, “why refugees get this and that?” and gibberish about some grievance about perceived allocations of resources.  We were kind of glib about it, but it was still troubling, which I wrote about awhile back about the irony of him going after two well-to-do vacationing Asian Americans descended from a recent refugee past.

Today I feel the call to speak again, echoing the words of the this year’s Pulitzer Prize author of The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen:

Today, when many Americans think of Vietnamese-Americans as a success story, we forget that the majority of Americans in 1975 did not want to accept Vietnamese refugees. (A sign hung in the window of a store near my parents’ grocery: “Another American forced out of business by the Vietnamese.”) For a country that prides itself on the American dream, refugees are simply un-American, despite the fact that some of the original English settlers of this country, the Puritans, were religious refugees.

Today, Syrian refugees face a similar reaction. To some Europeans, these refugees seem un-European for reasons of culture, religion and language. And in Europe and the United States, the attacks in Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino, Calif., and Orlando, Fla., have people fearing that Syrian refugees could be Islamic radicals, forgetting that those refugees are some of the first victims of the Islamic State.

Because those judgments have been rendered on many who have been cast out or who have fled, it is important for those of us who were refugees to remind the world of what our experiences mean.

People tend to have different frames of reference for who they identify with and who they humanize more.  This refugee situation has been particularly troubling for Asian Americans because it feels so familiar.  

Migrants pulled an inflatable boat crowded with Syrian refugees arriving last month from the Turkish coast on Lesbos island, Greece. From the NYTimes.

My family didn’t enter the United States as refugees.  We came as immigrants.  But our story of being in America came as a result of my grandparents fleeing China to Taiwan as the losing side in the Chinese Civil War who would have imprisoned, tortured, or slaughtered had they stayed.  We waishengren Taiwanese are not technically refugees.  However, many of the psychological wounds in experiences of our families who left their homes unwillingly to never see anyone or anything they knew again resonate on for our people.  Many felt that Taiwan could never be a place they could belong and left to the United States, bringing our story to this part of history I’m living in.  

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Fleeing China. Photo taken from China Times

As an Taiwanese American growing up in San Gabriel Valley and later attending a UC campus, I grew up around Asians who were refugees from the Vietnam War, eventually living with Hmong roommates in the dorms of a school that over-indexed for Asian Americans from these backgrounds.

As we Asian Americans converge with the histories of our peoples and our stories blurring into a shared collective memory, this narrative of unwanted people in boats cast fleeing destruction and persecution cast adrift in subsequent cycles of loss, alienation, discrimination, and suffering in strange lands is a potent arc in our story, one we see tragically being repeated now. 

Our psyches continue to bear witness to this history.

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Fleeing Vietnam.  Photo taken from Canadian Encyclopedia

Today, many Americans consider Vietnamese Americans a model minority, conveniently forgetting how unwanted they were and how hard they many have it and still have it. Some of them even consider themselves the good immigrant and shirk away from the Syrian refugee crisis.

For many Westerners, people in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, this idea of refugees continues as a faceless mass on dinghies in the sea or heartbreaking pictures of children, as those to be pitied or praised from afar but not to be dealt with as actual people. We don’t like to remember that the United States turned away Jewish refugees, including Anne Frank.

These pasts rendered not real.  People abstract.

It’s important for those us of who have these experiences to show our existence for those who cannot.  For those of us who see those adrift in the Mediterranean and see our own past staring back, we have to be real to counter the ignorant and the political opportunists that dehumanize other people.  

The St. Louis: A boat carrying Jewish Refugees refused by the ports of Cuba, Canada, and the United States. A quarter would eventually perish in Nazi death camps. Picture from Wikipedia.

As Nguyen writes:

We can be invisible even to one another. But it is precisely because I do not look like a refugee that I have to proclaim being one, even when those of us who were refugees would rather forget that there was a time when the world thought us to be less than human.

Many former Southeast Asian refugees are helping Syrians.  I continue to advocate that the United States and Canada, despite imperfections, are much better suited to give refugees an accepting home.  

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This picture of a gay Syrian refugee with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Pride and Aatish Taseer’s articulation of his love for America they day he got his green card paint a more vivid picture than any empirical example of success in re-settling people why these places have been and continue to be more prepared to integrate people than parts of Western Europe.  

It is important for those of us who have memory and can bear witness as real people living in the West must continue to hold values sacred, to articulate humanity, and also to fight, we have to fight, against the tide of bigotry, intolerance, and inaction. These battles have to be refought every generation. There is never a moment which these values are safe, especially now. 

To Start:

Awkward Post-Colonialisms and Contemporary Friends Between Taiwan and Japan

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Living in NYC, I am all about taking advantage of the cultural institutions and opportunities around me.  Being Taiwanese-American, I’m more than generally supportive of Taiwan’s new fledging efforts at cultural diplomacy rather than dollar diplomacy.  I believe that the future is in investing in soft power, to build up Taiwan as a brand and identity as recognized as the way French, Italian, Japanese, and and now South Korean culture have been successfully exported the world over.  All the ingredients are there, it’s all in the investing resources and execution at this point.

Shameless plug – I once did a brief study on this conceptually in grad school.  

All this is why I was delighted to go to several Tea Ceremony events this weekend in NYC by Taipei Cultural Center, one of which is springboarding this articulation here.  I’m also just a aficionado of tea and tea cultures and art(茶藝 for you Chinese reading folks) in general.  

I went to the Tenri Culture Center, “a non-profit organization with a mission to promote the study of Japanese language and the appreciation of international art forms,” where they showcased a traditional Japanese and Taiwanese Tea Ceremonies.

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This is me realizing I’m terribly underdressed, sweaty, and out-of-place.

My life being a consistent crash into different worlds and identities would of course this weekend involved me walking into this place after hanging out earlier in the West Village buying The Fire This Time and then walking in neon adidas with my hipster backpack in a crowd of impeccably. dressed Japanese people and Upper East Side types.  Out-of-place as usual, but dgaf as usual, sat on them tatami mats to participate in the Japanese ceremony.  I’d seen the Taiwanese tea ceremony and have done it myself many times, but it was cool to see Lin Ceramics Studio out, true craftsman that Taiwan is rightfully proud of.  

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Taiwanese Tea Set from Lin Ceramics

They did a demo of both, the Japanese in full beautiful kimono regalia and explaining the symbolism.  The Taiwanese representatives did something similarly except we have no long-standing agreed upon national dress for such things, so we basically are just minimalist craftsman hipsters everywhere forever now.  The Taiwanese speaker, Rita, kept trying to tell everyone that the Taiwanese tea ceremony is about being chill and enjoying the company of others more informally after the relativeness formality of the Japanese one, which totally vibed with me.  

It seemed like the event it was a huge hit to a relatively diverse crowd, good amount of Japanese, Taiwanese, and the kind of white people in dresses and hats who come to these events “oh look at this exotic eastern delicacy” to which I made sarcastic remarks to because I got no chill like that.  There’s one thing to appreciate another culture, it’s another to cross into creepy orientalism.  

(Man, I should totally just film videos of myself in Europe or something acting like the way ignorant White people do with Asian culture or being an Anthony Bourdian type archetype, who is not ignorant and snarky as a fuck about it, that would be a hoot, except I’d be both angry woman of color and ugly fat American at the same time.)

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Group photo between Japanese and Taiwanese representatives and tea masters.

Of course, I couldn’t help but think of the strange relationship now between Japan and Taiwan.  Former colonial master and now political ally and cultural friend.  I won’t get into this so much here, there are much better writers who’ve articulated this issue.  Taiwan and China problems aren’t going way.  I’m more reflecting on my own thoughts about the contemporary relationship and the complexity it took to get to this cultural moment.   

Taiwan has largely crossed the tensions of post WW2 martial law into years of a vibrant multi-party liberal democracy but is still in the early chapters of defining its modern self now, with much difference between the generations and demographics.  One of these fault lines of course is the relationship to Japan.  First, it’s really hard to deny the continuing relationship and closeness of that relationship as time has gone on.  A lot of Taiwan’s modernization efforts, like many Asian countries, followed the line of Japan’s, down to the shopping experience department stores and many industrial operational procedures are set-up.  There’s general genuine affection and understanding.  It’s complex.  

Do we have to have forgiveness and how to we articulate questions of power?  It’s hard and weird thing.  I personally see no contradiction in support efforts for proper apologies and reparation for World War II crimes (eg. I’m really supportive of the film The Apology), not forgetting, and not letting go of that fact that Japan tries to whitewash its history.  At the same time, I don’t see it as a part of my identity to hate Japanese people, especially people born in our time period.  Don’t get me wrong though, while they while not directly responsible for their ancestors crimes, they have the responsibility to remember.  The contrast to modern day Germany’s reckoning with its past is astounding.  For the record, I feel similarly both about the United States lack of reparative justice for slavery and for crimes by the KMT.

However, the oppositional identity has been part of a nation building project and even a distraction to field away domestic problems, one that politicians from both the east and west would no doubt pull the strings on its people like puppets for depending on the situation.  There are plenty who still talk of an inevitable war again with Japan.  Unlike many (and perhaps like many Taiwanese of my generation), I don’t feel any level of bloodlust towards modern Japanese people and find it appalling and dangerous that so many do.  I will admit I do have more of a psychological distance from it as someone who spent most of her life in the West.

There’s also the awkward question of how you feel about Japan depending on what section of Taiwanese society you come from but also the practical concerns of now.  49er Taiwanese fought suffered dramatic losses against the Japanese.  There is still crazy deep blue talk radio in Taiwan lamenting about Japan’s influence on Taiwanese people.  Then there are those who remember the Japanese era fondly as an era of relative refinements compared the brutal suppression by the KMT that followed.  Then again, I’ve met indigenous people in Taiwan who have pointed out footbridges to me in the valleys and gorges in central Taiwan, saying that the Japanese forced them, saying specifically to me “our Taiwanese ancestors,” but really it was the indigenous people that paid the great cost in deaths.  Then there are the years that followed, where Taiwan modernized together, with Japan being the modern Asian that all Asian countries followed the model of to some degree, especially when you speak of the four Asian tigers.  

When I think of my own family, who fought tooth and nail with the Japanese.  The 49er Taiwanese members of my family suffered greatly at the hands of the Japanese. Dead and tortured broken bodies.  In Taiwan, they worked closely with Japanese people in efforts to modernize Taiwan.  Our family homes are full of Japanese finery.  My mother would talk about tea sets and wrappings at an Isetan department store as ones she recognized from her childhood when my grandparent’s Japanese friends would come to visit.  I spent a lot of time playing as a child in LA’s Little Tokyo because of the familiarity with that culture.  We still go to certain stores we know there to buy certain things.  Yet there’s also a distrust and subtle hatred.  It’s also no secret that some Japanese tourists and Japanese people still have an attitude of colonial superiority to Taiwan and vis a vis a Taiwanese inferiority complex some have to Japan.  My mother said once when we were on a trip in Japan “we look at each other with complicated feelings.”  The interpretation of Japan and our history is deeply complex.  

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I grow up admiring beautiful Japanese finery like this.

All that aside to give some color again, China is growing in power in Asia to the fear of all of its neighbors and against a Taiwanese identity that continues to grow stronger.  

I’ll say this now, I maybe a waishengren/”49er Taiwanese”, but I’m probably basically the last of my kind.  Being Taiwanese in a modern sense – identifying with values, customs, and history – overrides my Americaness or not being able to speak Taiwanese.  

Common enmity can make strange bedfollows.  China and South Korea’s articulations of modern identity and even levers pulled for social cohesion have to do with its struggle and crimes against the Japanese.  Others also suffered horribly, Indonesia, the Phillippines, Vietnam, the Pacific Islands, and on and on, but their identities perhaps ultimately are more defined in its postcolonial struggles.  I have wonder if Taiwan’s identity would have been very different and the Japanese regarded less favorably if the KMT had not be so violently repressive.

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The characters mean “giving tea” as a manner of communicating hospitality.  You’ll find pots of tea on the side of the road in the Taiwanese countryside for people passing by with these characters.

I find that as we forward now as friends, we can’t deny these complex relationships of power and history.  If we don’t talk about them in a thoughtful if not totally imperfect and critical way, there is no real way to move on and have transformative justice and a better future for all of us.

In the meantime though, I’m happy to break bread and drink tea with our former enemies as friends moving forward, as long we we move forward together more as equals with mutual interest and respect.  I’d pull up a chair for China too should they decide to be peaceful about it, but maybe that’s why Japan and Taiwan are at the table together at all.

With fondness.