Diaspora Tales Part 124341

I thought I lowkeyed American all weekend in French Canada and avoided anything awkward until I got in the Uber to go to Trudeau Airport.

Guy is chatty and asks, “Why are you leaving town with the good weather?” Apparently it’s been a miserable chilly Canadian summer. I reply, “Well, I was just here for the weekend and am going back to New York.”

Game immediately recognizes game, and we get into one of those overly personal and political conversations that only two strangers from a diaspora would suddenly have without hesitation. He immediately brings up how he and his buddies use to like to go to NYC for the weekend, but Canadians don’t travel down as much anymore, especially him because he has North African heritage. He doesn’t want to deal with being harassed at the airport. He talks about how even his White Canadian friend got harassed by Customs Border Patrol for three hours. They made her give her Snapchat and Facebook passwords because she wouldn’t give her opinion about Trump.

He talked about how in Canada you can’t get away with saying all the racist things that people say in America. That after the mosque shooting months ago, Canadians didn’t let people get away with being so hateful. There’s a pride in it, but I can tell it doesn’t salve everything. He’s sharing this undertone of distress with me because in a weird way we’re all in this together. He explicitly says he won’t let people say bad things about “people from China, Japan, and Black people, etc.”

This turns into a conversation about his cousins in France, one of course who is married to a White French woman who said “All these Arabs are savages” despite being married into a family of them who have extended extreme generosity to her.

He explains, “All the news on TV poisoned her mind. She’s out of touch with reality.”

We all know what it’s like to have one of those in our close circles. We agree that minorities have it worst in France out of the Western countries, and how laughable France attributes so many problems to immigrants given how few of them there are when you compare it to Canada and the United States. We talk about how France calls them “2nd generation immigrants.” Neither of us would tolerate such a laughable label, we’re both native borns, not immigrants. 2nd generation Canadians and Americans, yes, but we’re not immigrants. And regardless, you should treat immigrants like people and let them contribute. He says, “Yes, there are bad people who want to cheat the system,”  but counters the net contribution to countries far exceeds that and are not the roots of the social ills in the places we live.

We talk about how people were brought over because all these countries needed immigrant labor, and now they don’t want us anymore now that they’re not doing so well. He told me a story of how he drove a “racist American type” who was proud Tesla was Made-In-America (fuck yeah?). He totally destroyed that guy’s day by showing him Google search and informing him that Elon Musk holds Canadian citizenship and came from South Africa to Canada before going to America. He talked about how America’s toxic nationalism reminded him of France sometimes, he doesn’t like to travel to France and America and I suspect outside of Canada much these days.

At some point his phone rings, I see an image of lady in a headscarf with that sensible not-over-the-top-like-Americans smile I notice Canadians do and a cute kid. It occurs to me he totally reminds me of the Cantonese and Filipino guys in another life in SF. Culturally rooted and responsible, a Morrocan-Canadian Daly City dude. Aspirational and hardworking, but with that slight unease of figuring out how to be man in between two cultures probably telling him very different things. The kind of guy who will talk about his feelings to woman like me because he knows I don’t judge and get it. If I wasn’t so obsessed with airplanes and moving around, I’d have ended up with someone like him in another Cali life and be the picture that flashes on the phone in another anxiety filled diaspora conversation in another life.

I talk about who I am, and how I hang onto a Taiwanese identity, though we both have that vague unspoken anxiety knowing he doesn’t speak Berber that well, and I don’t speak Chinese as much anymore these days either, but feel our place and that of people similar to us are in a precarious position, where we’re at, and in places like the UK, France, Australia, and beyond. We’re mutually stewing in our unease about our relative and conditional privilege. Way early into this conversation, we’ve dropped our “proper North American English” speaking voices, him speaking in what I can only call Drake-music-video-Canadian-English with a touch of French accent, and me with dripping with a non-White Cali enunciation.

We end up in a conversation about crab mentalities, bad homies, and good homies. The fucked up things that happen when you try to stay loyal to people in your crew and your small community. It’s overly personal, platonic, and calm at the same time, the only conversation two diaspora folks living in this time could have. He talks about how he wants to get into real estate, but his friend was trying to sabotage his success, and how Canadians don’t travel that much because taxes are so high. I talk about how Americans don’t travel because a lot of them are too poor to do it at all because it costs so much to do out outside the coasts. He mentions even though Canadians don’t travel, they don’t share our insularity because they aren’t so nationalistic. I talk about how much I hate everything happening, that two countries exist in mine, but he knows all that already.

It occurs to me in this short window of time, I’ve probably had a more personal conversation with him than White people I’ve known for years. You only talk like this with the ‘special White friends’ (google Special White Friend Americanah) and Facebook posts to spare yourself the emotions of possibly having someone discount the convo or reveal to you they basically think your culture is backwards.

When I get out of the car, he says, “You’re welcome back anytime to Canada.” It breaks my fucking heart, because I know I can’t say the same, even though we’re weirdly all in this together. Fuck the fucking Le Pens and Farages of the world. I tell him we’re trying to get of Trump, but I know that isn’t happening in the near future. This is what it is now.

At least in some moments, we have each other.

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Shout out to Lali Restaurant

Crosspost here from ViewingNYC.

To add: I really appreciate a place like this since it can feel like these places, the honest neighborhood eats, the simple diners, and delis, the holes-in-the-wall with good food at a fair price and character are disappearing in Manhattan and many parts of NYC, pushed out by ever skyrocketing retail rents and bougie tastes. Lali’s is not far from the Times Square drag in Hell’s Kitchen if you have visitors who really want something that is no frills local.   

I can only describe eating at Lali Restaurant like eating home-cooking at an auntie’s house, if I had an auntie who is a Dominican lady named Lali. The restaurant calls back to what feels like a different time. The counters have an old-school diner feel, regulars seem to know each other, and comfort food is what’s on the menu.

Lali and her friendly crew prepare selected dishes depending on the day of week. Most of the clientele is Spanish-speaking along with other locals who are frequent customers (myself included). Seating is mostly counter space and a few small tables in the back that seat two or three…. read more

What to Order at Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung is not a place that needs much introduction, especially in the Taiwanese food world. What is new is its expansion of locations outside of Asia. Started in 1948, Ding Tai Fung gained its fame with perfecting Shanghai Dumplings or xiaolongbao, excellent customer service, and extraordinary consistency.

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This restaurant empire stands out from other establishments for making simple Taiwanese staples exceptional. It’s not one of those fancy seafood banquet places but rather has perfected the pedestrian with the best of ingredients, preparation, and hospitality.

What I’m writing about today is what to order other than xiaolongbao – though I’ll say if you have enough diners/appetites with you – get both the pork and the pork with crab.

First, the Hot and Sour soup here is finely made, just look at how delicately every ingredient in this soup has been chopped and prepared. Normally, hot and sour soup can be kind of throwaway dish, but this is one of the best items here:

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The Seaweed & Beancurd in a Vinegar Dressing appetizer are another must get item here, a mix of fresh bean curd, seaweed, and sprouts are meant to be a cold dish complement the meal (does it real well).

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Another item that I love to get is the Pork Chop. This is ubiquitous Taiwanese staple but done way more upmarket here, your equivalent of getting a burger at a fancy restaurant.

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The Noodles with Spicy Sauce, again are simple and delectable prepared with a sesame sauce that would leave you feeling greasy and MSG bloated at other places.

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The Shrimp & Pork Wontons with Spicy Sauce has a version in many Chinese provinces, this is the Taiwanese Din Tai Fung version that does not disappointment, with the complex flavor of many aromatics in its preparation.

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Dessert is an underrated part of Din Tai Fung, but is probably my favorite part of the meal.

I love love love the Taro xiaolongbao, featuring fresh taro grounded into a sweet paste steamed in the same shell used to make the savory dumplings. I took a Chilean friend here and she called them “Taro dumplings from Heaven.” If you love taro like me, you can’t live without these. It’s probably the most Taiwanese-influenced item on the menu.

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Two other desserts I’d get: 1) The Red Bean Rice Cake is a fluffy steamed bread stuffed with red bean that is not too sweet. A lot of non-Asians tend to not like red bean, but it’s because they’ve eaten high fructose corn syrup loaded pre-packaged stuff rather than the real deal like here. 2) The Eight Treasures rice is a true classic of Chinese cooking, a sticky rice prepared with with raisins, dates, red bean, longan, and other dried fruit and nets. This is dish typically eaten during Lunar New Year and other special occasions done masterfully here:

That’s the ideal Din Tai Fung meal for me.

For another look at Din Tai Fung more from a cultural lens similar to mine, check out Eddie Huang’s introduction on his Viceworld show:

Couple more pics of the Din Tai Fung location at the Santa Anita Westfield in Arcadia CA:

 

 

Love for Document Coffee Bar in Los Angeles

Document Coffee Bar signature "Document Cold Brew" in Ktown. Real good.

A post shared by Bessie Chu (@bessie626) on

Document Coffee Bar is one of my favorite coffee shops in Los Angeles (my hometown) in Koreatown, one of my favorite neighborhoods to eat, work, drink, and party in.

I love the Cold Brew here. It has a touch of Maple Syrup that enhances the flavor of the Cold Brew rather than overpowering it with that gross sugary flavor. The Hojicha Latte is also excellent, the flavor of the tea and cooked rice goes great as an ice latte.

It was one of my favorite study spots (good wi-fi) and an actual parking big enough to park by yourself in that is free much of the day makes this a rarity in Ktown. I still ask friends to meet me up here on visits back home. The store has some hipster vibes but definitely keeps to its Koreatown character, a place serving the neighborhood with excellent drinks, not some interloper. I wish there were more places like this in NYC.

 

 

Back in Taiwan

TBH part of me lowkey wants to stay in Taiwan and not go home to NYC, back to America, and back to the West. Over the last few days, it sank in how truly nightmarish it has been to live with so much hatred in the relative absence of it.

Taiwan is far from perfect and not free of divisions, but right now, like Gil Scott-Heron sang, home is where the hatred is. It hurts to live with so much constant unease and anger. We’re in for a long fight. Recoiling in horror has always been a constant for People of Color, but the collective fear level is amped even more now.

In a weird way, I can kind of see the false seductiveness of maybe what a lot of conservatives feel. It’s incredible to not feel your race, to walk amongst your own kind. There is something to be said about feeling your blood and history being connected to everyone and everything around you in a way that makes sense. To be connected to the land and see yourself in generations forwards and backwards. It’s beautiful. I can see the desire to not want to deal with anything more complicated than that. There are plenty of other folks like me here “back from” the US, Canada, Australia, and other such places here working, running bar & burger shops, living corporate, etc speaking funny versions of Chinese and Taiwanese, a simultaneously revered, reviled, and recognizable social category. It still feels like home though, especially in these sour times. The thing that’s mutually missed is Mexican food. I feel that draw and temptation as deeply as anyone else – that China problem is worth the risk. Maybe someday I’ll give into it.

In a way, Taiwan is a nation of leavers like Ireland. People coming and going. I couldn’t help but see a lot of what I already knew when I was there a few weeks ago, both in the sense that being American is to immediately recognize so much of what we know as American culture actually comes from Ireland, but also in the sense of being part of a people from a much hotter but also emerald-colored island with a history of similar struggles and with an equally if not more fanatically devoted diaspora.

Unlike in the West, your bloodline in this part of the world is inescapable. The Irish and other Europeans don’t seem to consider people who share their blood and distant heritage as brethren, but it doesn’t function that way in a lot of Asia, for better or worse. I get undeserved brownie points for being a natural born American that can read and speak the language and know how to code switch into the culture, which I really only know because really I am a fat woman who likes being able to eat everything. Other Asian Americans get seen with scorn for “forgetting who they really are.” Both of these are simplistic narratives that don’t fit the world we live in.

I’m an unabashed globalist. Maybe I’m a condescending liberal elitist. A loudmouth hip hop head in New York who holds it down for the California Republic but a polite and loyal Taiwanese-American when I’m back on the island. Theresa May would probably call me a Citizen of Nowhere and I’m truly part of what the Make America Great Again crowd hates. And I hate them too, no doubt. At a most basic, it’s just self-defense against people who condone multiple levers of violence.

But what’s obvious to me as a perpetual outsider, code switcher, and lucky (privileged) enough to move through borders and cultures is that problems we might think are singular are global and interconnected better or worse that can’t be solved alone. Climate change, racism, ethnic strife, gender inequality, the failure of global markets to provide prosperity and their ability to accelerate inequality, the darksides of technological transformation – can’t be solved only locally though that has to be where it starts.

As John Donne once said, No man is an island, entire of itself. Any man’s death diminishes me. Because I am involved in mankind. Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.

I believe in liberalism: I believe in liberty, equality, social justice, free press, free markets (the Adam Smith definition), freedom of religion, minority rights, feminism, etc. Facts are real. There’s an America and a rest of the world worth fighting for, and I’ll be ready to re-join The Resistance when I’m back.

My American Thanksgiving

This was my American Thanksgiving. The dishes on the table tell the story of who and how we’ve come to be.

The turkey has that Chinese soy sauce flavor many Chinese-Americans families prepare their turkey with some variation of. I’ve heard of endless permutations of turkey adapted to different cultures, such as Jamaican Jerk turkey and Lebanese turkey.

We’re Taiwanese-American, and the seafood fried noodles (made with imported Taiwanese noodles), Taiwanese style potato salad (but made with potato salad from Ralph’s with the eggs, apples, and sweet Japanese mayo added to it to save time), and picked hot peppers reflect that.

Also included in that heritage are the dishes that were imported to Taiwan through its colonial and post-colonial history. The sashimi, burdock root, and edamame are a constant presence at meals. The Lion’s Head meatballs and stewed oxtail, with some Taiwanese touches, reflect the dishes of my family from Zhenjiang, where we were from before we became Taiwanese, fleeing at the close of the Chinese Civil War to Taiwan midcentury.

More traditional American side dishes fully adopted are the string bean casserole, the gravy, and a pasta salad along with Kona Brewing Company beer.

For dessert, we had a sponge cake made with mango pudding and taro and drank coffee and tea.

I was inspired to write about this from the NYTime’s amazing feature, aptly named “The American Thanksgiving” showing the dishes and all the roads they travelled to get here, remixed for this holiday. I especially loved the pieces on the Hmong family integrating their traditions around respecting animals they prepare for the holiday, the Italian American family with the double-turkey feature, the rediscovered Norwegian Cake, Jamaican jerk turkey, the cheesy Irish potatoes, and the Soul Food pork neck macaroni. Okay really, I want to eat it all.

In fact, one of my favorite things to do on Thanksgiving is trawl through my Facebook and Instagram feeds and seeing what my friends are eating. I salivate at the pictures of turkey surrounded by food from the world over, combined in ways to celebrate this holiday.

If you made it through this lovefest this far, I’d be remiss to mention that while we’ve all been joyfully celebrating Thanksgiving, Native Americans have been continuing their protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Please take a second to learn about it and see how you can help.

(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.