Asian Girl Problem #44: Donuts and Chinese Food

I found a new formula for happiness today. First, get in an outfit that makes you feel fierce. For me, that means something pretty comfortable. I had cutoffs, an army green blouse, my trusty shades and beanie.

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I’ve seen better days, but that bag is a beaut. It would’ve better if I’d gone full-on profesh, but I don’t dress to impress at work these days.

Then go get something unabashedly delicious and bad for you. For me, nothing beats donut holes. Lastly, walk around town holding your head high and relishing your treat. It’s as close to felling like Holly Golightly as I’ve ever gotten.

The neighborhood I walked around was slightly quieter than my old place, as seen here. No matter where you are, people will admire and envy you. Because you are hot and walking around with food! It’s the next best thing to having a cute dog.

I’m not sure if it’s just the Bay Area that has Donut/Chinese restaurant hybrids. They’re everywhere here, and my advice is to go for the donut–always the donut. But not these more authentic Chinese donuts:

I remember the very first time I bought this classic Beijing breakfast street food, on the first morning of my first trip there. In 1994, China was genuinely still the “old country.” We bought it from the side of our street from this guy squatting over a bucket of hot oil, unlike in this modern scene:

I was so excited by the grease. The prospect of food that measured up to the American junk I grew up on. They asked if we wanted ours plain, or brushed with a syrup–was there any question? We paid a few yuan for these and three plastic bags of fresh unsweetened (blech) soymilk, and headed home to share with my grandparents.

Let’s just say if there was a state fair, these donuts would be booed across the border. Even the sweet kind is too bland, and often a risky choice because vendors often use cheap and harmful artificial sweeteners in their syrup. I think the first bite sent my body into shock. A donut. That isn’t sweet. Dipped in burnt-tasting (many Chinese people prefer it that way) soymilk. Food to build a nation on, this is not.

But almost all Chinese and American-Chinese people I know love this stuff. Dipped in salty porridge or wrapped in saucy rice noodles is the only way I can tolerate it. Don’t promise me a churro and deliver a loofah. (Chinese-)Americans, keep making those yeasted and old-fashioneds. Beijingers, well, I enjoy your duck.

Asian Girl Problem #21: The Shopping Tourist

I spent over two hours at Costco this morning, which was a lot even for my family.  I was thoroughly entertained the whole time, because I was there with my dad’s colleagues who are visiting from China, who have never been to the American mecca.

I love going to Costco with first-timers, but today’s shoppers were extra special. You know that TV game show where contestants have ten minutes to fill their shopping carts with as much as they can? It was like that, plus free food samples. Three men. Three women. Too much money and too little time–the exact opposite of my life.

When I first learned that they were coming to visit, and we would be their guides, I imagined tedious trips to Fisherman’s Wharf, Land’s End and the Golden Gate Bridge. But once they arrived, I realized their real interests: Louis Vuitton, outlets, Costco, Walmart and gift shops. Big slabs of Texan steak. We changed gears accordingly.

It didn’t really matter to me since I’m not accompanying them on most of their days, but as a barely-employed writer with a window-shopping only policy, I’m getting a kick out of their sheer hunger for consumerism. Their enthusiasm for everything from baby medicine to toolkits. I’ve always liked shopping with people who can actually spend money. Shopping lite–all the fun, zero the calories.

Ten years ago, I used to travel back to China armed with shopping lists. Mostly clothes, trinkets and snacks for me and my friends. But since then, along with everything else in China, shopping’s taken a 180. The last couple times I went, everything I liked was made abroad, and cost three times as much as in America. The locally-made goods were affordable, but cheap and outdated.

So you have two routes: averagely-priced squalor or grossly-priced decency. As one of the ladies told me while we strolled around Costco, it was okay if a recent grad didn’t carry a LV bag, but anyone in management needs at least a few to mix it up during the workweek. It’s not really about the fashion, or even the status symbol. I can imagine how it’s literally insulting to your company and colleagues if you don’t have a fancy bag to show for your work.

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And, as the lady said, the bags in America were so cheap–just a few thousand dollars–it’s surprising most locals don’t carry them. I nodded my head agreeing with her, before realizing that buying a luxury would not only leave me with no rent money, but no friends.

As we were getting ready to check out, one of the women asked if I could help her buy some necklaces. I admired her LV bag which was actually tasteful, but couldn’t say the same for her blinged-out Burberry shirt. (Fake? I can never be sure.) After navigating around blockades of ground beef and TVs, we finally found the small jewelry display case.

“Those are the necklaces I want,” she told me, pointing to the14K gold chains with emerald pendants. “I need at least two. There are so many people I have to bring gifts for,” she sighed.

To be fair, they were some of the cheaper options in the case, at $260 each. I asked an employee for some help, and in less than five minutes, or the time it takes me to buy an impulse candy bar, we were done. Before we could finally wheel the three carts of stuff to the car, a couple of them bought their own Costco membership, signing over their names the the bulk goods gods. Since they live in China I can only assume they’ll be making this a frequent vacation landmark.

Now, they’re en route to Union Square for the real shopping, and I almost wish there was room in the car for me to join. But I’ll get to see what they come back with tonight, probably while feeling both amazed and relieved.

Asian Girl Problem #15: Cute for a Chinese Girl

I’m always annoyed when white people ask me where I from immediately after they meet me. This doesn’t happen often thanks to where I live. When someone asks “What’s your background?” all of a sudden, my first instinct is to answer “English and Creative Writing.” Most of the time, they are from Europe. And I think maybe I should cut him (always a him) some slack because he didn’t grow up in a diverse a community. But he inevitably brings back bad memories of my summer abroad in Brighton, where anytime the topic of my race came up with strangers, it left  a bad taste in my mouth. The locals always assumed I didn’t know English and was from Japan. Maybe I just don’t like the sound of “Oriental.”

The only time it doesn’t annoy me is when the question comes from a fellow Asian. It should, but it doesn’t. Especially since it happens almost every time I go dancing. Most of the time I don’t care to talk–it’s loud and I just want to dance and sustain the fantasy. But if ever we should cross the line to casual conversation, the question pops up. And I always ask where they think I’m from, or jut answer happily, taking it as a sign they want to find more common ground to bond.

But it’s kind of obvious that internalized racism and stereotyping between Asian cultures is just as rampant and troubling. For example, what should I think about the fact many non-Chinese Asians have guessed I am Vietnamese? Should I be pleased when I get “Korean,” the second-most popular guess? The ideal answer is obviously to ignore the wankers. But realistically you don’t forget these comments. And sometimes they help you attack the problem.

“Full Chinese? You’re real cute for a Chinese girl,” this guy said last Saturday, after we danced scandalously and took a few minutes to talk about our backgrounds.

But I’m not blameless. Earlier, he had said that people always thought he was Samoan (he’s not), and I said he wasn’t “big enough.” Not as a slam at all, but I see why he took it to be. While I’m not offended by his comment/neg–it’s almost a requirement to dumb things in that kind of context–it’s worth wondering whether people also think those things to themselves in times of sobriety and decorum.

This and a few other encounters recently have put my mind in an ugly feedback loop of body dissatisfaction, made all the more grating since I feel it’s why I don’t have a boyfriend. We can’t change our bloodlines or the way we look. I shouldn’t take being “cute” as a compliment any more than I should take being Chinese as a deficiency, or an advantage over my own people. But who can truly ignore physical looks? Even if my parents had not nurtured it in me, I would still value beauty as one of the top virtues. Maybe this is why I’m feeling so ugly. I have no answers.

Asian Girl Problem #5: Really The Ultimate Problem

If you’re ever feeling a lack of emotion and want to get riled up about something, fast, read a conversation like this one. I think it can strike a chord in anyone regardless of race or gender.

If you prefer to keep your blood pressure where it is, I’ll give you a quick summary. The Beijinger is a news/events/classifieds resource for English-readers in Beijing. A lot of users let it all hang out in the forums, and this is one of many conversations discussing the willingness of local women to jump into bed with any and every foreigner. The OP brings up that both sides are attracted to the exoticness of the other, and shows a little common sense at the end by acknowledging that it doesn’t happen the other way around, with Chinese guys in America. (Ha!  I can’t wait to represent some brothers in upcoming posts.)

One ignoramous isn’t worth getting offended by, but forums like this never fail to draw out all the other fools who would normally restrain themselves behind a paragon of modesty. Most responders call his bullshit or show some pitying disgust, but there are always a good amount of supporters. And the more validation the OP gets, the more his “kind” blurs together, forming another negative stereotype. He speaks on behalf of girls in Beijing, but by the end of the thread, readers like me have formed an image of him–pale, pudgy, $5 haircut under a fisherman’s hat, transition sunglasses, teaching English because they couldn’t get a job back home, small di–okay, maybe my imagination goes too far.

I’m not even directly angry at him–I put most of the shame on my own.

“It doesn’t matter who you are–if you look like you could be from a high status, plenty of people will kiss your ass,” my cousin told me when we were having dinner one night in Beijing. “You could be the biggest loser in your own country, but people here want you. You’re different and they want you to be their ticket out of their current situation.”

So part of why Westerners have a delusional view of China is because Chinese people perpetrate it. My dad’s coworker recently raved to us about a business trip he went on, where companies wined and dined him every night and treated his words like gospel. Coming back to America was like getting demoted. The same was true for a girl I met once to be a potential roommate–she had just moved back from five years in Beijing, and was terribly “homesick.” She spent her first week in Chinatown bars talking to old men. And she is a gorgeous girl by any standards, but the fact is, if you go to China and look like Barbie, you can get everything you want at the snap of the finger.

Even full-blooded Chinese kids like me who were raised in America have to keep their background under wraps unless we like having people  roll out the red carpet. I know some Asian guys who go to China and don’t want to leave because they get so much “model ass.” I know I’m coming from a privileged place when I gripe about this, but seriously. Worshipping the exotic is no different from fangirls thinking they’ll become a celebrity by commenting on their Instagram or getting their autograph or even sleeping with them. While that has its problems, it’s way more dangerous when you apply it to an entire race. That cycle just validates mofos like the OP of that post and every time they get an easy lay they have another personal testament to fuel their misguided view of a country. I got about a third of the way through the first page of comments before leaving.

Real people and relationships have nuances and contradictions. Those striving to fill a stereotype or fulfill a fantasy bring too little value to the table. The only way I can deal with it is to forget. Excuse myself. Click away from the forum. Put my head under a faucet. Find real people.