Asian Girl Problem #64: Big in China

I was working on this post a couple days ago–before my car got trashed and laptop got stolen. Left me in a daze, but things are swiftly getting back to normal. Fix the car, dust off the glass from my things, get some sleep, and no one would know the difference. I might not have a laptop for a while, but I’ll be posting from various other computers. And making a huge dent in my reading list!

Here are a couple trends I spotted everywhere in China when I went back to visit early this year. Holiday shopping guides and lists are in full swing right now, and I just want to say, if you’re feeling generous–please don’t get me any of these things.

With more money comes more eating, and with more eating comes more dieting. The juice and smoothie trend has hit China hard, and I’ve seen it in all sorts of infomercials and cooking shows. I’ve enjoyed many a juice and smoothie in my day, but the Chinese have adapted them in some quirky ways to fit their culture, like chunky smoothies made from pre-boiled fruits. I don’t know how they get those down.

For those more realistic and unwilling to give up their fried foods, air fryers are another must-have appliance. Riding on the coattails of KFC’s popularity, their main use is in making air-fried wings and making informercial supermodels really happy.

Wine is huge. Anyone who has class or wants to appear as such has diehard opinions on their favorite kind. Those with money have gone out to France and Napa to invest in their own vineyards. It’s a little like the emperor’s new clothes, but maybe that’s just because I don’t like wine.

When it comes to the trendiest cuisine, Thai seems to be the surprising winner. Hip young people like my cousin are in love with the spices and freshness. Japanese and Korean restaurants are usually higher end and reserved for special occasions, but Thai-inspired dishes and recipes are all over the place, and less daunting for home chefs.

My food trend predictions for the next year: veganism, cocktails, popcorn.

Asian Girl Problems #56: Happy Belated Singles Day

Since the 90s, every year on 11/11 young single people in China celebrate their fabulous unattached selves by shopping and partying (in hopes of finding someone and being disqualified for the next year). I love the origins of the day, which come from the “bare branch” label people gave bachelors–hence the four 1s in a row. In Korea, you even get snacks from couples.

In my neck of the woods, I’d realized I celebrated after the fact, with a slew of consumerism. And since I can’t date right and have yet to earn the title of “girlfriend” at 25, I’m giving myself a pat on the back for being a good singleton. My version of Valentines was great, thanks. I had Vietnamese food with my friend, bought candy at Trader Joe’s, met up with another single friend downtown to shop for five hours and capped it off with Chipotle.

The day itself was kind of like Chipotle. I went into it expecting greatness, spent a lot of money, and felt a little unsatisfied in the end. But I celebrated a commercialized (anti)romantic day for the first time in my life!

To be tragically honest I celebrated Valentine’s Day in sixth grade. That was the year all the boys started wanting to be gentlemen and asked girls they liked to be their Valentine. Or in my case, a boy who didn’t like like me at all was nice enough to ask me because he knew I was sprung.

A few days before the V-Day, you’d see random boys around the playground get down on one knee in the snow, while a crowd gathered around the couple and made gross noises.

Everyone knew how much I loved Kaleb. It started when he joined our advanced math class, and acted so cool and collected despite our teasing (because fifth grade math nerds haze newcomers too.) He was cute and nice and not too popular and he was the first boy who we knew as killer at sports and math. Everything he did became perfect to me.

When word got out, he didn’t avoid me like the plague or confront me and say I was an awkward unattractive geek. He just asked me to skate with him at skating parties*, making me love and fear him even more. I don’t know how I managed to hold his hand and skate around for three minutes to Top 40 without falling, especially since I barely knew how to skate.

“Kaleb’s coming to ask you to be his Valentine now!” my friend said.

Nausea, panic, cold wind stinging my face. I focused on the physical sensations so I wouldn’t keel over. I’ve never read The Agony and the Ecstasy, but I definitely know they’re not mutually exclusive.

More later.

Asian Girl Problem #30: Commie Kitch

Communism is still alive in many ways for my people, but in the best ways–that is, often at the butt of jokes. Chinese people might seem cold or angry at first, but I love their dark yet stupid humor. They’re good at laughing at themselves and their misfortune, which has always been quite abundant in history. The delivery might be brash, but sometimes it’s like dealing with a doberman. You gotta stare them down a second to show you aren’t afraid, and then the laughs will roll in.

In the last ten years, Mao and his aphorisms and other Cultural Revolution memorabilia have seen a resurgence. Except now they’re made cheaply and sold in gag gift stores, juxtaposed with English translations, and show up on panties or condoms–neither of which probably even existed in the 60s. You get images of Oba Mao, which the government tries lamely to prevent. What’s the political transgression there? I don’t think anyone knows. Possibly they were bummed they didn’t come up with it first, because this joke’s definitely got legs.

I bought a pocket watch just like this one year at a night market. If you inspect it closely you’ll see it’s made of $2 plastic, but the ingenious way Mao’s arm waves as each second goes by is worth at least the $15 I paid for it. Before I could decide which friend of mine to give it to–I wasn’t sure if anyone would appreciate it–my grandpa had laid eyes on it and decided to take it for himself. It’d been forever since he’d had a pocket watch, and this brought him back. He’d been a high-standing member of the Communist party, but also had a wicked sense of humor, so I think it ended up in the right hands.

 

Back in my parents’ youth, fashion was limited to choosing between two shirts (blue/army green), what color thread you used to hem your skirt, or which Mao pin you were going to wear. Clothing was sparse, but every household had buckets of these flimsy, aluminum pins which show busts of the chairman at different points in his life. A few years ago, my mother did a sweep of my grandparents’ apartment, and collected a tin of these to bring back to America. She’s waiting for them to become super valuable so she can sell them and buy lottery tickets.

Just some of the ways we carry him in our hearts.

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.