Thursday, May 22, 2008

T-Shirt Sighting for May 21st, 2008

Sometimes I see a shirt that looks like it's trying to say something serious and edgy, but doesn't quite succeed.

A student yesterday was wearing a tee upon which were three leering skeletons, partly green and partly white. Each was wearing a helmet and gripping a weapon in its bony fingers -- one had an AK-47, another a grenade, and the third . . . was a bit indistinct, actually. Underneath this grim scene, in dripping letters, was the hard-hitting phrase "WE ARE RGHFY?"

And people say that the counter-cultural movement is dead.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Sentences Encountered Whilst Grading Today

"Don't fudge a book by its cover." (If you must add something to the fudge, go for walnuts instead.)

"True love is from the bottom of the heard." (but all I can think of is 'herd')

"She is a chop off of the old mother." (Feebly grasping at 'chip off of the old block.')

"I feel that Chinese nursing techniques are pay attention to modality and most nurses are very striped-pants." (She isn't talking about uniforms, I don't think . . .)

"The rain in the spring is mizzle, like a smile." (This reminds me of one from my last test. I asked the student to write a sentence using the word 'grocery.' She wrote, "In fact, the Egypt is grocery." Which is pretty awesome, frankly.)

"Driving car is different [from riding a bicycle], you just need to sit there and use your hand to control the steering wheel, after a long time, fats deposited on your abdomen." (Want to lose weight? Stay away from steering wheels!)

"The main body [of a business] is made up by members who are the main driveling force that makes plans into reality." (Having worked in business for a while, I couldn't agree more.)

"When students have a terrible test, their minds will be exchanged." (Which, in some cases, might be advantageous to their grades.)


Friday, May 16, 2008

Invention of the Year

It's nearing mosquito season here in Shanghai. In the States I never thought much about this rather annoying time of year because usually it simply meant borrowing a little insect repellent from a friend at the occasional backyard barbecue or outdoor ice-cream party.

But here, it's quite a different matter. Last year, our office became a favorite hangout for a pretty hefty percentage of the local population, and what I always considered a nuisance evolved into a major problem when I left my office after a long night of work and discovered dozens and dozens of bites on my legs. (The next day, I counted 57 bumps on one leg alone.) My mom always said I had sweet blood that attracted the horrible beasts, but the real problem is this: there are no window screens in China. Combine that with the fact that they have this thing for fresh air and that air conditioners aren't quite as prevalent, and you've got a blood-donation center and insect sanctuary right here in our building.

Enter my new best friend: the electric mosquito racket. This clever little tool—unheard of in America, illegal in Australia—is readily available on the streets of Shanghai. And when he left, our dear friend Elijah passed along his to us. If I see one of these vampiric monsters, I just grab my trustee racket and start swinging. The best part is that when I make contact with the little beast, there is a very satisfying spark and a popping sound (and occasionally a small trail of smoke) to signal the end of his parasitic existence.

Once I stock up on AA batteries, I'll be completely ready to battle the vicious horde.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

My kingdom for a carrot!

Qin Shihuang was the first emperor of unified China following the Warring States Period. He is also my pet. Sometimes I push bits of carrot through the bars of his cage and watch him hungrily stuff them into his mouth. Occasionally he will pause and look up at me, but I'm not really sure what he's thinking. I'd guess from the way that he twitches his antenna that he's happy.

Qin Shihuang is my cricket -- or perhaps my locust; we're not entirely sure. Des returned from a day trip with some students two weeks ago and told me that she had bought a present for me. "Cool!" I said. "I didn't realize you were going anywhere near the electronics market! How did you know what CPU socket to get?" "Ha, ha," she replied without apparent mirth. "Here it is!" She drew from behind her back a small wooden cage in which was what appeared to be a dessicated insect corpse.

"Is it glued to the bottom of the cage?" I asked, thinking that this might represent another of my wife's forays into traditional Chinese art (albeit a rather less beautiful one than I've become used to). Then the corpse rolled over and waved its legs in the air.

Apparently, she bought it from a cricket dealer. Cricket fighting is still something of a hobby among older Chinese men, and the passengers on the bus during her return trip to the school peppered her with questions about where she bought it and how much she paid for it, no doubt marvelling at this foreign woman's discernment in obtaining such a fine specimen of insectoid fury. I imagine that this would be rather like a good old boy seeing a sari-clad Indian matron climbing into the driver's seat of a NASCAR racer -- yet another one of our multicultural experiences.

I thought the name was suitably martial, but I haven't asked my students about the propriety of naming a simple insect after the founder of the Qin dynasty (and pretty much everything that came after). He came in a cute-looking traditional wooden cage, but it was pretty small, and Des fretted that he would wither away in it. "It's so tiny!" she wailed. "He doesn't have any room to move around!" "He's a cricket," I countered, "he doesn't even have a brain!" A fierce debate ensued about whether or not he did and did it even matter and crickets have rights too, mister. A few hours later we had established that A) crickets do indeed have brains, albeit small ones and B) we would be moving him into a suitably roomy new cage.

After some searching, Des discovered an old basket with a wire bottom that, when turned upside-down, provided a fine enclosure for the little conqueror. "He doesn't have anything to play with," she fretted after observing him for a few minutes. "He's bored. I need to find some toys for him!" Her first attempt to create a cricket playground consisted of a heavy ceramic teacup that she placed on its side. Though initially promising, this had two disadvantages: first, Qin Shihuang showed no interest whatsoever in it, and secondly, the cup rolled when the cage was moved. Des nearly crushed the poor guy to death the first time she tried to feed him. Her second innovation -- a plastic toy dug out of a box somewhere -- has been much more succesful.

So what does the cricket do, you ask? Well, mostly he sits there in his cage, staring vacantly into space. Maybe he's hungry. Perhaps he's meditating. For all I know, he could be contemplating suicide: If only I had opposable thumbs and a really small rope and vertebrae, I could end this torment! The only really interesting thing that he does is chirp -- so loudly, in fact, that we move him to another room when we're sleeping.

My guess, though, is that he's inherited a little bit of his namesake's ambition, and he's eyeing the rest of the room for his empire. After all, a new Qin dynasty has to start somewhere.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

T-Shirt Sightings May 8, 2008

A white t-shirt with the stylized image of some type of animal, possibly a dog or a cat or a camel on both the front and the back. To the left of the image on the front were the words . . . well, at least, were the following characters:
L@@K 8
(and below these in giant star-spangled letters)

Another student was wearing a black long-sleeved tee with an adorable cartoon monkey dozing under a tree. Her shirt bore this inscription:
wrhkj fbjgkl ferwu csdc


Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Truth about American "Chinese Food"

Did you know that there are more Chinese restaurants in America than McDonalds, Burger Kings, and Wendys combined?

Did you know that Fortune Cookies originated in America?

For more fun facts about Chinese food in America, read this very funny excerpt (taken from the Reader's Digest website) from the book The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. If you have some time, read it. And if you like it, you can buy the book or visit her blog.

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles
Why is Chinese food so all-American? One woman's delicious discoveries.
By Jennifer 8. Lee

A Winner
At 8:30 a.m., the state of Tennessee had a Powerball winner waiting for the prize office to open its doors. James Currie worked the night shift as a systems operator at Pinnacle Foods, parent company of the Duncan Hines and Aunt Jemima brands. He lived in Jackson and dreamed of buying a Cadillac. Now, at the lottery office in Nashville, he was holding a set of winning numbers—28, 39, 22, 32, 33 and final number 40—which had been drawn in the multistate Powerball lottery the night before.

The office staff asked Currie how he had selected his numbers.

"From a fortune cookie," he replied.

He had been using birthday and anniversary dates, he explained, but then he switched to a fortune cookie number. He'd gotten it from a Chinese take-out restaurant near his home called Dragon 2000. He'd had a good feeling about those numbers.

At 11:18 on that same morning of March 31, 2005, another winner, in Idaho, reported using a fortune cookie number. Same with Minnesota at 12:06 p.m. and Wisconsin at 12:09 p.m. From coast to coast, across the 29 states that participated in Powerball, officials heard the tale over and over, though the details were different. They had gone to a Chinese restaurant. It was take-out. It was sit-down. It was an all-you-can-eat buffet. It was lunch. It was dinner. It was where they ate out with colleagues during the week or took their families on weekends. And at the end of the meal, the winning number had been found in a fortune cookie they'd cracked open themselves.

Reading this story one morning on the New York City subway, I perked up. The March 30 Powerball had an unusually large number of winners—110 in all—many due to fortune cookies. There are roughly 43,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States, more than the number of McDonald's, Burger Kings and KFCs combined. And I'm obsessed with them.

Like many Americans, I first discovered Chinese restaurants in my childhood. I grew up during the 1980s on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where Broadway is sometimes called Szechuan Alley for the density of Chinese restaurants along it. My parents had first settled in the area when my father was studying for his PhD in math at Columbia University. Because my mom never learned to drive, our family never moved out of the city.

My siblings and I are known as ABCs—American-born Chinese. We're also known as bananas (yellow on the outside, white on the inside) and Twinkies (which has more of a pop culture ring to it). There are a lot of inside jokes among immigrant families. My family even has one embedded in the children's names. My parents named me Jennifer, my sister is Frances, my brother is Kenneth. If you string together our first initials, you get JFK, which, my parents tease, is the airport they landed at when they first came to America.

My parents arrived here courtesy of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which opened the doors to educated and skilled workers like my father and dramatically shifted the balance of immigration away from Europe. Countries like Taiwan, South Korea and India stood ready to offer the best products of their meritocratic educational systems.

My mom took care of the home and did most of the cooking, while my father worked on Wall Street. But like many families in our area, we'd order Chinese take-out when she was too busy to cook. As a girl, I would run down to the neighborhood restaurant with a crisp $20 bill in my pocket. Barely tall enough to see past the counter, I'd solemnly order dishes from the big white menu, using the Chinese names that my mom had taught me. (Without exception, the vocabulary words that Chinese American kids—and immigrant kids in general—know best are related to food.)

Then I'd lug home my treasure: a plastic bag of steaming, generously stuffed trapezoidal white cartons. Our family gathered around the table and pulled out the boxes, each one bursting with potential. Would it be the amber-colored noodles of roast pork lo mein? The lightly sweetened crispiness of General Tso's chicken nestled in a bed of flash-cooked broccoli? Or the spicy red chili oils of mapo tofu? Each untucking of the lid released a surge of aroma and a sight to spark the appetite.

Out came the chopsticks, and we'd douse the virginal white rice with steaming sauces, simmered soy sauce, piquant vinegar, slivers of ginger and fragrant garlic. The Chinese food begged to be mixed together: sweet, sour, salty and savory flavors layering upon one another. Then we'd break open the crunchy fortune cookies for the message inside, rarely eating the cookie. The cheerfully misspelled but wise words of the fortune cookie sages gave me comfort. My parents' bookshelves were lined with Chinese philosophical classics like the Analects of Confucius and the I Ching. For a girl who could not untangle the thicket of Chinese characters in those opaque and mysterious books, the little slips of insight represented the distillation of ancient Chinese wisdom.

It Can't Be True!
Then came a shocking revelation.

Fortune cookies weren't Chinese.

It was like learning I was adopted. How could that be? I had always fervently believed in the crispy, curved, vanilla-flavored wafers with the white slips inside.

It was in middle school, while reading Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, that I first became aware of the mass deception. In one of Tan's tales, two Chinese women find jobs in a San Francisco fortune cookie factory, where one is utterly perplexed to learn that the cookies and their cryptic messages are considered Chinese.

I asked my mom if she had known all along that fortune cookies weren't Chinese. She shrugged. She said when she first got to the United States from Taiwan, she'd assumed they were from Hong Kong or mainland China. China is a large and fractured place. She had never been to mainland China.

Neither had I.

The Americanness of fortune cookies hit home a few years later, in a 1992 front-page story in The New York Times with the headline "A Fortune Will Greet You in an Endeavor Far Away." The article announced that Brooklyn-based Wonton Food planned to sell fortune cookies in China. It added that in Hong Kong, the cookies were already marketed as "genuine American fortune cookies."

The Americanness of fortune cookies should have served as a hint of what else I was to learn about Chinese food. Only now, looking back, do I find it obvious. As a child, I never considered it strange that the food we ordered from Chinese restaurants didn't quite resemble my mom's home cooking. My mom used white rice, soy sauce, garlic, scallions and a wok. But she never deep-fried chunks of meat and drenched them with rich, flavorful sauce. She cooked with ingredients that were pickled and dried and of strange shapes and that never appeared on the take-out menu.

Her kitchen was filled with jars and bags of all sorts of unusual things: white fungus, red beans, pungent black mushrooms, porous lotus roots. She used preserved foods: eerily translucent eggs, spicy pickled bamboo shoots, vinegared mustard greens. Her dishes involved bones and shells, boiled garlic shrimp, chicken feet.

At the seafood stores in Manhattan's Chinatown, my parents would pick through the bins of live crabs, sluggish but still menacing to a wide-eyed six-year-old girl. We would haul the writhing creatures back home and deposit them in the kitchen sink. Then, in my mother's wok, we would steam the life out of them, their waving pincers gradually slowing to a halt. The Chinese holistic approach to crab was not the sanitized, edited version of Red Lobster. Our crabs burst forth with weird colors and textures.

The goopy orange paste, called gao, was the best part, my mom said. My parents were always annoyed when we went to the "real Chinese restaurants" in Flushing, Queens, and I asked for beef with broccoli and lo mein. (Broccoli is not a commonly used Chinese vegetable.) My parents inevitably ordered dishes that had eyeballs, like steamed whole fish with ginger and scallions; my siblings and I turned up our noses at the bitter hot tea. My parents were exasperated. They had thrown their children into a pool of cultural heritage in America: Chinese camp, Chinese chorus, Chinese martial arts, Chinese folk dancing. (Perhaps 90 percent of all Chinese American girls have twirled a silk ribbon at some point in their lives.) Yet on the issue of food, our taste buds were firmly entrenched. My parents groused about our inability to appreciate "real Chinese food."

I never really understood what "real Chinese food" meant until I went to China. Years of study in Chinese Saturday school, daily classes in college and a semester in Taiwan had opened up the world of the dense, opaque characters of my mother's books. China was a foreign country to me, but one where I happened to speak the language. I spent my fellowship year studying in Beijing, but in reality I educated myself by traveling cross-country from the deserts of Inner Mongolia to the lakes of Sichuan to the peaks of Tibet. Alongside the McDonald's and KFCs that penetrate China's core, I encountered a variety of cuisines that were more akin to my mom's cooking than the ones of America's Chinese restaurants.

I began spitting bones out onto the table and drinking watery soup after a meal to wash it down. I even drank hot tea—no fortune cookies to be found. I began to roll my eyes at the take-out Chinese food I had grown up with; it wasn't authentic.

Tracing a Cookie Trail
As interesting as the local food was to me, I was interesting to the locals. You could see their minds processing: She looks perfectly Chinese, she speaks Chinese perfectly, but something is amiss. Perhaps it was the way I moved, the way I dressed, the way I laughed. I wasn't, they felt, of China. Hong Kong? Taiwan? they asked. "I'm American," I explained.

Their reply: "No, you're Chinese. You were just born in America."

I thought, Maybe the same thing was true of Chinese food back home: It's Chinese. It just happened to be born in America.

Or maybe the truth was closer to this: It's American. It just happens to look Chinese.

That morning on the subway as I read about the Powerball winners, people swarmed around me as usual. I wondered, How many had eaten Chinese food in the last week? How many had read their fortunes and saved their favorites? How many might have played the lottery with those lucky numbers? I was entranced by the idea that so many people took that same leap of faith on March 30 and played the identical numbers from a fortune cookie.

Right then and there, I decided to track the winners back to where they'd eaten. Following the Powerball fortune cookie trail, I believed, would help me understand why nearly every one of us has a go-to Chinese restaurant in our lives. (Yes, you could charitably describe me as passionate about Chinese food, though I'll admit that the line between passion and obsession is a wobbly one.)

Within hours, I identified one of the Powerball restaurants, Lee's China, in Omaha, Nebraska. I looked up the number online and dialed. A woman picked up.

I started out by introducing myself in Mandarin Chinese. I received the telephone equivalent of a blank stare.

I switched to basic Cantonese.

More blankness.

I tried English.

The woman cut me off. "We're Korean," she said in a thick accent.

And she hung up.

Over the next year, I compiled a list of the Powerball restaurants and winners, drew up an itinerary and began a consuming journey that crisscrossed the country. By the end, I had visited 42 states. I had driven cars until bugs splattered across my windshield like egg whites dropped in soup. I'd taken red-eye flights, pulled all-nighters driving on interstate highways, stewed on buses for 23 consecutive hours and crashed in the relative air-conditioned comfort of Amtrak trains.

At the end of my travels, I had many ponderous food-related thoughts along with a well-tended stomach. I also had this, delivered as if it were a deep insight: "Do you know how to tell if it's a good Chinese restaurant?" people would ask. Then they'd lean over conspiratorially and say, "Look inside the window. See how many people eating there are Chinese."

Monty McCarrick, a truck driver from Wyoming with a long black ponytail and a receding hairline, called his wife, Joyce, from Iowa, where he'd stopped during a trip across the country.

"Are you sitting down?" asked Monty, whose right arm is marked with a tattoo of an American flag.

"You wrecked the truck," Joyce said anxiously.

No, he crowed. They'd won $100,000 in Powerball.

Two months earlier, they had gone to their favorite Chinese restaurant, in Powell, Wyoming (population 5,000-plus). There, Monty found his lucky numbers in a fortune cookie. Five weeks later, he bought the fateful ticket in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on his way to Ohio.

I dropped by the McCarricks' home, a modest one-bedroom apartment they shared with their cat, Coco, who sometimes accompanied Monty on his road trips. The couple's most valuable asset was their extensive Elvis memorabilia until Monty won the Powerball drawing. They paid off $20,000 in credit card debt.

In Monty's drives across the country, Chinese restaurants were reliable, accessible eating establishments. "They are pretty much in every town you go to," he told me. "And they're fairly inexpensive. You get all you want to eat for anywhere between five and seven dollars." What's nice, he noted, is how predictable they are. "You get the sweet-and-sour pork, the lo mein noodles and the egg foo yong. It's pretty tasty."

He explained that there are some exceptions, like egg rolls. But for Monty, the predictability is reassuring. "I don't like a lot of change. I'm a simple person."

Louisiana had two of the 110 Powerball winners, but, more important, it had Cajun Chinese food. When informed of my quest, a colleague told me I should visit Trey Yuen Cuisine of China, in Mandeville, outside New Orleans, to try dishes like Szechuan alligator and soy-vinegar crawfish. Trey Yuen had been serving Szechuan alligator since the late 1970s, shortly after alligator meat became legal. It was one of the more popular dishes.

Trey Yuen was owned by five brothers named Wong, whose great-grandfather had taken a boat to San Francisco in the late 19th century, seeking work. The brothers traveled across the states, working in Chinese restaurants, until they found the opportunity to open the original Trey Yuen. Their mother used to tell them, "You guys are like my five fingers. Individually, you are not very strong. Together"—she would form a fist—"you are solid." Together, the five brothers have owned their restaurants for more than 35 years.

Trey Yuen's Szechuan alligator dish ended up being light-colored chunks of meat mixed with ginger, garlic and crushed pepper. The alligator looked like cooked chicken but tasted surprisingly springy and tender. "I call it bayou veal," said Tommy Wong, the fourth of the five brothers, in a Texas twang. "Some people are squeamish about trying alligator," he added. Of course, he eventually does tell those who dine on bayou veal the truth—"after they've eaten it."

Tommy showed me a plate of raw chicken lying next to a plate of raw alligator. I would not have been able to distinguish between them if it weren't for the fact that the alligator meat came in long, pale strips. "See how nice and lean it is, and clean. High in protein," said Tommy.

Chinese cooking isn't a set of dishes, I was discovering. It's a philosophy that serves local tastes and ingredients. That idea continued to reverberate as I encountered creations like cream cheese wontons (also called crab Rangoon) in the Midwest and Philly cheesesteak rolls (egg rolls on the outside, cheesesteak inside) in Philadelphia. Chinese food, it seemed, does not have to originate in China.

And some so-called Chinese restaurants are not even Chinese. In the early days before P.F. Chang's became known as a national chain, customers would genially ask how Mr. Chang was doing. There is no Mr. Chang. The "P.F." stands for Paul Fleming, a creator of Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar and the founding visionary of Chang's restaurant chain.

As American as Chinese Food
In Rhode Island, home to five of the Powerball winners, I stopped at a century-old eatery in Woonsocket called Chan's Egg Roll and Jazz. In its latest incarnation, the owner, John Chan, had turned it into a nightclub featuring prominent jazz acts. This part of New England features the fabled chow mein sandwich, a subject of study for Professor Imogene Lim, a Canadian who speaks better Swahili than Chinese.

I dragged along my friend Lulu, a girl whose doe eyes and round cheeks make her appear like a thinly disguised anime character. Though born in China and raised mostly in Hong Kong, Lulu speaks flawless English. Her parents, both lawyers, still live in Beijing, but she spent most of her academic career in English-language schools—mostly in Hong Kong, as well as a brief period in New York City. When she was six years old, she glimpsed her parents' green cards with their photos and "resident alien" stripped along the top. At the time, Star Trek: The Next Generation was popular, so the idea of extraterrestrials was in her head. Are my parents aliens? she thought in shock. Her parents snatched the cards away.

When the chow mein sandwiches were set in front of us, Lulu looked at them with a combination of mock horror and genuine fascination. Trapped between two pieces of white Wonder bread was a crunchy pile of fried Chinese noodles slathered in a brown gravy flecked with bits of celery and onion. It was moist and soft and crunchy. Lulu giggled. We weren't sure how to approach it. The gravy had softened the bread, making it too messy to pick up with our hands. I attempted to attack mine with a knife and fork. Lulu plucked the crispy noodles out of the bread. It wasn't bad; the gravy gave the sandwich a lot of flavor, and the textural mix of crunchy noodles, sodden bread and flavored liquid was intriguing. In some other life, we might even have thought it was good. But that day, we couldn't get our minds around the idea of a starch-on-starch sandwich.

I learned that for many people, though, the chow mein sandwich captured memories of growing up: Mom's home cooking. Hanging out after school. Flirting. First dates. The sandwich evoked both family and friends. Locals even shipped the mix overseas, unleashing the force of the chow mein sandwich on foreign soil. And during the first Gulf War, in '91, residents sent chow mein mixes to local men who were serving abroad.

When I heard these stories, I was reminded of a phone conversation I'd had after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. I was in Washington, D.C., and a number of my friends had been swept up in the historic journey: cynical journalists, idealistic nation builders, mercenary contractors.

Many of these people informed me of the two improvised Chinese restaurants that had popped up next to the landing pad of a military hospital in the Baghdad Green Zone, a ten-minute stroll north of Saddam Hussein's palace. The restaurant in the back was slightly more popular because patrons figured it would be less likely to be damaged by an insurgent attack from the street.

These Chinese restaurants in Baghdad had neither Chinese nor Arabic on their menus, only English. And though the Chinese restaurateurs had never been to the States, they certainly knew how to attract large crowds with American-style offerings like sweet-and-sour pork and panfried dumplings.

Among those friends of mine who had been deployed to Iraq was Walter, a foreign service officer who resembles a bookish version of James Dean. We would chat by phone (his cell phone in Baghdad had a 914 area code, as if he were only just north of New York City, in Westchester County). In one of our conversations, I wondered aloud why the Chinese restaurants were so popular with my friends in Iraq when, after all, diners in the Middle East should indulge in the authentic local cuisine of kebabs and hummus.

"It's a taste of home," Walter responded. Even against the whirl of medevac helicopters, Chinese food had become a beacon for American patriots. "What could be more American than beer and take-out Chinese?" he added.

Favored cuisines become refuges in times of crisis. On September 11, 2001, my friend Daniel and his friends, after their high school classes were canceled and they learned that their parents were all safe, headed to a local Chinese restaurant called Chop Stix, in Scarsdale, New York. Together they watched the news and ate stir-fry. Chinese food was comfort food for them. It was something predictable and familiar when they needed an anchor in an explosion of uncertainty.

I reflected on my journeys to numerous Powerball restaurants across the country. American Chinese food is readily available and has a broad appeal to our national palate. It's something that nearly every one of us has grown up with—both young and old. I marveled that on a single day, Chinese food had united so many different people from different parts of this country: a schoolteacher in Tennessee, a farmer-veterinarian in Wisconsin, a microbiologist in Kansas, a police sergeant from New Mexico, retired septuagenarian snowbirds from Iowa, a bank clerk from South Carolina, a salesman from New Hampshire.

Our benchmark for Americanness is apple pie.

But ask yourself: How often do you eat apple pie? How often do you eat Chinese food?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Apparently, "Not To Be"

Yesterday, while making my way through the crowds of people enjoying May Holiday (or International Labor Day) at Qibao, a small but festive Shanghai neighborhood with traditional architecture and lots of small shops and food stands, I saw a t-shirt.

It was a women's t-shirt hanging in a small clothing stand. Hot pink, with large black letters, it screamed "WE ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE."

Maybe the designers ran out of space. Or maybe they are answering an age old question. We may never know.