井底之蛙

4/5/2014

I made tea eggs today

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 4:29 pm

TeaEggsApparently this makes me both a multi-millionaire and part of cross-straits relations. I have not kept up as much as I should with the current Taiwan protests, but Offbeat China has. and they claim that tea eggs are one of the things that both sides are using as a symbol (both real and snarky) of Taiwan.

Admittedly, mine are not real tea eggs, since

1. I did not meet Dr. Who, steal the Tardis, go back to the Shang dynasty and build a 7-11 and then put the eggs in a crockpot and let them simmer for 3,000 years. That would be a proper Taiwan tea egg.

2. I only made them because we had too many eggs and everyone I know likes tea eggs. No rhetorical points about China, Taiwan, democracy, identity, etc. Just eggs. And tea.

3. They taste good, but maybe I should have used one more star anise. Always hard to judge that.

http://offbeatchina.com/what-a-humble-tea-egg-tells-about-the-gap-between-mainland-china-and-taiwan

1/16/2014

Underage drinking in Southeast Asia

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:05 am

Apparently the Mint Museum of Toys in Singapore is worth seeing. Although I have not been, it seems that they currently have an exhibit up on “Guinness by the decades.” This should not seem too odd. The Guinness folk have a long history of humorous ads that might appeal to kids.

MyGoodnessMyGuinness-Ostrich

The Guinness Book of World Records was an important part of youth culture when I was a wee nipper, since we often had to settle important arguments and needed a source of authority that knew more interesting facts than our parents did.1

Guinness also seems to have been in Southeast Asia for a long time, adopting its brand to the local culture. From the exhibit

SAMSUNG CSC

I wonder how well the whole ‘Guinness for strength’ thing fit in with Chinese ideas about medicine and food. Here is a more modern place mat, which is on my office door

Mulan2

Mulan is trying to convince the other soldiers that she is indeed a man by drinking 11 pints of stout. Just 3 more and she can go surfing!

So not surprisingly there is all sorts of Guinness swag spread all over Southeast Asia

GuinnessbytheDecadesPhoto_zps32cbecee

I don’t know how well the exhibit does with the way Guinness, a brand sometimes associated with Ireland, was acculturated into Southeast Asia, but I will be charitable and assume they did a great job with it.

When will this interesting exhibit come to our Children s Museum here in Pittsburgh? When hell freezes over, of course. In the U.S. any suggestion that childhood could happen in the same places alcohol exists is unthinkable. It may take a village to raise a child, but that village better not have a pub in it. Apparently in Singapore kids are part of the general society, rather than a special Disney version.

  1. Our debates did not take place in pubs, and I don’t think any of us associated the book with the brew, or even knew it existed. []

12/30/2013

New Years means time to cook a lot

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:09 pm

Taiwan Constitution Day has come and gone, and I got some books. Most notably  my wife got me Alford, Jeffrey, and Naomi Duguid. Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China. New York: Artisan, 2008.

and my good friends at Columbia University Press sent me a copy of  Höllmann, Thomas O, and Margolis. The land of the five flavors: a cultural history of Chinese cuisine, 2014.

I have not cooked anything from either of them, having been banned from the kitchen until we make a dent in the Christmas leftovers, but the two books are nice examples of different kinds of China writing. (more…)

3/24/2012

Credentialism and Other Modern Traditions: It’s a Post-Authentic World

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 3:12 pm

A note to those who are imprudent enough not to follow the Japanese side of Frog in a Well:  Jonathan Dresner has a smart, witty, and informative piece, Credentialism and Other Modern Traditions which riffs on the proposal to make 和食 [washoku, Japanese cuisine] an “intangible cultural asset.”  Jonathan is especially sharp about the idea that Japanese food is uniquely unique, which plays along with my comments on “authenticity” in my piece on Chop Suey.

Meanwhile, Bruce Springsteen’s keynote speech to the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin took on the critics who wanted to keep rock and roll pure. Springsteen said we live in a “post-authentic world” with new forms, genres, influences, and instruments he couldn’t have imagined when he started out. Whether an artist is using a computer or a guitar, “there is no pure way of doing it, there’s just doing it.”

It’s all chop suey. We can still decide that something tastes awful, but we can’t dismiss it simply because it’s not “authentic.”

 

2/14/2012

Who’s Afraid of Chop Suey? Or, The Politics of Authenticity

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 3:47 pm

 

I humbly report that I have a piece –  “Who’s Afraid of Chop Suey?” — in the most recent Education About Asia (Winter 2011). The journal has generously made it available online for free (click here).

Chop Suey offers a convenient way to talk about the fate of Chinese food and cooking in the US before recent times, when the level of care and appreciation rose tremendously. The piece also argues that it is a mistake to dismiss the dish for not being “authentic.”

It is fair to say that Chop Suey in most restaurants is very likely to be a gooey mess — too salty, too sweet, too mushy — but it is dangerous to say that it’s not authentic. “Authenticity” is  too often used to police the cultural borders against intruders, cosmopolitans, hybrids, and mongrels, and  assumes that “authentic” means pure and unspoiled, “true to itself.” Good enough. I”m all for it. But who gets to decide what’s authentic? The House Un-Authentic Activities Committee?

Years ago I got a lesson in the ironies of authenticity angst. I had just come back from Taiwan, where I had spent a lot of time in restaurants and street stalls which had cooks and customers who were trained in the old ways on the mainland. I thought I knew something about authentic Chinese food.

I searched up and down the streets of Boston Chinatown for the place with the dimmest lights and the most Chinese customers. I found just the spot and ordered  the Special Lunch or ke fan. This was a cup of soup and a mound of rice with your meat or veggies on top, served on a flat plate. I politely turned down the spoon they brought and demanded  chopsticks. Only after a few minutes of chasing the rice around the plate did I look around to see that all the old Chinese men, the ones whose authentic presence had drawn me in, were eating with spoons.

I had demanded chopsticks because I was worried about authenticity. What was I thinking? I was a six foot blue eyed blond. Did I think that if I used chopsticks nobody would notice that I wasn’t Chinese? The actual Chinese in that restaurant didn’t worry about authenticity: All they wanted to do was to get the food into their mouths. No matter what they did they were still “Chinese.”  They were sensible; I got rice all over my shirt.

By the same authenticity test, I would never have ordered Chop Suey. Somehow Chop Suey wasn’t “Chinese,” or at least not authentic Chinese. In the following years I came to realize that just as there are regional cuisines inside China, there are regional Chinese cuisines outside China. American Chinese cuisine is one of them, and it’s just as authentic as can be. I’ve had dreary Peking Duck in China and excellent sweet and sour pork in the US.

A few years ago, I came back to Chop Suey, or at least to the idea of it. For a book about how Americans thought about China, I wanted to write a biography of a food item that started in the 19th century and came down to the present.  The ups and downs of Chop Suey show a great deal about Americans, some of them of Chinese ancestry, many of them not.

Some recent good books beat me to the punch. Jennifer 8. Lee,  a New York Times reporter, got out into the field to talk to people about how the Chinese restaurant business actually works, and combined this with some pretty good library research. Her  The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food (New York, NY: Twelve, 2008) is lively and full of smart points. She argues that the close-knit world of Chinese restaurants set them up for the same type of  “cloud sourcing,” or “group entrepreneurship” that fueled the take off in Silicon Valley computer industry. She tells a lively story of creativity and constant innovation.

Andrew Coe’s  Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States (Oxford University Press, 2009) also tells a good story based on delving into historical records. J. A. G. Roberts, China to Chinatown: Chinese Food in the West (London: Reaktion, 2002) follows Western reactions to Chinese food over the last few centuries.

On a more theoretical but still accessible level, Daniel Little’s Understanding Society blog piece,  “Cultural Authenticity and the Market” (here) shows us how to use the idea of authenticity without spilling philosophical rice on our philosophical shirts.

Besides, everything is an authentic something or other. The touts on downtown Nathan Road in Hong Kong used to offer “genuine” ROLEX watches. Smart tourists wouldn’t bite when they noticed the RALEX or ROLOX logo, so a few years ago the touts began to ask “do you want to buy a fake Rolex?” People bought them so they could have a cute story to tell their friends.  These watches were “authentic,” that is, “authentic fakes.”

So let’s not get all authenticer than thou.

4/4/2009

April Fool’s Day, Self Puffery and Töfood

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 12:00 am

Hooray for me!

China Beat, my second favorite China blog, has started a series of quizzes — why didn’t we think of that? The most recent asked readers to name the “‘Prettiest’ (photo of China), ‘The Wittiest’  (title of a China-related piece of writing), and ‘The Grittiest’ (best muckraking journalist to work the China beat).”

And I won, beating out…. well, they didn’t say exactly how many entries, but it must have been several.

To see my prize winning answers, please go to New Quiz Winner (China Beat 4/01/2009).

And, oh — I am sure that the fact that it was published on April Fool’s day is a sheer coincidence. I think.

Go Tofood!

But the award for Best China April Fool’s Announcement has to go to Karen Christensen at Berkshire Publishing News. Karen announced an “innovative Chinese company has made plans for the global launch of a vegetarian product popular throughout China after learning about the wildly successful introduction of SPAM® during the Great Depression.” The Chinese canned meat substitute, made of soyabeans, has been given a new brand name, she continued: Töfood.  The product will be packaged, like SPAM®, in a distinctively shaped container – in this case, one that looks like a traditional Chinese pagoda.

Congratulations to Karen and her graphics designer, Anna Myers.

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