By Assunta Ng
The Hum Bow Celebrity Contest was a new idea at the Asian American Heritage Festival, held at the Seattle Center last Sunday.
When organizers approached me to participate, my initial reaction was that I wasn’t really a celebrity. Secondly, I didn’t recall that I had ever eaten a whole hum bow (means bread with fillings) myself before. I couldn’t eat a complete bow because it is big and filling. It’s hard to eat other foods after I swallow that much bread.
In the contest, the rule was the contestants had to eat three big hum bows. That would kill me for the rest of the day.
On the other hand, I didn’t want to be a spoiler. I wanted the audience to enjoy watching our show. So I thought of an escape. How could I cheat? How could I prepare myself to lose? By not eating! No, I couldn’t do that because hundreds of pairs of eyes would be watching.
My scheme was to eat less while still providing entertaining value to the organizers. If they allowed me to do that, the game was on.
At 12:30 p.m., I went to Dim Sum King and bought an order of chicken feet before we drove to the Seattle Center.
At 1:20 p.m., the contest table was set up and the volunteers laid out three hum bows per plate. At about 1:25 p.m., all the contestants arrived. Mayor Ed Murray was smiling, ready for the race. Uwajimaya chairman Tomio Moriguchi said he had eaten little in the morning, so he was all set to gulp down the bows. KING TV Lori Matsukawa was practicing with her hands on how to grab the bow fast. Uncle Bob Santos danced his way to the back of the stage as if he didn’t really know what the contest was about. Me, I was sneaking the bow to the table. I took one chicken foot out of the bow and hid it behind two hum bows.
The contest began. Bob and Lori, staring at the chicken feet on my plate, were puzzled, but didn’t have much time to fuss about. Tomio was ahead. He surely was hungry. Hey, he owns a grocery store! That’s his advantage.
The mayor looked like he was having fun, even though he was way behind. I dangled out my chicken feet after I almost finished eating a bigger part of the bun. I kept sucking the feet. It’s just a show. My job was to entertain. The crowd scratched their heads. Bob tried to pass the leftover bun to other contestants.
Tomio won the plaque, winning the eating contest. He must have been practicing for a whole week. I got a title, too, “The biggest loser of the Asian American Heritage Festival.”
That’s not the only thing I lost. Minority businesses lost big time after the mayor declared the $15/hour minimum wage on May 1, to be implemented in 2015 with a phase-in period of seven years.
The newspaper business is already struggling every week. How can we afford to pay some staff members $15 an hour in a few years?
I didn’t feel like cooking dinner that day, so my family took me to dine in a downtown steak restaurant to cheer me up. Food usually does the trick.
I asked the bus person, “Are you happy you have $15 minimum wage next year?” He turned from a smile to none when the question popped up. He didn’t know who I was or what I do.
“I am worrying,” he said.
“Why?” I asked.
“The restaurant might cut the number of workers,” he said. “We have a big staff (about 150 people).” He explained that the wait staff shouldn’t get a raise because they make lots of money through tips, but the kitchen folks should get a raise.
After dinner, we went out to get our car.
I asked the same question to the valet parking attendant. He had no idea what I was talking about, so I told him.
“I don’t care about the $15 (raise),” he said. “That’s not how we make money. We make more off tips than that.”
My assumption was wrong. I thought these folks would be jumping up and down for joy. It was unfortunate that city officials assume that they know best and what is good for all the workers.
Some business friends plan to move out of Seattle to escape the $15 wage, to Renton and other cities. But I have invested my business in this city for a long time. Many of my people live in the city. I couldn’t just abandon them. The truth is, I love Seattle so much, it would be heartbreaking for me to move out. Meanwhile, I also see the silver lining for this issue.
Many Chinatown/International District businesses have relied on “cheapness” to lure customers. In the future, they can no longer do that as a strategy. They will have to raise their prices and rethink their market niche. They will have to make improvements such as remodeling, having cleaner restrooms, installing sound-proof ceilings in noisy restaurants, and learning how to chat with customers to give them a warm feeling. Folks who want to dine at inexpensive restaurants will have to eat outside the city. (end)