By Wayne Chan
Northwest Asian Weekly
We went out with some friends for dinner the other night, and I was a nervous wreck.
I should be used to it now. It’s a condition I’ve had to deal with my entire life, but for whatever reason, I just can’t get over it.
The malady I am suffering from is called Only Asian-itis. This is a disorder that occurs whenever I’m in a social situation with a group of non-Asians and I’m expected to be the all-knowing expert of all subjects Asian related. The symptoms are even more severe when we are all at a Chinese restaurant. I’ve dealt with this condition my entire life.
This is something that I should have adapted to long ago. Growing up, whatever school I was in, I always felt a bit like the odd man out. I was nearly always the only Asian in school. Oh sure, in elementary school, I wasn’t completely alone. There was Stacy Hayashi, but having one other Asian in school didn’t really make things better, especially Stacy being a girl, where everyone in school assumed that even at 6 years old, we were two peas in a pod and were destined to be together forever living in wedded bliss.
So there we were, in one of the best Chinese restaurants in town, having dinner with four of our nicest neighbors, all of whom were Caucasian. Both couples had recently taken Maya and I out to dinner recently, and we thought it would be nice to return the favor.
They had taken us out for Italian and American cuisine, and they suggested that we choose a good Chinese restaurant. Sounds easy enough to do, right?
But Only Asian-itis sufferers are acutely aware that I’ve just stumbled into the worst-case scenario of the condition. I’m starting to break out in hives just thinking about it.
It starts out pretty harmless. I ask, “Is there anything you guys don’t eat?”
One of them says they’ve never really liked tofu, because it has no flavor. Another says they’re not used to eating a whole fish. Another says they were a little freaked out when they ordered shrimp and the head was still on it.
Easy enough – nix the tofu, and we’ll stick with headless fish fillets and decapitated shrimp. Obviously, someone doesn’t like eating food that’s looking at you as it’s being eaten. So, maybe they’re a bit in denial, but who am I to judge?
It’s really after the food starts arriving that it starts getting tough.
I’m inundated with questions they all assume I have answers to and for some reason, I’m hesitant to let on that I don’t have a clue to most of their questions. They begin peppering me with questions like:
Wayne, why is northern Chinese food so much spicier than food from southern China?
Wayne, what is the dumpling skin made out of?
Wayne, how is the food here compared to China?
Wayne, why is soup being served as the last dish of the meal?
Wayne, who is General Tso and why is his chicken so famous?
Wayne, how did Chinese people start eating with chopsticks?
I think my exact response to each of their questions was:
Umm…maybe Maya knows…half a dozen of one or six of another…it has something to do with an emperor…I think Confucius once said…
One of our friend’s ancestors is Italian, but if we go out to an Italian restaurant, I don’t start asking them why gnocchi is spelled with a “g” or who first thought of putting cream in a cannoli.
At some point, as I’m drowning in questions, I just blurt out, “Look! I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan! Just outside of Detroit! How am I supposed to know?”
I have to give myself a little credit though. I actually do know the answers to most of those questions. But Googling the answers hardly makes me the “go to” guy when it comes to Chinese culture. (end)
Wayne Chan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.