Life is hard enough as an Asian. Not all of us can get perfect SAT scores, graduate from medical school or trick out a Honda Civic. The pressure to embrace our culture remains but sometimes, we just don’t want to. How To Be A Bad Asian is an ongoing series of personal essays by the 8Asians writers about what sets us apart from the API community, how we deal with the stereotypes that we put upon ourselves and why we all can’t be that perfect Asian. It’s time to be bad.
I remember the moment clearly. I was sitting somewhere in Shanghai during a trip with my family and my sister’s high school classmate, who my parents invited to come along for the ride. We were about to embark on a cruise down the Yangtze River but in the meantime, we were enjoying being Americans among the Chinese: heads would turn every time we spoke aloud in English to each other or asked our tour guide a question. We collectively made gross faces when we saw all the weird food. We were exotic among the people we would have been mistaken for back at home in Southern California. (This was back in the 1990’s, mind you.)
But then our friend told us a story that had happened to a friend of a friend of hers. Instinct now tells me that this was probably just an urban legend, but our friend’s friend’s friend, who was also Chinese American like her, was challenged by a family member on her chopstick skills. She had to lift and drop a hundred red beans from one bowl to another without dropping a single one in order to prove her “authenticity.” By being able to properly handle chopsticks, she would be a true Asian.
We laughed and rolled our eyes at the story but the moral still stuck with me throughout the years because of a not-so-deep and not-so-dark secret: I hate chopsticks. They’re annoying, inconvenient and they stand in the way of putting large amounts of delicious food in my mouth. Why?
Here’s another not-so-deep and not-so-dark secret: I don’t know how to properly hold chopsticks. Yes, I know they’re supposed to be held in your hand like parallel lines and I know that one rests on your fingers while you move the other one up and down. Yes, I know that millions of generations of Asian people have been using these utensils before forks were invented but old habits never die and I still can’t handle them properly.
Instead, I commit the worst faux pas by crossing my chopsticks into an X so I can pick up food like wooden scissors. The method sort of…kind of….maybe sometimes works: I can still eat but bringing food into my mouth turns into an annoying task. I drop rice everywhere, the soba noodles slide off and I’m a mess. Yes, twenty-odd years of eating my mom’s Japanese cooking every night has taught me that forks and spoons are amazing inventions and if I could, I would award whoever invented them with the Nobel Peace Prize.
This is how I see it: forks and spoons are like miniature scoops (forks just have pointy spikes). They’re handy tools that assist in the procedure of putting food in your mouth. You can either scoop or stab the morsel of deliciousness with precision and speed, without any sort of fancy delicate maneuvers of two sticks. Think of it like this way: You don’t see any gigantic bulldozers out there using chopsticks to move big pieces of concrete around, right? Right. Does this allow me to stuff my face with delicious orange chicken in a quick and efficient manner? YES. Does this mean I can grab the last bit of fried rice from my place without spilling it all over my lap? YES. Does this also mean my relatives shake their head every time we eat a meal together? SO WHAT. Does this make me less Asian? SCREW YOU. I was born with a Mongolian birth mark, my hair is black, I’ve been the butt of “ching chong” jokes countless times and I can whip up a mean omurice plate. How can I not be Asian?
Don’t get me wrong: I still use chopsticks all the time. I’ve got a whole drawer of them in my kitchen in case there’s a zombie apocalypse and I need to make tiny, little fires, but if a friend of a friend of a friend ever challenged me to prove my Asian identity by moving a hundred red beans from one bowl to another, I’d stab them with my fork. See? I win. Take that, you stupid pieces of lacquered wood.
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