These are a few of my musings here and there…dedicated to my friend Grace, a free spirit who inspired me to start this blog.
On Asian-American Identity…
My attachment to my Asian-American identity have never been as pronounced until know. It is a peculiar thing if you ask me. Growing up in a Vietnamese immigrant family, you’d think I feel some sort of tie to the larger Asian-American community outside of my immediate family. I didn’t. I somehow felt distanced from the Asian-American community as a whole. I’ve always felt a close relationship with my Vietnamese heritage. It was in my blood. But Asian-American? I was more comfortable with the label Vietnamese-American.
I think most of my trepidation resulted from a lack of awareness for Asian American interests. I’m not your hyper K-pop fan. Neither am I your kung-fu movie junkie-martial artist-anime nerd. I’ve never fostered an extreme fascination with any of these things. Aside from my love for rice (I can’t survive a week without a bowl of warm fluffy white rice), I am not as “Asian” as a far as popular representation goes. I don’t think I need to be. But the point is not that I resent being misidentified. No, the issue is an issue internal to me. It spawns from my recent realization of the relevancy of Asian- American interests to my life.
When I say that Asian-American interests are relevant to my life, I mean that I actually care to learn more about these interests and that they have significance in my life. I am genuinely invested in cultivating my knowledge of other Asian cultures outside of my own Vietnamese upbringing. I am genuinely concern about the issues that beset the Asian-American community, whether it is a lack of representation or visibility in the media. I am genuinely aware that my Asian-American identity encompasses so much more than the world I used to know not so long ago.
The various Asian-American cultures that I’ve been exposed to in college are the impetus for this epiphany. Making friends with so many different Asian students—those born and raised in the states as well as those who are international—have allowed me to make comparisons and generate a greater understanding of the different Asian ethnicities. It turns out that this born-in-Thailand-hailling-from-Florida-Vietnamese-boy is not much different from his Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, Singaporean, and Indian peers.
I can safely say that I’m considerably more Pan-Asian in my understanding of the Asian culture. Tasting Indian food for the first time, listening to kpop,—and falling in love with it—making kim bap, singing karaoke, exploring a real Chinatown, drinking bubble tea, and taking an Asian-American history course have all made me more cognizant of the beautiful and diverse nature of my Asian-American identity. This has led to my reading of Asian-American interest magazines such as KoreAm and Hyphen as well as watching more Youtube videos featuring rising Asian American stars like the guys from Wong Fu and singers like David Choi and Clara C.
And then, as I write this, I realize that my newfound fascination is not anything special nor exclusive. It is something that I feel anyone—not just an Asian American—can identify with. An appreciation for different culture is something we can all share, no matter our color or creed. For me, this has changed the course of my life in terms of what I would like to study and do in college. I am now considering a minor in Asian-American Studies and participating in more Asian-interest groups at Penn. I realize that I want to be a knowledgeable and proud representative of my Asian brethren. I want to be an ambassador to my people’s culture. I want to not only represent my Vietnamese people but the people of all the other Asian countries as well. And an all this entails immersing myself deeper into the Asian-American culture. It means mining its history. It means understanding the various communities that comprise this culture. It means a lifelong commitment to a race of people that I’ve suddenly realized is a much larger part of my life, that I would bleed yellow and brown for.
It is not nationalism. It is not blind allegiance, no matter how “chinky” my eyes are. It is none of this. It is Asian Pride.
On Icecream—Indulgence or Intrepidness?
We came with our stomachs empty but full of excitement. The lines were long but our love for ice cream was no short of infinite adoration. We were prepared for what could be the worse (or best) decision of our lives: $7 all-you-can-eat icecream!
On the Saturday before July 4th of this year, my friend Mike and I spent three hours gorging on ice cream at Penn’s Landing annual charity all-you-can-eat-icecream festival.
We told each other that we would try out all the icecream vendors that were there. Their frozen fare would not fair a chance against us!
After paying the charity fee, we entered the large tent containing the battlefield for such wintry warriors like us. Into the freeze zone we went. Our weapon of choice: the common but crucial plastic spoon. The first adversary, a Breyers cookies and cream, was devoured in seconds. One cup of icecream down.
Mike and I traversed through the terrain, meandering through the crowd. In the span of 2 hours, we tried out the ice cream from Turkey Hill, Haagen Daz, Ben and Jerry’s, Friendlys, Bassetts, Edy’s and Jack and Jills and a few other obscure brands.
As the minutes passed, we began to accumulate a formidable tower of icecream cups, replete with the frozen remains of our conquests. Chocolate, Chocolate Chip, Fudge Swirl, Coffee, Strawberry, Peanut Butter Cup, Neapolitan, Raspberry, and Fish Food—all fell to the might of our sinful pleasure seeking.
Eventually we made a sport out of it. Mike and I challenged each other to eat the most amount of icecream. Mike, who is a lot bigger than me, won. Together we had eaten 37 cups of icecream.
I didn’t feel guilty about eating that much icecream though. After all, it was for a good cause and all the proceeds went to the charity.
Surprisingly, this event was practical in the sense that it really allowed me to differentiate between the brands. For instance, I had 4-5 different flavors of cookies and cream. Breyers brand tasted sweet but watered down. It wasn’t creamy at all. And the cookie bits were small.
Bassetts was second best. It was creamy and the cookies were chunky. You can actually taste the oreos in the icecream.
However, the winner was Edy’s. It had a blissful ratio of cookies and cream. Just enough creaminess and enough cookies so that in one bite, you can actually experience the harmony of yin and yang in your mouth. The yin of the cream and the yang of the oreo cookies melted into a harmonious mix of gustatory goodness. The cookies were as chunky as Bassetts’ but the icecream was overall sweeter, which I preferred.
Even the best of fighters know when to call it quits so Mike and I called it a night after eating at every icecream station. We were content. I started to feel the tense “full” sensation that your body gives off after you overindulged yourself on food. The two of us lumbered our way back home.
Mike, perhaps, said it best: We had a “legendairy” adventure.
He is the Culinary King. The Kitchen, his kingdom. Shelves of spices and stocks of fresh produce wait patiently to serve him. He doesn’t have children or spouse to tend to, but he is content with having company over soon. After all, dinner is 2 hours away.
Until then, he is ready for combat. An arsenal of aromatic herbs sits at his side. His knife—8 inches of stainless steel–the fabled Excalibur. In the not so distant distance (i.e. a countertop two feet away), a plump and juicy chicken breast sits unassumingly on the cutting board.
With a graceful–yet forceful—swing, he sinks the blade into the enemy. The cut is clean. The meat tender. The battle has begun.
Halved and then quartered, the breasts glisten in the kitchen light as a drizzle of salt and pepper rains down on them like confetti—signaling an early celebration. But this is premature; victory has not been assured until the guests have shown their approval.
Half an hour into cooking, the spinach is blanched, the garlic chopped. The King evenly distributes both on each slices of chicken and rolls the chicken into scrumptious scrolls worthy of the decree: Thou shall worship my exquisiteness.
One by one, his majesty gingerly arranges each spinach-stuffed chicken rolls into a pan bathed in olive oil. A final dash of salt here, one last sprinkle of pepper there, and the dish goes into a sweltering 350 degree oven for half an hour.
Rather than wait for the chicken to finish, the King starts preparing the rice. If it’s any indication from his chicken, the rice will be fit for royalty. At first, he keeps it simple: long-grain with salt for taste. Then comes the decoration. Sweet peas and red onions—glazed in sesame oil—are mixed into the rice. The result: a blissful concoction, the rice in perfect harmony with the ostentatious ornamentation of “emeralds” and “rubies,” all in a “golden” sheen.
Beep! The oven timer rings like a sentry’s bugle, alerting the King that the chicken is cooked. Dinner is imminent.
Enraptured with the aroma of his latest creation, the King lets out a sigh and betrays a slight smirk. He’s really proud of this one. He neatly arranges the plates, evenly distributes the chicken and rice onto them, and pours himself a Riesling.
His name is Quan. And this is his Quisine.