Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Do It Again
Herein is my Standard column for this weekend which rehashes most of my last couple blogs, but with some additional and slightly rewritten material I didn't include at the time. My thanks and appreciation to any SZ Zen archivists who care to wade through the rubble in search of those lukewarm tidbits.
The government lets you paint your house any color that you want?'' asked C, who hails from the mainland. ``Cool!'' It was her debut visit to the United States and my first trip back in two years.
We were in my brother-in-law's car on our way from the Syracuse, New York airport to my sister's place _ which is painted a modest white _ after spending two nights in Brooklyn. Along the route C had noted several brightly hued abodes, some more garish than others. It had never occurred to me on the mainland house colors were regulated but that's a little of what the trip back did for me. It had me looking at China as well as my native land anew, but mostly through her eyes.
The arrival bordered on surreal at some points. After about 20 hours of flying and a numbing 6 hour layover in Seoul, we decamped from JFK airport straight to a Polish neighborhood in Brooklyn where we crashed in the basement of a kind, enthusiastic friend of my son's, Nate, a student at New York University.
It was culture shock all over again, coming straight from Hong Kong to Little Poland. Excepting the architecture and possibly the SUVs, someone plunked down with a transporter beam with no warning might well mistake it for a slice of Krawkow. Polish was what was largely being spoken on the streets, even by the kids in their hip-hop thuggery attire. The older folks mostly looked as if they'd been pulled out of storage by central casting to fill roles as grim, hardened. flinty, squinty eyed Eastern European shop, steel and dock workers. Posters and clipped out pictures of the late John Paul II were pasted everywhere along with notices in near-all consonants for concerts featuring the likes of: ``Jolly Jkresky Truszkowski & Swrblzwg Plka Feztivalz!''
C was surprised and a little amazed to find another college friend of Nate, an American named Julie who spoke fluent Chinese. It turned out she'd spent about two years putting off what she called ``real life'' in order to study the language in Beijing and the two and rapidly fell into a several hour Chinese chatfest about the two countries and guys. Mostly guys, though.
C took a nibble out of the Big Apple and a huge chunk from some credit cards in Manhattan courtesy of Nate who squired us patiently around Washington and Union squares, NYU, shopping throughout SoHo shopping and on a mile or two of Broadway followed by a respite in Central Park which she recognized from pirate DVDs of Friends and Sex and the City.
``I'm never going home,'' she remarked several times. ''Where do I apply for political asylum?''
But three of C's primary goals while in the US were:
1. Eat American Chinese food.
2. Visit a strip club. (None on the mainland, but the corrupting influence of Hollywood had whetted her curiosity).
3. And after shmoozing with a fellow Chinese tourist she met on a boat tour of the 1,000 Islands Lawrence River area who loudlyand repeatedly hailed the price and selections found in a Best Buy electronics store, find a Best Buy.
We accomplished two out the three, though not for lack of trying. The strip club and browsing a Best Buy weren't exactly on my ``must-do'' list. I dunno about you, but if I'm only spending 10 days in my native land, about the last two things I want to do besides go to a hospital emergency room is to hit a strip club and a mall chain store.
But mission accomplished. Wiith guidance of my brother-in-law we managed to find a flesh pot called Bada Bing that didn't charge an arm and a kidney for cover, had no monster trucks or Harley's in the parking lot and where there were other male/female couples checking out the silicone. The three or four ``dancers'' we saw didn't so much dance as slouch their way through some hip-hip, though one managed to do some impressive near-45-degree lifts on the pole, her surgically enhanced, gravity defying breasts remaining plasticized and perky in relation to the floor.
``It's all the same thing,'' C remarked upon leaving, a little disappointed that it wasn't like in the movies. She was also a little amazed that neither my brother in law or myself admitted to never indulging ourselves in a lap dance.
``The last time I was at a place like this was in 1983 for a bachelor party,'' I told her. ``The groom had too much to drink and fell on the dancer while trying to put a dollar in her g-string. He told us later he thought there were two or maybe two-and-a-half of her and missed.''
But if the Bada Bing wasn't like the flicks, Best Buy in the Syracuse Carousel Mall on Sunday afternoon was like the movies. Like a stimulating cross between a Soviet-era Lithuanian documentary on flax production and a 1962-era American Meat Council film strip on ``Pork: America's Nutritional Keystone!''
``You're bored, aren't you?'' she asked somewhat rhetorically as I watched her painstakingly compare prices on iPods and digital cameras for 45 minutes as a service guy as old as me tried to make ends meet and close a sale by jabbering on about what a great day and purchase opportunity it all was.
Syracuse, though, does boast one authentic Chinese restaurant overseen by a former Guangzhou, by-way-of-Taiwan-and-Manhattan chef. While the rest of our group mulled over a selection of dishes I recalled eating in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, C pointed to one that was new to her.
``Chop suey? I think I want this. Is this the American Chinese food you talked about?''
It was indeed. But after conferring in putonghua with the waitress, C found that though chop suey was listed on the menu, the waitress had never heard of it. She was dispatched to the kitchen to see if it was available and returned with bad news. ``She says no one orders it,'' C said. ``Not even Americans. It's an old menu.''
Me? While recoiling from the shock of not being able to get chop suey in a Chinese restaurant, viewing television reinactments of the Michael Jackson trial which featured lookalike actors reciting from court transcripts, and paying US$6-$7.50 a pack for cigarettes I answered a lot of questions. Some were about menu terms like ``premium'' and ``draft'' for alcohols, ``chimichaungas,'' ``baby back ribs,'' ``enchiladas''; others were about (to her) outmoded home entertainment appliances - (``It's called a `turntable.''' ``Oh! My parents had one. But why do they have that, but also a modern refrigerator?'') and, of course, house paint colors and lap dances.
In the meantime I got requainted with grocery store aisles wide enough for three people and their monster carts, the heady smell of freshly mown grass, the sight of dandelions pushing themselves up to greet the sun, wide embracing blue skys, my nephew playing Little League, and the sound of rapid-fire Spanish being spoken by blacks and Puerto Ricans.
It was good to be back. Thanks for having me.
Thank you for your informative site. I may be missing something but, what is the name of this authentic chinese restaurant in Syracuse? I have been searching for an authentic chinese restaurant in Syracuse for years. There was one on Erie Blvd, but it closed. If you know of any that serve real Chinese food, please let me know.
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