I was watching the movie Crash yesterday.
I received the DVD via Netflix and it had been sitting on my dresser for two weeks. I somehow forgot that I had actually watched it once before; I rented it because apparently it was a good glimpse into the Los Angeles ethnic scene and I wanted to get ready for my Daily Trojan column this semester (which is going to be on ethnic cross-cultural cuisines in Los Angeles).
Well. I don’t know if it’s the most accurate portrayal of different races. I can’t say for other ethnicities, but I thought it played to the Asian stereotype a bit too strongly. Still, I was highly entertained and Crash is now one of my favorite movies of all time. Actually, perhaps I loved it precisely because it played to stereotypes so strongly and boldly.
We all know it. Stereotypes exist, and it’ll probably exist for as long as the world is still populated by humans. But because of political correctness and racial sensitivity, we keep it to ourselves. That is why in a way, Crash was so refreshing.
Of course, a lot is an exaggeration (or is it?) of the racial tensions and ignorance in our society, and some of the dialogue made me gasp out loud in shock (and admittedly, burst out laughing as well). Just check out some of these racy (haha) dialogue:
Black (African-American?) guy to his black friend: Listen to it man. Nigga this, Nigga that. You think white go around callin’ each other “honky” all day, man? “Hey, honky, how’s business?” “Going great, cracker, we’re diversifying!”
Rich white woman to rich husband, regarding a Latino locksmith: I would like the locks changed again in the morning. And you know what, you might mention that next time we’d appreciate it if they didn’t send a gang member…
White husband: A gang member?
Woman: Yes, yes.
Husband: What do you mean? That kid in there?
Woman: Yes. The guy in there with the shaved head, the pants around his ass, the prison tattoos.
Husband: Those are not prison tattoos.
Woman: Oh really? And he’s not gonna go sell our key to one of his gang banger friends the moment he is out our door?
Black detective on the phone, in the middle of screwing somebody: Mom, I can’t talk to you right now, okay? I’m having sex with a white woman.
(Latino detective whom he was screwing pushes him out of bed)
Black detective: Oh, shit. Come on. I would have said you were Mexican, but I don’t think it would have pissed her off as much.
Latino detective who’s screwing the black cop: How ’bout a geography lesson? My father’s from Puerto Rico. My mother’s from El Salvador. Neither one of those is Mexico.
Black detective: Ah. Well then I guess the big mystery is, who gathered all those remarkably different cultures together and taught them all how to park their cars on their lawns?
Black guy to his black friend (I love these two dudes!!): You see any white people in there waiting an hour and thirty two minutes for a plate of spaghetti? Huh? And how many cups of coffee did we get?
Black friend: You don’t drink coffee and I didn’t want any.
Black guy: That woman poured cup after cup to every single white person around us. Did she even ask you if you wanted any?
Friend: We didn’t get any coffee that you didn’t want and I didn’t order, and this is evidence of racial discrimination? Did you happen to notice our waitress was black?
Guy: And black women don’t think in stereo types? You tell me something man. When was the last time you met one who didn’t think she knew everything about your lazy ass? Before you even open your mouth, huh?
Black guy again to black friend: Look around! You couldn’t find a whiter, safer or better lit part of this city. But this white woman sees two black guys, who look like UCLA students, strolling down the sidewalk and her reaction is blind fear. I mean, look at us! Are we dressed like gang-bangers? Huh? No. Do we look threatening? No. Fact, if anybody should be scared around here, it’s us: We’re the only two black faces surrounded by a sea of over-caffeinated white people, patrolled by the trigger-happy LAPD. So you tell me, why aren’t we scared?
Friend: Because we have guns?
Black dude: You could be right.
(both pull out guns to jack car from white couple)
Sorry. I might have gotten over-enthusiastic with the quotes. But come on, after the initial repulsion at the ugly racism, I’m sure you laughed— just a tiny bit.
I’m not a prick (hope not). What touched me the most while watching this film was the behind-the-scenes of all these racist, ignorant, stereotyping individuals. All of them—whether black, white, Asian, Latino or Middle-Eastern—all succumbed to racial stereotypes. And all of them had their own struggles and sufferings at home: marriage problems, loneliness, financial crisis, sick father, etc.
The movie really made me think: we are not so different from one another. We all have our ugly sides. We all have our problems. But we also all have a desire to love and to be loved, to be empathized and understood in this vast, messy world.
It’s a worthy fact to think about, especially at times when it’s hard to “understand” a certain person or culture. This may be due to ignorance, or perhaps just an inability to accept a different view or belief. But whatever the cultural and religious differences, there is always a best solution: treat the person like a human who desires to be loved and understood.
That’s the impression I got from Crash, anyway. It was incredibly moving to see the gradual growths in the characters when they’ve been treated with kindness…even though they still kept their barbaric stereotypes (like calling a group of Cambodians “Chinamen” because apparently all yellow-skinned, slanted-eye people are from China).
Ahem. Obviously, I have had a lot of time in my hands. It’s awesome, because now I get to cook through a list of dishes I’ve wanted to make for months.
Speaking of stereotypes, one stereotype I’m happy to have busted is my bias against tofu. After my Korean-style mapo tofu and Korean BBQ tofu, I am now an enthusiastic tofu-liker. Not quite a lover, but I’ve come to appreciate it for 1) its cheap price and 2) it’s versatility and 3) it’s ability to soak up flavors.
I’ve been really craving Korean food lately. I want the spice, I want the stink, I want the sour, pungent fermentation of Korean cuisine. And I knew the exact dish to make to satisfy that craving.
That dish is called gae jang (게장), and it’s a spicy, cold, fermented dish of raw crabs. Except I didn’t want to deal with crab and I also happened to have a tub of tofu close to expiration, so I improvised it to use tofu. Here’s my tofu version of it:
Tofu Gae Jang or Cold Spicy Marinated Tofu (두부게장)
- 1 part soy sauce
- 1 part gochugaru (고춧가루/Korean chili powder)
- 1 part sweet onion
- few cloves garlic
- small knob of ginger
- splash of rice wine
- splash of sesame oil
- some toasted sesame seeds
- spoonful of sugar
- black pepper
Finely mince ginger and garlic:
Mix together all the ingredients together except for the tofu.
Cut the tofu into huge chunks, and place it in a microwave-safe dish:
Microwave for 1 minute. It’s just to get the fishy odor off the tofu. Chop the tofu into cubes. Gently mix into the sauce. I used my hand for this:
Store in the fridge. I kept it in my fridge for more than a week and it was perfectly fine. In fact, I think it tasted better after a few days!
It is an absolutely lovely dish during these hot summer days. Nobody wants a hot dish when it’s 100 degrees outside. This dish is not only refreshing served cold, the spicy pungency of the marinate really perks your senses and appetite up. You can eat it by itself as an appetizer, or make a super quick meal out of it.
I ate it with rice vermicelli noodles because the noodles need no cooking and is just as good eaten lukewarm. All I did was soak the dry noodles in hot water, drain, and then toss it with julienned raw cucumbers in a light miso dressing.
Here’s what I put into my miso dressing: sweet miso, soy sauce, fish sauce, rice vinegar, chili oil, tiny bit of the warm water the noodles soaked in. No measurements, just splash and taste.
Super easy. Super fast. Super delicious.
I just love how versatile tofu is. It’s bland and its texture can be kind of disconcerting at times, but if you treat it well, it can be so yummy.
I chose fresh cucumbers because I just happened to have it in my fridge, but I think any fresh vegetable, so long as it’s not too bitter or dominant, should work. Like bean sprouts, carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, etc. I assume soba noodles would be awesome, too. Or if you’re not into noodles, any kind of grain like rice, quinoa and bulgur would be great. I like noodles because it’s fun to slurp.
A note on the ingredients. Please try to get the Korean chili powder, because I promise you it makes a world of a difference. I got my bag of gochugaru from my mother:
You can find it in any Korean supermarket. Do not skimp. Do not get gochugaru that is imported from China. If you live in an area bereft of Korean stores (poor thing!), then, only then can you substitute cayenne pepper powder or any other red chili powder.
You don’t really need to use tofu, of course. You can use the same recipe for raw blue crabs; I just happened to need to use up my tofu and I also didn’t want to pay for crabs.
This dish is a super perfect summer meal—next to pat bing soo, that is. Don’t take my word for it. Try it!
Question of the Day: Pick a culture—any culture other than your own. Which culture would you love to understand and learn more about?