I once hugged a man who called me an Oriental.
It was at a hospice and I hugged him in greeting and in sympathy because his brother was sick. The guy didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands, so our hug was brief and awkward. “I’m surprised,” he told me straight away. “I know you Orientals don’t usually hug people.”
I laughed, because I truly did find that amusing. Yes, yes, I know “Oriental” isn’t the politically correct term anymore, and I know that this guy had just generalized an entire race comprised of distinct cultural identities. Perhaps I’m just not racially, socially or historically sensitive enough. But I don’t think ignorance or politically incorrectness necessarily makes someone an evil bigot.
When I was living in Asheville for four weeks, I had the most brilliant time as an “educator” because I was one of the few Asians in the city. Of course, in the Olasky household, I was clearly the only Asian and, according to my dear friend Chelsea, her first Asian friend. I thought that was an honor, and I had tons of fun forcing Chelsea to eat kimchi (she approved!) and roasted seaweed (she hated it), showing her K-pop music videos on YouTube, and complaining about Asian Tiger Moms.
A while ago I was having dinner with a WORLD Magazine editor who also stayed in Asheville for some time. I think she’s the only other Asian writer at WORLD, and she told me that because she was one of the few Asians in Asheville, she felt the weight of responsibility on her shoulders to represent all other Asians.
Born and raised 14 years in predominantly East Asian countries, I think I don’t have the same sense of negative awareness of acculturation that a lot of Asian Americans do. I came to America as a FOB, and I expected to be treated and viewed as a foreigner. Even in Singapore, I was still a foreigner who had to explain why I looked and acted different. It didn’t offend me in the least when people asked me questions like, “So do you eat spaghetti where you come from?” because it just opened up a conversation in which I could regale my new audience on how I eat spaghetti with chopsticks and kimchi.
This issue of the “Asian American identity” has been weighing in my mind because currently, I’m working on a few Asian American-related articles, so I’ve talked to a couple Asian American professors and have read numerous articles on the “Asian American identity paradox.” The common thread emphasized is the struggle Asian Americans face between their dual identity as both an American and an Asian— not only because they have an Asian heritage, but because society still consciously or unconsciously perceive them as outsiders, even if they are second or third generation Americans.
I’m not a sociologist, so I’m just regurgitating my research and interviews. I tend to view race issues as a deeply interested third party. Something about the power of ethnicity and culture fascinates me, but more as an observer than a participant. (The exclusion being, of course, food.)
However, I remember I used to bristle when I see Asian Americans segregating themselves by hanging out only with other Asians. I thought it was bizarre and averse to the American principle of multicultural harmony and egalitarianism, blah blah dah dee. That was self-righteous of me, and I’m realizing that issues like acclimatization and acculturation are a lot more historically and socially complex than going, “Let’s all hold hands and sing Kumbaya!”
That said, I don’t want to lose my humor. I still can’t stand PC bull, and I believe it stirs up more conflicts, resulting in a messy brouhaha of butthurt self-righteousness. Sensitive issues like ethnicity and culture need to be dealt with wisdom and empathy, but I feel like a lot of conflicts could have been resolved at the nip with a good ol’ “laugh it off” naturedness.
Because…well, some things are kind of funny. Take for example, this minor misunderstanding over a restaurant name. The restaurant in West Palm Beach, Florida, tried to trademark its name but the state rejected it.
Why? The restaurant’s name is Fuku.
“Fuku” (pronounced foo-koo) is a Japanese term, meaning good fortune, wealth and prosperity—wholesome qualities every restaurant owner desires. But in English, of course…it can easily be misinterpreted as…something else. According to the Florida State Department of State Divisions of Corporations, the trademark was denied because it “consists of, comprises or includes immoral, deceptive or scandalous matter.”
Ooh scandalous. I don’t know if Fuku contested the matter and clarified things, but here in Los Angeles, we’ve got our own “immoral” restaurant by the name of Fukuburger.
Actually, to be honest, it was the name that first caught my attention. Perhaps it is good business strategy after all. Fukuburger started as a food truck in Las Vegas and then drove its infamous name down to Hollywood.
It’s actually all very American and wholesome; their main game is burgers—with a fun Japanese twist. The layout, however, is very spunky, bright and contemporary. It’s as “in-your-face” as its name is.
The ceiling is plastered with a huge Chinese character that says “Prosperty” (the “fu” part of fuku). Walls are painted a sleek black and tables are flashy red.
It was American diner meet nightclub. You see that guy in black tank top and super short shorts in the far left above? That was our server, J.T. He is one fine specimen and full of colorful character and jokes.
I visited Fukuburger with Mimi to celebrate her new PR job at a major entertainment company. We kept our journalism versus PR debate out of this dinner.
Second appetizer was the “Jazz Fries”:
French fries doused in brown sauce and “crack sauce.” Yeah, they named the sauce after a drug. Obviously Fukuburger loves stirring things up. The “crack sauce” was some kind of hyped up Thousand Island dressing or something. It was actually pretty darn good.
Because it’s called Jazz Fries, our crazy server tried to make us to the Jazz dance, complete with the Jazz hands. I told you he’s entertaining.
And now for the main course! Mimi ordered buta “bacon burger” protein-style:
Beef patty topped with cheddar cheese, apple wood smoked bacon, pickled red ginger, pickled red onions, Japanese BBQ sauce and wasabi mayo. No bun, encased in a leafy lettuce.
Mimi was very apologetic that she ordered it without a bun. I guess I may not be a PC Nazi, but I am one for carbs. Well, I did go through a phase once when I was vehemently antagonistic towards low-carb diets, but I swear I’m better.
I got the kiniko “mushroom” burger with extra fried egg:
Beef patty topped with grilled shitake mushrooms, pickled red ginger, teriyaji sauce, wasabi mayo and an extra fried egg. Tucked between a buttered bun.
The fried egg meant extra charge, but it was well worth it. Runny eggs make everything instantly better.
As we ate our meal, our server J.T. got another table riled up to chant “Burger!” after his “Fuku!”
“I say Fuku you say—!” “Burger!” “Fuku!” “Burger!” “FUKU!” “Burger!”
I left my server a big tip.
Question of the Day: What are your thoughts on political correctness? I think I’m still constantly redefining mine.