Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Chinese Characters?

In the two weeks I have been in the Bay Area, I have spent a lot of time among Asian-Americans. Last night in Starbucks, where I have been working on my posts, of the 24 people who were sitting at tables, relaxing in easy chairs or standing in line, 18 appeared to be of Chinese background. The city of San Bruno may have a greater enclave of Asians than other communities, but that is not saying much. All the communities here abound with people who are of Asian background. This thought was underscored on Saturday while I was driving through a residential neighborhood. I spied a For Sale sign placed in front of a home; other than the phone number, the sign was written almost entirely in Chinese.

On Sunday I ate at a renowned dim sum restaurant, the Grand Palace, a massive, tastefully decorated Chinese restaurant in South San Francisco. It was packed with families representing three generations who were seated around lazy susans which were covered with tasty dishes. The food was wheeled out to the guests on numerous large silver carts or carried out from the kitchen in sumptuous portions and served by incredibly polite women. Such fare consisted mainly of seafood such as whole fish or lobster in red sauce over noodles, or platters of Peking duck or suckling pig.

Wherever I have been, I have sensed a mood and behavior of the people which I have found surprisingly refreshing. I have been touched by the refinement and smiles seen on the faces of young people engaged in light-hearted conversation, the intensity of college students hovering over laptops as they diligently solve math problems, the banter of incomprehensible words by genteel families that appear to be tightly-knit and financially comfortable, and by a certain level of unconditional respect shown to me.

Absent were many of the traits which are often called a malaise in our society such as an undeserved sense of entitlement, a lack of commitment to the value of learning, a disintegration of strong family bonds, and a poor sense of the value of money which is exhibited through profligate spending. Curiously, I heard no one expressing opinions regarding the allegedly unique political or economic crisis which has been grabbing national, state and local headlines. These people appear to be focused elsewhere and appear too busy achieving success to feel the pinch that other groups are experiencing.

Considering that the anscestors of so many Asian-American families lived through dark times in America's past or suffered from the autocratic oppression in their former homeland, these Americans have demonstrated an amazing resilience. It is worth recalling the terrible racism exhibited toward Asians by the policies of the "Know Nothing" mayors of San Francisco or the backlash by angry racists who murdered over 250 Chinese railroad workers and their families in one night in Rock Springs, Wyoming, in 1887. Through the turn of the 19th century including the round-up and incarceration of Japanese citizens in the 1940's, American-Asians have been the object of mean-spirited people who, out of fear or jealousy, have tried and failed to marginalize these people.

As my stay draws to a close, I feel enriched by the casual friendships I have made and by the values I observed. Although I have oversimplified and generalized, I am not a Pollyanna. Shortcomings and detractions abound within every culture. Simply put, my frequent cynical view of human interaction was softened and was replaced by positive thoughts. From that standpoint, I had entered a room with good feng shui.


  1. What a wonderful post for the day! I do so agree with everything that you've written. I haven't had a lot of interaction with the Chinese in this country, but I did work for a Japanese company before I retired and I was amazed at their concern for their employees -- all of them. The more I interacted with them the more impressed I was with their values. They certainly replaced my cynical view with more positive thoughts.


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  4. Okay, that makes the SECOND time I've tried to post a comment here, but it got screwed up and I had to delete it. Most of the time I write comments spontaneously directly into the comment window, but I made an exception with this one. I wrote it in MS Word, then copied and pasted it. Both times the comments looked okay when I previewed them, but ended up with the paragraphs in the wrong order in the final post, not the way I originally wrote them. I have NO idea how that happened, but it's happened twice so far and now I'm afraid to try again. Blogger just keeps finding new and different ways of driving me crazy!