Fortune Cookie

September 6, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

After exhaustive research at restaurants here and abroad I can confidently proclaim that the tradition of serving fortune cookies at the end of a Chinese meal is a custom found only in the United States and nowhere in Asia.

When traveling abroad, if you ask for a fortune cookie in an Asian restaurant, the servers don’t seem to comprehend the question, as if it’s a completely foreign topic to them (which, of course, it is). I may as well be asking the server, “Yes, and after the last dish, would you mind if I brought in my pet sheep so that we could play a few rounds of canasta?”

It is not commonly known that all newly arrived immigrants from China interested in starting Chinese restaurants here in the States must first attend a fortune cookie orientation course covering topics including: 1) Fortunes addressing general topics like health and wealth are appropriate; more specific information related to cholesterol levels and alimony are not, and 2) Customers believe that the lottery numbers printed on the back side of the fortune have been personally vetted by a wise old man channeling his predictions from a lotto picking Buddha.

The practice of customers getting a free dessert seems unique to Chinese restaurants. I’ve tried the whole “free dessert” concept at other restaurants without much luck. I was once asked to leave an Italian restaurant when I insisted that they serve me a complimentary cannelloni for dessert.

It makes common sense that the fortune cookie was created in the U.S. Americans place a much higher emphasis on desserts than Asians do.

The easiest way to see this is in what foods are presented at various cuisines. Japanese restaurants have bright bars set up with hundreds of pictures of sushi that can be created at a moment’s notice. Spanish restaurants also have “bars”, serving a varied assortment of “tapas”, small dishes with a wide range of flavors, certain to please. Of course, Chinese restaurants serve “dim sum”, which are small appetizer-sized dishes served from a steamy cart pushed around the restaurant, with the sight and smell of the dishes guaranteed to find it’s owner in short time. These examples are for the most part, main entrees.

I can’t recall ever going to an American restaurant and having the server bring out a tray of main entrees for me to select from. You certainly won’t see him describing each entrée on the tray either (“As you can see, tonight we have a delectable meat loaf, served with brown gravy and mashed potatoes, or perhaps tonight you are more in the mood for our signature dish, we call it ‘pot roast’”.

Which brings me back to desserts. Restaurants in the west have “The Dessert Tray”. This is the tray the server will inevitably bring to your table to tempt you with the most outrageous concoctions known to man. My favorite is the “Flourless chocolate torte with chocolate chips covered with a chocolaty-chocolate sauce.”

The dessert tray won my family over long ago. Just last week, as the dessert tray arrived at our table, my son started gasping for air, looking weak. When I asked him what was wrong, he said, “Can’t breathe…don’t know if I’m going to make it…must…have…chocolate cake.”

A Home of Good Fortune and Little Patience

September 4, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

A Home of Good Fortune and Little Patience

I have always been struck by the stark contrasts between rationality versus spirituality in Asian culture.  On the one hand, as typified by my father, you have the rational – an electrical engineer who sees everything at face value.  He believes that whatever “luck” he has had in life came upon him by virtue of hard work.  My dad will resole his old shoes when they become worn not because he doesn’t want to spend the money on new shoes, but because there’s nothing wrong with the rest of the shoe.

On the other hand, as typified by one of my favorite aunts, you have the spiritual.  She believes that there are spirits and forces among us, good and bad, that can influence our lives for better or worse.  In my youth, I can recall many instances where she would describe how to attract good luck while warding off evil spirits.  She once told me that when eating a steamed whole fish, it was bad luck to eat every morsel of the fish because having leftover fish will invite good fortune to return.  I only wish she had mentioned that a little earlier in the meal.

I would tend to be 99% rational, 1% spiritual.  I believe that one’s life is a result of choices made.  On the other hand, I don’t think it hurts to leave a little fish on the plate.

This contrast became abundantly clear as my wife Maya and I started looking for a new house.  Let me say that Maya works amazingly hard managing home and career, but she also believes in Feng Shui, which literally means “Wind/Water”, and is a methodology meant to attract positive energies, often times through the design and position of one’s home.

I would say Maya is 75% rational, and 75% spiritual.  (Don’t bother doing the math, I was never very good at statistics).

We hired a well-respected feng shui master to do a reading of several homes we were interested in. He looked through various room layouts, analyzing the positive and negative aspects of each design.

In order to be a supportive hubby, I was determined to be open-minded.  I was sure the spiritual aspect of feng shui could work in harmony with the rational needs we had of our future home.

The type of homes we liked were one-story ranch homes, usually with a courtyard near the front door, with the kid’s rooms on one side of the house and the master bedroom on the other.  If we needed to add a window here or hang a mirror there, that was fine with me.  That’s the least a supportive, open-minded hubby could do.

After spending five minutes going through the room layouts, the feng shui master made the following observations.

Having a courtyard near the front door at the center of a house was inappropriate symbolically because it was akin to having an empty heart.
Having too many rooms on one side of the house created an imbalance, which would create an imbalance in our lives.
To improve balance, instead of a long, ranch style home, we would be better off with a two story, square-shaped house.

Upon leaving the feng shui master, I may have inadvertently muttered something like, “Well, why don’t we just buy a house in the shape of a toaster and be done with it?”

Bad, bad, closed-minded, skeptical hubby.  Perhaps the feng shui master was right – we were already channeling negative energies.  Unfortunately, the negative vibes were all emanating from my mouth.