Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | chinese
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The logo for the Asia Food Fest in Austin, TX uses the Wonton font, which I think is a stereotype.Can a font express a racial stereotype? I know I'm climbing on my soap box and risking being called over-sensitive and too p.c. But when I noticed a promo on Facebook this morning for the Asia Food Fest in Austin, Texas, and saw the logo for the event, my stomach clenched just a little bit. The words were spelled out in the "Wonton" font, the curvy, pointy -- shall I say, "slanty" -- lettering that I associate with a lifetime of Asian racial caricatures. I hate it when non-Asians use it as a way of appearing "Asian," and I'm disappointed when Asians use it thinking that non-Asians will identify with it. Austin's Asia Food Fest, which I'm sure is a wonderful event, is organized by the Texas Asian Chamber of Commerce, Texas Culinary Academy, and SATAY Restaurant (one of my favorite restaurants anywhere, and one I visited every year for a decade when I attended the South By Southwest music festival), so it's not a phony, faux-Asian affair. Here's how the Fest was started, from its About page:
Dr. Foo Swasdee, owner of SATAY Restaurant, founded the ASIA Food Fest in 2006 to educate people about Asian ingredients, food, and cooking. As Austin Asian population grows (doubling every 10 years), the more choices Austin Asian Food Lovers have to choose from!
But the logo still bummed me out, so I tried to reason my reaction out internally. When I see the font, I hear the words spoken in my head in the sing-songy "ching chong" sound that I grew up hearing in racist chants, like when white kids taunted me in school, and told me to "go home" or "go back to China" (they never said go back to Japan, which would actually have been correct, since I was born in Tokyo). World War II-era racist sign about Japanese, using the Wonton font. I think of words in anti-Asian or anti-Japanese signs. I see Wonton and I see the words "Jap," "Nip," "Chink," "gook," "slope." I can't help it. In my experience, the font has been associated too often with racism aimed at me. Which is not to say it's always racist. Wonton's used all over the place, and a lot of times I zone it out. Chinese takeout boxes often have something written in the font. Many Asian restaurants (with old signs and menus) still use it. But then some old-timer Asian groceries still say 'Oriental" too. We allow for that, but as we move forward we expect those uses to fade. Times change, right?

The food at Thai Garden ranges from Thai to Chinese to Vietnamese. Ouch. I stand humbled... and embarrassed. I've changed my views on my long-held need to have Japanese words (especially food) pronounced correctly. I was such a purist about it that in the past I've even offered a pronunciation guide for often-mangled Japanese words. But tonight, I realized that despite Erin and my interest in and curiosity for all Asian cultures -- especially when it comes to food -- and our efforts to pronounce words correctly, I blew it when it comes to some of the most common Asian words we eat: Chinese food.

The bun dac biet and noodle soup are Vietnamese specialties of Peking-Tokyo Restaurant. Erin and I had dinner tonight at a restaurant we hadn't visited in a couple of years -- it's been too long. Peking-Tokyo Restaurant is located in the southern part of the suburb of Lakewood, across town from where we live. Back a decade ago, when we both worked a few blocks from Peking-Tokyo Express, as it was called, we ate there often. It had an interesting menu of Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai dishes. Despite its name, there were only a couple of token Japanese items on the menu (the name was a holdover from the business' previous owners). Erin's favorite was a noodle soup with two kinds of noodles, the Vietnamese rice noodles that are now familiar to fans of Pho (but this was before Pho was as common and popular as it is now) and thin egg noodles like the kind you might see in Chinese lo mein, or Japanese ramen. The soup is topped off with slices of chashu pork, shrimp, chicken and chunks of crab. My favorite was bun dac biet, a combination of grilled meat served on top of cold rice noodles, lettuce and cucumbers with a side of vinegary fish sauce. The meat includes pork, chicken, beef and shrimp, and an incredible and unique treat: a stuffed grilled chicken wing, plump with pork, flavorings and clear noodles. We usually ordered Vietnamese spring rolls for appetizers, and I'd usually order Thai iced coffee or ice tea as an energy drink before such things as Red Bull existed. We've tried both the Thai and Chinese food there too, and the flavor is full and the servings substantial. But both our favorite dishes are so superior that after a while it was hard to order anything else. We liked he place so much that we got our friend John Lehndorff at the Rocky Mountain News to go and review Peking-Tokyo Express. We learned the story of the family, the Wangs, who own the restaurant. We got to know one of the daughters, Melissa, and one of the sons, Tommy. I had assumed they were Vietnamese, but it turns out they're ethnic Chinese. Tommy and Melissa's grandparents had moved to Vietnam decades ago, but the family got caught up in the turmoil of the Vietnam war and ended up coming to the US with the Vietnamese "boat people" refugees in the late '70s, when Melissa was a baby. Tommy told us the heartbreaking story of their Aunt, who was murdered by Cambodian pirates as the family escaped Vietnam.

We had dinner last night at the venerable Denver Press Club with Jennifer 8.Lee and learned about Chinese food. The dinner was Chinese takeout, of course, from a DU-area eatery called "Hong Kong Cafe." It was pretty good. The dinner was organized by John Ensslin, president of the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The unfortunately small gathering was treated not only to good food and conversation, but a wonderful and entertaining presentation by Lee, a New York Times Metro reporter who has just published her first book, "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles," which is a peek at the cross-cultural pollination that Americans think of as Chinese food. First of all, change your idea of Chinese food. What most people in this country consider Chinese food is really Chinese American food. To underscore the point that Chinese food is more American than apple pie (as Lee asks, how often do Americans eat apple pie, and how often do they eat Chinese food?), the presentation begins with a startling fact: There are more Chinese restaurants in this country than McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's and Kentucky Fried Chicken combined.