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January 23, 2006

Trying to inch down the alleyways of Chinatown crammed footpath to footpath with hundreds and millions of people doing their last minute shopping is a traipse through a garish nightmare of neon lights, striped blue tarp, unintelligible English signs and strange foods. I stop to pick out my favourite dessicated persimmons dusted with what seems to my mind to be fine sugar, but my father disagrees, he thinks that the powder is just, well, powder. That hardly makes sense, I try to tell him, but he neglects to hear me. These persimmons are good – dry, but not too dry; sweet, but not too sweet. There are other dried delights at a stall further down, and my father points out that each specific food represents something and is supposed to bring a specific type of good fortune. He can’t remember what exactly these benefits are, though. I pause to think: the sugared carrots look somewhat like coins, maybe they bring good fortune. Or maybe not. I can’t tell what the others are: one looks distinctly like pineapple, and those are lucky even if they’re not dried, so evaporate the superfluous liquid and leave us with concentrated luck? I start to reel from the complications involved. Apply logic and the system fails, that’s why the Chinese are the way they are.

Sometimes I regret that I don’t know more about Chinese culture. Ask me about Caravaggio, I know more about him than I do about calligraphy and Chinese characters. Ask me about Romance languages, I know more about those than I do about Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I speak more French than I do Mandarin. I’ve read Nabokov, but I’ve never read Lu Xun (why those two are linked in my mind has something to do with a Chinese textbook, but I’m not quite sure why). Sure, I have slitty eyes, little in the way of hair and a twinky appeal. Scratch beneath my surface and you’ll find a Western liberal intellectual.

Should I be upset?

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