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PURCHASE THE DIGITAL COLLECTION (2013)
B. 12.26.1893 Shao Shan, Hunan Province / D. 9.9.1976 Beijing
Having spent over a year in an entirely Russian neighborhood, I’ve begun to wish there were something other than Russian food around to eat. Or Russians eating it
There are two winds in the world today, the East Wind and the West Wind.
The Pakistani take-out place up Coney Island Avenue saw a lot of me this summer while that beautiful woman still worked behind the counter. Once she left it was just too aggravating. The Middle Eastern whole chicken place is too expensive, especially the salad. Sushi is not food.
There is a Chinese saying, “Either the East Wind prevails over the West Wind or the West Wind prevails over the East Wind.”
So I was so happy to see a new Chinese restaurant open just around the corner on Brighton Beach Avenue, even though it put the new bagel stall out of business when it did; they’d only been sharing the space during construction.
It is impossible to swallow an entire banquet in one gulp. This is known as a piecemeal solution. In military parlance, it is called wiping out the enemy forces one by one.
New Year’s Day afternoon, after the Polar Bear Club swim and the fiasco of the sausage sandwich promise unfulfilled, I said to my sister, Let’s try the new Chinese place. On the way there we passed a dozen restaurants and cafes on Brighton, all packed to the rafters, all Russians, all Russian, Russian
arrogance, the airs of a self-styled hero, inertia and unwillingness to make progress, love of pleasure and distaste for continued hard living.
But not Chopsticks, where it ends up being us, another set of sisters—two, Jewish—and two dozen empty tables. While we’re there, one more is filled, by a Russian family that doesn’t seem local. Incredibly, the service is poor and slow. There is no ice, although the broccoli is like ice, fishy ice. The chicken dishes are bitter, gummy, doughy, disastrous.
Strategically, we take the eating of a meal lightly—we know we can finish it. But actually we eat it mouthful by mouthful.
Two weeks later I’m back with my downstairs neighbor Gilda who wants to try for herself how it is, while I want to see whether they’ve improved at all. I’m hoping they have.
It is hard for any political party or person to avoid mistakes, but we should make as few as possible. Once a mistake is made, we should correct it, and the more quickly and thoroughly the better.
They have not improved. There is ice, in the water pitcher, which the waiter leaves on the table—but no teapot, which is just as well because the tea is poor and weak. The free appetizer noodles are poor and hard. The other patrons are four black women together with a baby. While we’re there, a young black couple on a date comes in and later an Asian man who eats while reading. At the back of the room, by the raised banquette table—empty, of course—is a stack of cardboard boxes, the kind you move files in. Gilda and I spend most of the meal puzzling in undertones at what the management means by this restaurant. The point of their efforts eludes us.
“Lifting a rock only to drop it on one’s own feet” is a Chinese folk saying to describe the behaviour of certain fools.
What should we do, we wondered. Finally, there’s Chinese around the corner—and it turns out to be Chopsticks. We’d almost certainly never come back again. Gilda told me about the cafeterias they used to have in the neighborhood, inexpensive, and the beautiful delicatessens, before the Russians moved in; all gone now. Chopsticks would die.
The world is progressing, the future is bright and no one can change this general trend of history.
The owner or manager—he'd been dismayed I'd only tasted my egg drop soup; I'd been fearing botulism anyhow—stopped us on the way out to solicit our opinion, perhaps even our praise. Gilda wished him luck but added that they should try to get a little better maybe. I, to my discredit, said nothing at all.
As for criticism, do it in good time; don’t get into the habit of criticizing only after the event.
Because you know the Russians will never ever ever go there as long as black people do too.
Restaurants struggle, some restaurants triumph, others are eliminated.
Quotations and paraphrase from 2nd Edition (1967)
Consolation Site: A revolution is not a dinner party
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