It’s been nearly two years since food writer Clarissa Wei plucked me from obscurity to profile me as the crazy attorney/CPA who had eaten at 6,000 Chinese restaurants. Within days I was contacted by the Asia Society to do an article on my picks as the 10 best Chinese restaurants in the United States. Eating at so many Chinese restaurants didn’t make me an expert on Chinese food, as my knowledge was about Chinese restaurants, which is a completely different thing, but I gladly accepted the challenge. The Asia Society article led to the opportunity to write articles on Chinese restaurants on the Menuism website on a recurring basis. This has opened the door for me to publicize the Toishanese roots of Americanized Chinese food and the Chinese community itself, along with important facts about Chinese American history, such as discriminatory immigration laws that barred Chinese from coming to the United States for decades, and the post-immigration reform shift in the mix of Chinese immigration. There’s not a single traditional restaurant review among my writings.
However, it’s only at this point almost two years later that I recognize what an opportunity that the original Asia Society article has provided me. First of all, it’s given me an insight I would not have otherwise had into how the internet works. No, I’m not talking servers and stuff like that, but how content originates on the internet, and then how that content speeds its way around the world. Secondly, I also now just realize what a chance that first article provided to reach so many people with what I had to say.
When I wrote my Top 10 Restaurant story I had no idea as to the attention and controversy that would follow. And it’s really all thanks to the Asia Society because my intended article was merely a listing and description of 10 restaurants, hardly anything to garner a wide audience. The one thing that I wanted to explain to the editor when I submitted the article was that my list was different in that I made no effort to be geographically correct, and explaining in detail why all the restaurants were in California, and specifically why none were in New York. These comments were meant solely as an aside to the editor and not for public consumption, so when I saw that the raw introductory comments were included at the start of the article, I cringed at seeing my unfiltered comments in public.
What I didn’t realize, but Asia Society’s editor did, was that the purpose of internet content is to drive traffic, and nothing drives traffic like controversy. And in those terms, the article turned out to be a blockbuster. Through well placed links in social media and on restaurant message boards, a firestorm of commentary ensued, much of it negative from outraged New Yorkers who felt that had been dissed. Indeed, reaction was so negative that I didn’t bother to re-read my Asia Society article again until just recently. And when finally visiting the article again I was shocked to see the statistics on the page–3,200 likes on Facebook (probably an even larger number of dislikes, if there were such statistics kept) and over 300 tweets on Twitter. Given that a minuscule percentage of web surfers bother to affirmatively interact with a like or tweet, the readership for that article must have been staggering. I could only dream about reaching those kinds of numbers again. And it was due entirely to the inclusion by the Asia Society editor of what I intended to be off the record remarks.