Tuesday, April 19, 2016

My Most Surreal Chinese Restaurant Visit

Despite my great interest in American politics, I never discuss that topic in any of my writings, and seldom get into that topic too deeply in talking with family and friends.  Many people are very sensitive about their political beliefs, so I'm not about to alienate a friend, relative, or reader since I know anything I say won't change anybody's mind.

However, Hillary Clinton's being on her way to winning the Democratic Party nomination for president gives me an opportunity to recount one of my most memorable Chinese restaurant visits. Having set foot in nearly 7,000 Chinese restaurants, there is a certain sameness to these premises.  Yes there are fancy restaurants, dumpy restaurants, big restaurants, little restaurants, restaurants with large fish tanks, restaurants with steam tables, and so on, but after all these years I've seen them all many times over.   But nothing prepared me for the shock I received when I walked into East Market Seafood Restaurant on East Broadway in the Little Fuzhou section of Manhattan Chinatown that cold, damp February evening in 2008.

Actually, I previously wrote about my visit to East Market Seafood in my Menuism article on Monday night wedding banquets in Manhattan Chinatown, though I didn't mention East Market by name.  Little Fuzhou is that portion of Manhattan Chinatown that lies east of Bowery and is quite different from the main part of Manhattan Chinatown in that very few non-Chinese are visible anywhere as there are no gift shops, stylized buildings, or other tourist inducing attractions here.  Indeed, I remember walking around the shopping arcade on the first floor of the building where East Market was located.  The arcade was packed with people and little shops selling jewelry, telephones, phone cards, and who knows what else, and giving me the sense that I had been momentarily magically transported out of New York into Fujian province.

So making my way upstairs to East Market Seafood, I was still having the feeling that I was some place in Fuzhou,  That is until I noticed  "Hillary Clinton for President" posters in English and Chinese lining the wall of the stairway.  I walk up to the restaurant's front counter and see there is a picture of Hillary herself in the restaurant, standing next to the restaurant manager, in front of a large crowd of diners.   Obviously I wasn't in Fuzhou anymore.  But then I was transported back to Fuzhou when I was given a large menu that was almost entirely in Chinese.  Indeed, if there weren't a small number of pictured items with English captions on the inside cover of the menu I don't know if I would have been able to order anything.

Of course, I was now very curious as to why Hillary Clinton would have come to East Market Seafood, with no English language menu and no English speaking diners.  An internet search quickly cleared up the mystery.  Hillary Clinton had raised $380,000 at a fundraiser there.  However finding that article ended up raising more questions than it answered.  As this article and a subsequent article by Time Magazine detailed, that event drew numerous $1,000 donations to her 2008 presidential campaign from a motley legion of Chinese waiters, dishwashers, cooks, cashiers, sewing factory workers, street hawkers and other low-income residents of Chinatown.  John Edwards cried foul, sensing a violation of campaign donation limitations through the use of proxy contributors, but the controversy seemed to die as Barack Obama wrested the Democratic nomination away from Clinton.

But 2016 is another presidential election cycle and this time Hillary Clinton is in the lead. She's already been to Flushing Chinatown for her first boba drink. Will she be appearing at more New York Chinatown banquets this year?  It will be interesting to see.