Double Happiness: Thoughts on Chinese Buffets

I am convinced – from all of my travels and culinary experiences – there is nothing more homey and comforting than a Chinese buffet. Think about it: savory noodles, fried crust with soft fillings, hodge-podge sushi, and hot soup varieties found nowhere else. In a world of blandly familiar options, with coffee shop express lunches and tepid fast-food iced tea, Chinese buffets are warm haven from the norm.

Throughout this year, I’ve traveled back-and-forth to New York vising my boyfriend. As new-found custom dictates, we almost always visit a Chinese food buffet on Long Island. Throughout my adventures in Chinese buffets, I’ve found them all to have the same fare. Yet, when I bask in the neon glory of a Long Island Chinese buffet, I find slight contrasts from the buffets found in the South.

First, let’s talk crab rangoons. This delicacy, the Queen Mother of All Chinese Buffet Foods, is a delicate golden triangle stuffed with cream cheese and (probably artificial) crab meat. It’s a collision of warmth and deliciousness, and New York Chinese buffets have not received the memo. My first experience at a northern buffet left me shocked. I scoured the rows for crab rangoons, many times over, thinking I had overlooked them. But alas, no. Simply small, cheese wontons with their puckered tops and merely-stuffed bottoms. Eaten and forgotten in one brief bite at every buffet as crab rangoons stay forever in my heart.

As I move from the row of fried and baked foods, I’m approaching salads. In my years as a connoisseur of buffets, I have not run into salad/cold bars at Chinese buffets in the South. Rather, these smaller restaurants often opt out of salads in favor of warmer foods. Even in the smaller buffets in the Empire State, there is almost always a salad bar. Bright lettuces of the romaine and iceberg variety, sliced vegetables, beets, and pasta salads wait eagerly in the bed of ice. Dressings, too. With your chicken lo mein and fried dumpling, you can even out your plate with a salad drenched in ranch. It’s quite beautiful and much different from my norm. Dim Sum, Dim Sim, Food, Hong Kong

Finally, after a pile of noodles, chicken, and rice, dessert is looms ahead. In many Asian cultures, China included, fruit is an acceptable dessert. In the West, we typically eat cake, cookies, or chocolate to cap our meals. When I lived in Korea and visited China, I ate more Asian pears, watermelons, and apples than I had in my whole life. In California Chinese non-buffet restaurants, fruit is brought to the table after a meal. At a Northern buffet, fruit reigns in her throne adjacent to red and green jellos. Often, I’ll opt for orange slices up North, which seem like an appropriate complement to the orange and honey chicken I’ve devoured minutes before. It’s wonderful and it’s sweet dessert.

I often think, as I sit among the din of chatter and the scent of soy-drenched chicken, that Chinese buffets are truly a tradition. My first interests in Asian culture were sparked as a I looked at an exaggerated painting of the Great Wall and a dragon. Even in the differences, with orange slices and a lack of crispy rangoons, any Chinese buffet anywhere in this country is a culinary miracle that I hold dear. As I live and travel, the two different styles of buffets will always provide double happiness.

How to Be Happy: Learn a New Language

Note to readers: I know, I haven’t posted anything except a smattering of book reviews since September 1st. My profound apologies.

I love languages: acquisition, history, alphabets, sounds, shapes, grammars, linguistics. I spent 18 months of my life acquiring a master’s degree in English as a Second Language just so I could understand, and it’s all very fun to me. Once upon a time, I owned a book and inside it’s pages were poems written in English and another language. I remember one little poem was translated into German. While in the car with my mother and

Office, File, Paper, Chinese, Language

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grandmother, I proceeded to read the poem out loud, convincing everyone I could read German. Though I knew little about the different sounds that different letters owned in different alphabets, but in my mind I was reading German. And I liked it. It was fun. I experimented with sign language a bit, though I never reached fluency.

In high school, I took two years of Spanish and loved it. To this day, I can’t understand why I never spent a whole four years in Spanish. Side note: Ms. Zuelly, if you catch this on my Facebook page and read this, I’m kicking myself in the pants for not taking both Spanish 3 and 4.

Surprisingly, learning a new language can be fun and rewarding when approached the right way. Currently, I’m studying Mandarin Chinese with the Yoyo Chinese online platform. Here’s what I’ve learned while learning Chinese.

Pacing. Don’t expect fluency overnight. Because I learned a select few phrases with my boyfriend’s help, I foolishly thought I could jump right into intermediate beginner’s Chinese. Wrong. I, like everyone, else had to start at square one. While I wanted instant fluency, right now I can say “I like cola” and “I have four wives and a younger brother.” Every little bit helps.

Drill. When learning a new language, repetition and drills are key. Flash cards? Yes. Staring at worksheets? Yep. May I suggest using the online tool Anki? This helps me and paces my flash cards so I don’t become overwhelmed. I’m not for sure how it works if you’re not provided the electronic flash cards, but it’s a wonder. Finally, even when it’s most frustrating, you’ll have to press on.

Talk. In both Spanish and Korean, reading is my strong point. I can read most signs in Spanish and sound out most of the phrases in Korean. However, I am terrified of speaking in a foreign language. When I lived in Korea, I would take the bus instead of a taxi. If I took a bus, I didn’t have to speak. I find speaking painfully nerve wracking and I hate failure. If I speak, I want to be flawless. I don’t want to be just another laowai butchering the mother tongue in the Chinese restaurant while ordering chicken lo mien and wontons.

For example, the boyfriend and I went to a Chinese restaurant nestled between a liquidation store and a fruit store. I wanted ice water, but he had ordered hot tea in a kettle. Instead of asking the server for water, boyfriend called the server over and then stared at me.

Are you going to ask her for ice water, or not?

Me: Mute, internal dialogue: why can’t I find contentment with hot green tea?

*Instense stares*

Me: Wo yao bing shui.

Water acquired and very few blushes had. Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?

If you’re looking for happiness, I suggest learning a new language. Learn something typical: Spanish or French. Learn something wild and rare: Esperanto or Latin. Learn the language your grandparents spoke when they came to the country you live in: Maybe Italian, Greek, Korean, Russian, Chinese, or Mixteco. The possibilities are endless, and when you learn a language, the potential for happiness is endless.

Happy learning!

Zai jian!