The Plight of the American-Born Chinese

A new Panda Express is under construction less than a mile from my apartment. This is the first Panda Express in Fayetteville.

Notice how I don't use any exclamation points at the end of those sentences.

My husband, lover of all things orange chicken, is more excited than a chubby kid at a chocolate factory. I, on the other hand, turn my nose at such things. Panda Express is not Chinese food!

Allow me to explain.

If you haven't noticed, I am Chinese. You know, I'm Asian. (Or Oriental if you're old school like that.) I have black hair and hairless arms and dark-brown eyes of the slanty persuasion. I grew up in a household where "going out to eat" translated into "going to Mom and Dad's favorite Chinese restaurant where the menu is only written in Mandarin characters." On Saturday nights out on the town, my brother and I would gorge ourselves on homemade dumplings, steamed vegetable buns, baby bok choy sauteed with garlic, and thick noodles steamed in a delicious beef broth. Makes your mouth water, doesn't it? That's the kind of Chinese food I grew up with.

The few times I have eaten at Panda Express or P.F. Chang's, the spirits of my grandfathers berate my soul with guilt. "Ai ya!" they say. "I did not flee the Communists to have my granddaughter eat this white man's excuse for food!" And then they make me burn incense in their names and beg Confucius for forgiveness.

But the ghosts of my grandfathers need not haunt me very often. See, I don't even like Panda Express or P.F. Chang's. My taste buds are too accustomed to authentic Chinese fare that I have a hard time eating at such places. (Thanks Grandma.) And so, the new Panda Express may find a new customer in my husband, but I will politely decline.

Now, eating at Sbarro's or Taco Bell on the other hand...