As an attempt to create more content on this site, I’m going to start posting my thoughts on books and magazines.
The majority of the books that I go through are actually full of photography (haha), but I’ve started regularing Farewell Books, the most bad ass independent book store in Austin, where I’ve started to spend time reading local publications and well-curated selections by the owners.
So, seeing as I don’t really read that much, the majority of this “review” will be what I took from the book in general.
I guess if you don’t know about Eddie, I would first check out any of the videos you can find of him on youtube or his series on vice.com. If you like Anthony Bourdain, you’ll like his show. I especially like this clip where he calls anyone who pokes a hole in their xiao long bao (soup dumpling) a hooligan.
-Fresh off the Boat
Eddie, who is now 31, had a childhood that was very similar to many Asian American teens growing up in the recent decades. At first we get a typical story of a first generation Asian kid growing up in America, where there is a clash between the home he grew up in and the world that surrounded him. I guess the best example would be the first time he was introduced to macaroni & cheese at a friends house.
“Macaroni is to Chinamen as water is to gremlins, teeth are to blow jobs, and Asian is to American. It just didn’t fit.”
The book goes through, in great detail, the many events of Eddie’s life that built up who he is today. He faced many adversities such as being picked on when he went to a white Christian private school for being an Asian, non-believing minority, and even getting denied a job at a newspaper due to the look of his face. There’s also the first time he got called a chink at school, which is sort of wrapped in this hilarious story involving Kid Cuisine.
The thing I respect most about him is that instead of just being docile and accepting these cultural norms in America, Eddie fought back both physically and on paper as well. He stopped taking crap from his oppressors and just beat the living shit out of them. He eventually got a felony during college which hurt his chances of getting a job and progressing in life, but he figured if he could become a lawyer, and obtain a piece of paper that basically said, “Son, I know the law.” everything would work out. So he busted his ass, passed the bar exam, went to law school, and landed a job at a top firm.
He keeps the same spirit when he champions Taiwanese culture and food. In my opinion, in the beginning of his life, Eddie never really knew why he was being bullied. But, as he gradually got to know the food and culture of his homeland, he started to have a reason to fight back, to be a proud and loud ass Chinaman. He goes into such detail over staple Taiwanese dishes and his experiences surrounding them. He makes the compelling argument that there is a narrative that surrounds the food that people cook, and those stories should persist and be heard. That most fusion cooking is a bastardization stemming from ignorance of a culture’s food coming from a chef who just wants to put a spin on new American and French cuisine. If we all conformed to American standards, we’d just be eating macaroni and cheese and chicken breast for dinner, and all jokes aside, that would suck dick. But you know what? Everyday you see more kids out there who don’t speak their native language and busy parents who give in and buy the fast food that their kids are screaming for instead of cooking. Also the rise of Korean fusion tacos, bulgogi on french fries… seriously fuck that shit. I want the real stuff. Oh, and major props to him for calling out David Chang’s pork buns, they suck ass.
Even though there are a lot of serious moments in the book, it’s surrounded with a lot of lightheartedness, hip hop, and hilarious moments, here’s a quote from near the middle of the book around his high school days while he was seeing a white chick, this is sort of a spoiler:
“Everything we did, she initiated because I had this irrational fear every time I was alone with white women that some parent or cop would bust in and arrest me for infecting them with yellow fever. Honestly, all the way until my freshman year of college, every white girl I made out with, I let make the first move because I thought I’d get arrested.”
I really thought this was one of the funniest lines ever due to the book’s buildup of strife up until that moment.
After getting his job as a lawyer it seemed that he wasn’t happy, quit, and realized he wanted to open up a restaurant. He faced a lot of adversity at first from his family and friends, but hey look at him now. He made it.
There’s a passage from the last chapter of the book where he describes a feeling that I really want for myself:
“But once I knew I was opening a restaurant, the sky broke and everything was clear. It was the most exciting time of my life. The freedom felt good. It was the first time I can remember waking up every day and not feeling like I owed somebody some shit. All my life, I’d wake up to my parents fighting or my mom yelling at me to grow up faster. It never stopped. Then, when I went to college, I stayed in trouble. I remember the year I got charged, I just woke up every day thinking my life was over. Every interview or application I filled out, there was that convicted-felon box to check that never went away. It’s a fleeting moment, but those first ten minutes of the morning when you’re barely conscious are the worst. You wake up to this fog of fear, confusion, and uncertainty. I swear even now I wake up some days not knowing who I am or where I’m at. In law school, I woke up every day knowing money was going down the drain for a degree I wanted no part of. And even if I passed the bar exam, I might not pass the character fitness test because of my past. For three years, I kept thinking, “I may not even get that piece of paper I wanted!” I was constantly thinking about how to get out. Those years between twenty-four and twenty-seven, when you start to realize things don’t always break the way they’re supposed to, are sobering. When you’re eighteen, you’re hustlin’, you got friends producing, DJ’ing, in bands, all the girls look like someone in the movies, you figure everyone is gonna blow up like soda and water. Shit is just fun. But you hit twenty-four, half your friends are strung out, some are in jail, some got herpes, everyone got HPV twice, and you realize, yeah, we’re in a movie: Requiem for a Dream.”
I want to wake up one morning and feel free. I want to make it, and not sell out in the process. There’s more to life than a boring 9 to 5 that sucks your soul out, it doesn’t matter how much money you’re making if what you’re doing day in and day out doesn’t make you happy.
“I don’t do coupons or Reeboks. Life is too short to half-step.”
There are many modern culture references that he eludes to, which tends to give this book a certain “expiration date.” For example he tells you at one point to go on Spotify to look up a track(which I tweeted about, and he retweeted!). That just means that you should read it sooner than later.
In general, if you’re a minority growing up in America, especially if you’re a Taiwanese American, you’ll find something that you can relate to in this book. And perhaps if you’ve been taking shit all your life… this could give you that final kick to motivate you to fight back and do something progressive for a change.
-Reflecting on my own life
Growing up I didn’t feel many of the hardships that Eddie went through due to an epic clash between my mom and my dad. My parents had been in America for a lot longer than most parents before having me. My mom, unlike most Asian parents, was all for integrating into American culture, my dad wasn’t. Everyday they would argue, but in the end my mom won.
I didn’t get hit, not once. I grew up on nickelodeon, I had all the toys, all the street sharks, power rangers, pokemon cards, and video game consoles I wanted. I ate a ton of fast food, mac & cheese, and chicken tenders. I don’t speak Chinese. When I went over to a white friends house, I felt at home for the most part, nothing they had was very foreign to me, and likewise when they came to ours. There wasn’t a struggle.
I realize now(like writing this right now) that after all this time. My dad has been the largest influence on my life. He’s been the one pushing in the shadows for the small bits of culture that I have and hold so dear to me. We would play ping pong in the garage (I will destroy any challengers), he handed me my first Apple Sidra, he pushed for me to go to Chinese school (even though I started extremely late and ended up quitting), he made me to go to CYC (Chinese youth camp) where I felt for the first time in my life, truly estranged to something that should have been my own culture, but over time grew more accustomed to it. I know barely any of his stories, barely any of his past, and for all that to be lost would be a damn shame. I can’t kick it with my dad. Is the barrier between us just my ignorance and stubbornness? Is it too late?
I wish we could take a trip to Taiwan and talk about everything over some “o a jian” (oyster omelettes) at a night market, or some dan bing, you tiao, and soymilk at breakfast.
Aside from the cultural aspects though. The best thing that I can take from this book is probably the idea that in this world you have to fight for everything. No one will throw you a bone. If you just sit around, someone will come around to eat your lunch. Rise up and have a voice. Be yourself, never forget where you came from, and never sellout. That’s what I learned from Eddie Huang.
Want a copy? Check it out on the Amazon Store: