Chinese Take-out

Kim - Ann Arbor, Michigan
Entered on January 18, 2009

I believe in Chinese take-out. Few things are as quintessentially American as Chinese take-out, not even apple pie–once you take into consideration that Americans, on average, order Chinese take-out far more often than they do a slice of pie. I am not a particular advocate of the greasy, often fried food served at many of these establishments–though admittedly, I have my occasional cravings. My relationship with Chinese take-out, however, extends beyond the whims and fancies of my stomach.

It is within the Golden Bowl Chop Suey, a small Chinese restaurant located in Detroit’s Westside–where my family’s American dream story takes root. Like many immigrants, my parents came to the United States in search of a better life. In China, the Cultural Revolution cut their education short. Because my parents were sent to work in the farms, my mother was unable to finish middle school, and my father couldn’t graduate from high school. Coming into the US–not yet able to speak English–my parents’ skills were limited to farming and cooking. There was little question in their minds that any employment opportunities would be found within the food and restaurant industry. After three years of waiting tables, my parents opened their own restaurant.

The Golden Bowl–now in its 28th year–is the inescapable backdrop to my life. During my teens, I saw the Golden Bowl as a burden. Countless times I have tried to argue my way out of working there, often with no success. “Why do I have to work today?” I would ask my parents demandingly, “But I have homework…” My protest was in part symptom of typical teenage laziness, but my resentment toward the Golden Bowl ran deeper.

Though managing a small family restaurant my appear ‘quaint’ to onlookers, it’s not. The work is physically and mentally tiring, more so for my parents–who have been working seven day weeks for nearly thirty years–than for me. There’s always something to worry about–endless paper work, city codes, spikes in the cost of rice and flour, shortage of employees, building maintenance… Safety isn’t a guarantee either. Since the Golden Bowl’s establishment, we have had multiple break-ins and three armed robberies. The American dream doesn’t come easy.

I resented the fact that so much of my family’s livelihood is dependent on a run-down restaurant. The Golden Bowl is a source of day-to-day stress on my family, especially my parents. It was also the reason why my parents could never attend my high school track meets or drama performances. Yet all the thing that I most value can be attributed back to my family’s restaurant. The Golden Bowl is the reason why I grew up comfortably in a two story home, the reason behind my siblings and my education, and the reason why I am a natural born US citizen. Despite my resentment toward the Golden Bowl, I could never evade from feeling a sense of obligation toward it–however grudgingly–because there is no denying that this run-down Chinese take-out place is how my family got a foothold in this country.

The opening day of the Golden Bowl was the biggest turning point in my parent’s lives. They see Chinese take-out as a blessing, made possible by the unique opportunities available in the US, and by their hard work and dedication. My parents have long understood that the American dream is not so much about the self-made man; rather, it is interdependence that makes the dream real for so many people. They act with the awareness that their success would not have been possible if not for the country they live in, and the friends that they have made here. Golden Bowl was a gift to them, and they believe in giving back. In the 28 years that they have spent in Detroit’s Westside, they have developed an affinity for the community. Every year, they donate to the local fire station. Every winter, they help Mr. Kwinkle–the owner of the shoe repair store next-door–shovel his snow. Just as my parents make an effort to remember how they have gotten to where they are today, I am learning to do the same. I believe in Chinese take-out because it is my family’s American dream story. It is my story.