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Jul 16, 2011 02:30 PM

David Sedaris on China and Chinese food

"Hugh ... said he couldn't eat sea horses because they were friendly and never did anyone any harm, this as opposed to those devious, bloodthirsty lambs whose legs we so regularly roast with rosemary and new potatoes."

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  1. "... the rest of the world isn't like America, where it's become virtually impossible to throw a dinner party. One person doesn't eat meat, while another is lactose intolerant, or can't digest wheat. You have vegetarians who eat fish and others who won't touch it. Then there are vegans, macrobiotics and a new group, flexitarians, who eat meat if not too many people are watching."

    5 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Hilarious. I think you either REALLY like Sedaris or you don't. No point dissecting his commentary - he's an equal-opportunity offender.

      1. re: Nyleve

        Nyleve, what a refreshing comment.

        1. re: HillJ

          Actually one of my favourite Sedaris pieces is about how he and his partner, during a time when they were apartment hunting in Paris, took a trip to Amsterdam and visited the Ann Frank house. Sedaris ends up spending the entire tour imagining this site - an iconic holocaust memorial of sorts - as if it were a piece of real estate for sale. He envisions renovations etc. I thought it was hysterical but I'm sure some would have found it extremely offensive. He cares little for political correctness and I appreciate that.

          1. re: Nyleve

            That's one of my favorite stories, too.

            1. re: linguafood

              Ditto. Sometimes (we) take ourselves too seriously. Sedaris, both David & Amy hit my funny bone.

    2. I've always enjoyed reading and listening to David Sedaris. This piece was a real exception.

      15 Replies
      1. re: gothlig

        Join the club. I've travelled a bit in China and a lot of what he says is complete balderdash.

        1. re: buttertart

          Folks, stop trying to defend something from the evil David Sedaris. Most of what he says begins with something true and evolves into complete balderdash. And therein lies the humor.

            1. re: chicgail

              There's a line between humor and racist invective and Sedaris went WAY over the line.

                1. re: soupçon

                  I didn't think this was his best work, but Sedaris? Racist?

                  There are different cultural mores and standards in different parts of the world. To say so (and to say so from the perspective of someone like Sedaris who acknowledges that he is just a little OCD) is not racist.

                  You are entitled to your interpretation. Is this the first thing of his that you've read/heard from him?

                  1. re: linguafood

                    It would also be worth pointing out that Sedaris is addressing national and regional characteristics (caricatured, yet) and not racial ones. There is a distinction to be made here. Also, 'invective' is simply too strong a word to be applicable here. (And if soupçon really think that the colourful descriptions are singular to this case, s/he has obviously not read Sedaris's descriptions of his brother...)

                    1. re: Lizard

                      ...........s/he has obviously not read Sedaris's descriptions of his brother.........

                      You mean Paul- "The Rooster"? Every family has one :D

                      1. re: sedimental

                        shit yeah dude, little fucker's like born of motherfucking aliens I tell ya.

                        and I would agree with Lizard it's more of a regional assessment, out here in middle of nowhere US these characteristics are certainly not unheard of.

                        1. re: hill food

                          Exactly. Laughing at the irony in culture, traditions, dysfunction, family, work, makes a moment in time humorous -in an otherwise very serious world. I say...........good on 'em. There are plenty of English, Irish, Chinese, American, Japanese, etc. "spitters", farters, weird brothers, mothers that drink too much, pervy uncles, holiday traditions, etc. that we *should* call attention to and get a chuckle from. Equal opportunity funny.

                          1. re: sedimental

                            He can be very poignant as well, as in the stories about his mother's dying of lung cancer. And his commentary after 9/11 really hit home: Originally from upstate NY, then raised mostly in NC, as an adult he lived for a long time in NYC. He said something to the effect that he lives in Paris, but it is not his home.
                            Home is the place where, when something bad happens there, your instinct is to drop everything and get back there to be with, and try to help, those who are suffering. He is judgmental and mocking of no one so much as he is of himself,
                            inherently shy, and with a very big heart.

                            1. re: greygarious

                              I think you hit on a really important aspect of this particular vignette - he mocks himself as much, if not more, than anyone else. He definitely expressed discomfort with personal habits he encountered in China, but he seems to recognize that a lot his negative experience was due to his own personal quirks.

                    2. re: soupçon

                      David Sedaris, racist? Now, that's hilarious! Seriously dude, that's the most ridiculous thing ever. Clearly you're unfamiliar with him or his work. He's the exact opposite of racist. And throwing that word around ignorantly is just wrong.

                      On a lighter note... my husband is in China right now. Just before he left I read him this Sedaris piece after I saw it on NPR's FB wall. We had a good laugh and I do think he may have packed a few extra protein bars - ha! But, he has thoroughly enjoyed the food he has had in Shanghai and I've enjoyed his photos that he has sent me.

                  2. re: buttertart

                    My wife's family travels to China quite a bit - they are Chinese Malaysians. The things they've mentioned about these things in China are somewhat similar to DS's assessment - mostly the hacking, spitting, nosespraying and smoking. In fact, I've seen my FIL do his share of spitting and nose spraying himself (don't get me started on the cigarette smoking). These habits carry over from the old country to here in LA as well. I regularly visit the San Gabriel Valley and often observe (usually) older guys hacking, spitting and nose spraying in shopping center parking lots. I'm glad they at least have the decency to do it outside. They also tend to line up outside grocery stores and smoke like nobody's business (and hack/spit/nosespray) while waiting for the families to finish their shopping.

                    The one that really caught me off guard was after letting a handful of old ladies exit the door at the market, as I started to walk in, I felt a hand on my shoulder, got pushed aside as this really old guy with a cane walked through. I was flummoxed as to what happened but I was even more confused as to how that old guy could be so strong!

                    As the saying goes, it is what it is. They're there and we're here.

                2. I like how keeps saying "but in Japan..." just to prove he likes SOME asians....

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Evilbanana11

                    I really don't think that's the reason he did that...

                  2. I know Sedaris often exaggerates for comic effect. And I've never been to China. So how accurate is the description of rampant spitting, etc.?

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: small h

                      They spit more than cobras over there...

                      1. re: bulavinaka

                        Oof, I would not like that at all. I live close to Manhattan's Chinatown, which is spittier than the rest of Manhattan (although the rest of Manhattan is hardly a spit-free zone). But it sounds like Beijing would take some getting used to, for me.

                        1. re: small h

                          holy crap try going to a university that is very popular with chinese students
                          the bathrooms are spitsville!

                          1. re: small h

                            I remember walking on the edge of Chinatown in NYC a couple years ago and this woman in front of me lets a big spit go and barely misses me. Not nice.

                        2. re: small h

                          The spitting, the vomiting, the pooping ... I love China, but it is horrifying on that front. I happen to think the food is delicious, generally speaking, but I've paid for it with some public vomiting of my own every time I've gone. (Maybe my body was just trying to fit in...)

                            1. re: Papuli

                              I love Chinese Canada. I actually had not heard or read too much about this side of China except around the campaign to reduce public spitting during the Olympics. I initially read this piece by Sedaris with a skeptical eye, but when I shared this article with friends who have been to China recently, none of them so far have suggested it is off base.

                              1. re: T Long

                                @T Long @southeritalian Yup, any bodily function can you think of. It's really just a cultural difference (in China, you get rid of the nastiness when you can), but it becomes a bigger deal because it's an issue of hygiene. And listen, I was horrified to throw up in public there; I was just that sick. And I tend to think getting sick is just luck of the draw, which is why I don't travel to China with my own Costco pack of chopsticks from home, as I saw other tourists do.

                                1. re: Papuli

                                  Anyone queasy about all of that should also avoid running long races because you'll see that there, too. Nothing like running and having to avoid bodily liquids from the runner in front.

                          1. Oh I loved it. Anything that comes out of his mouth/pen.... Thanks Robert.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: mariacarmen

                              I've read most of his books and "Thank you Robert, for this .. I'd not seen it." In one of his books he talks about having, as a teenager, a driving learner's permit. Well, he manages to sideswipe a mailbox and his father yells at him, telling him he could have killed someone. He said he threw away the permit, "his nerves were shot" .. (that's the part I think is so funny) and from then on he just arranges to live in cities with good public transportation systems.