It’s certainly not safe to talk politics, at least in a mixed crowd that might include both fans and detractors of the current president. Folks like me can only shake our heads at how he continues to lie with abandon, claiming he would have won the popular vote if not for “millions of illegal immigrants who voted,” a charge that has no shred of supportive evidence. Or at the way he flares with childish pique and refuses to accept reality, accusing news agencies and the National Parks Agency of skewing numbers when anyone with eyes could see that attendance for his inauguration was far lower than either of Obama’s inaugurations — or the Women’s March on the following day. His spokespeople deride truth tellers and shill “alternative facts” as false as the fake news stories and Russian interference that helped to get him elected. And yet, he is the president. God help us.
As troublesome as such things are, most people dare not bring them up in public conversation or even on Facebook, for fear of alienating friends or family members who, for reasons beyond my imagination, think juvenile behavior is acceptable in the Oval Office. No doubt, there are folks in the alt-right who can’t imagine why I or anyone else would think such things or disagree with their version of reality.
So what do we talk about? Chinese food, it appears, is a safe subject. Folks in my neighborhood belong to a web-based community conversation board (through Nextdoor.com) that includes 33 subdivisions in the area. It’s a good place to post a query asking if anyone knows a good handyman, has tried a tankless water heater, or wants a free treadmill that was rarely used. Some people post announcements of yard sales, or alert us that Girl Scouts will soon be knocking on the door (this year’s offerings include gluten-free “Trios,” and they’re not bad).
Most queries get one or two responses, rarely more than three. But, a week or so before the presidential inauguration, someone asked neighbors to recommend their favorite Chinese restaurant. I don’t know if folks around here really feel that strongly about Chinese food, or if they were just relieved to be able to express an opinion without fear of recrimination, but the floodgates opened.
Two or three responses turned into a dozen, then two dozen, then double that. As I write, 54 people have replied to the initial request, recommending 23 different restaurants within a reasonable radius, with names ranging from Banana Leaf to Super Wok, along with requisite monikers like China Best, First China, China Uno, China Cary, and so forth.
The clear winner for American style Chinese was Ginger (also my choice), mentioned in 12 replies (yes, I counted and tallied them all). Seven people recommended Taipei 101, most insisting that it is the most authentic. Next in line was First China, touted as best for takeout. Two respondents identified themselves as Chinese, giving more gravitas to their culinary choices. I’m sure that more responses are on the way.
It may or may not be entirely safe to speak Chinese in these American-first, anti-immigrant, restrictive trade days, but at least we can talk about Chinese food — a surprising place to find common ground.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.