Today, I’m thinking that there’s a perversity to the way in which our highest values come back to haunt us. Consider for example, the functional analogies between feeding the people in China and protecting one’s rights in the United States.
In Shenzhen, for example, ingesting gutter oil (地沟油) symbolizes all that might go wrong when interacting with unknown persons in the big bad city. Likewise, back in Southern Pines, all sorts of bodily harm might happen because “the wrong people” get guns and go off half-cocked.
Life is hard, they say in China. Here, there’s no guarantee that you’ll eat your fill. Instead, you not only have to take great precautions to make sure you get enough to eat, but also to work diligently just to ensure that what you do eat is healthy, let alone being able to truly eat as much of whatever you want. Moreover, just when you think you’ve made it, some greedy bastard serves you a portion of gutter oil, ruining your digestion and damning you to a life of porridge and bland vegetables.
Life is hard, they also tell us in the US. But here, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a fair deal. Instead, you not only have to be vigilant to make sure you can make a life for yourself, but also to ensure that what you do end up doing is what you want, never mind having a chance to truly enjoy the pleasures of freedom. What’s more, just when you think it’s going your way, some nutcase shows up on your porch, forcing you to pull the trigger or suffer the consequences.
I concede that Chinese cuisine and American independence organize desire differently. Indeed, on the face of it, Chinese preoccupations with food seem radically different from American obsessions with self-realization. Nevertheless, today I suspect that the differences between Chinese celebrations of fine food and American glorifications of independence merely muddy the cross-cultural waters. Rumors of gutter oil and loaded guns remind us that no matter how different Chinese tones and American syntaxt may be, nevertheless they tell the same story — we have constructed unsafe worlds for ourselves and our loved ones.