Thursday, December 2, 2010

Day 95: The Chinese

Photo of the Day: How to Tell the Difference

After work today, I visited the Museum of Chinese in America, a small but thoughtfully curated space in a gorgeous, modern new building near Chinatown in Manhattan. Though limited in scope, it was still an amazing experience to see the history of Asians in the United States and see faces similar to mine peering out of antique black-and-white photographs. There was so much fascinating history that I found incredibly relevant to my own identity as an Asian-American that was only glossed over in the school textbooks. I was surprised by the level of racism and oppression faced by early immigrants and the hidden bitterness and anger from the unexpressed Chinese perspective. My own culture is something that has always been very invisible to me, especially growing up surrounded by so many fellow Asian-Americans. But the exhibit really got me thinking about the racism that Asians frequently encounter — blatant stereotypes and snide, underhanded insults that would never slide with any other cultural group. I know these are questions with which the Asian community has struggled with for years, and I will admit that the exhibits did tend to portray the Chinese as solely the victims while the story is probably more complex than that. But it was still eye-opening to see a more cohesive and historic picture of what our ancestors endured and how they paved the way for the current generation, and there were definitely moments of pride seeing the accomplishments made by Asian immigrants dating all the way back to the 19th century. For instance, did you know that a Chinese guy fought in the Civil War? Or that the Bing cherry was named after a Chinese farmer?

I was starving after the museum tour, so we went to Great N.Y. Noodletown for dinner and had cheap and delicious noodle soup with roast pork and duck. The food was incredibly salty, so we washed it down afterward with some ice cream from the famous Chinatown Ice Cream Factory! The flavor selection was stunning and exotic, from green tea and dan tat (Chinese egg custard), to red velvet cake and almond cookie. Mei Ling got their renowned black sesame ice cream, but I was incredibly excited to see they offered a pandan-flavored ice cream, which tasted like every Indonesian dessert I've ever eaten. It was so tasty I wound up buying an entire pint so people at home could try it too (It's in the freezer. Help yourself!).

The panel was inscribed with bitter poems carved into the walls by Chinese immigrants while stranded at Angel Island.
A 19th century anti-Chinese poster.
A ridiculously racist cap pistol. When you pull the trigger, the figurine gives the Chinaman character a swift kick in the rear.
A mini re-creation of a Chinese Community Club of the 1930s in New York.
An exhibit of a typical Chinese-owned tea shop.
A sample of an early-century Chinese shop interior.
A handy booklet issued by the U.S. State Department to soldiers abroad on "How to Spot a Jap."
Click on the photo to see a larger version and read the text. It's quite offensive.
An entire exhibit on Chinese puzzles.
Mei Ling tries her hand at the giant tangram floor puzzles.
A display of linking wire puzzles.
A beautiful ivory tangram set.
An amazing find! Pandan-flavored ice cream at Chinatown Ice Cream Factory!
Ice cream that tasted like every Indonesian dessert I've ever eaten.


  1. Wow. What a strange museum! At first I thought that said Panda. for the dessert. :-/

  2. Haha, no, it's pandan, a flavoring common in Indonesian desserts. It was so tasty! I still have some in the freezer. :)

    It was such a fascinating museum! So many things I was curious about and I found relevant at last on display!