Thursday, May 21, 2015

fresh off the boat

fresh off the boat
eddie huang
spiegel & grau
published 2013

Eddie Huang is the thirty-year-old proprietor of Baohaus—the hot East Village hangout where foodies, stoners, and students come to stuff their faces with delicious Taiwanese street food late into the night—and one of the food world’s brightest and most controversial young stars. But before he created the perfect home for himself in a small patch of downtown New York, Eddie wandered the American wilderness looking for a place to call his own.

I had started reading/listening to Eddie Huang's book awhile back in my quest to find audiobooks that kept me interested.  It couldn't really hold my attention and I found Huang's style slightly irritating so I just let the book expire.  After watching the sitcom Fresh Off The Boat on ABC I decided to give it another try.  I had read about the controversy about the show.  How Huang has said that the show is so far removed from his life that he doesn't even watch it and what a piece of garbage it is, etc. so I wanted to see how different it was.

What I discovered is that ABC created likable characters where there were few.  Did they sugarcoat things?  Of course!  He sold his rights away to a  family network so they could create a sitcom.  If he wanted edgy he should have shopped out to AMC or FX.  But I guess for a guy who hates TV and 'only watches HBO' he just didn't know any better or in Huang speak he was 'ignant'.

What did I like about this book?  I loved the way he talked about food.  He has a knack for describing technically while still painting a picture so you can see the steam rising off a simmering bowl of beef noodle soup.  He has good points about fusion food (it's unnecessary) and how to cook with your senses, with your tastes and experiences than with measuring cups and recipe cards.  It had me craving food the entire time.

Huang is incredibly intelligent.  Well read not because he wanted to be able to say he read Tolstoy but because he really wanted to read Tolstoy.  You could tell that he loved to learn even if he didn't want to be 'that Asian'.  His path to Baohaus in impressive in it's long winding route and he has, at such a young age, accomplished quite a bit.

Unfortunately, the list of things I didn't love about this book is a little longer.  Huang's intelligence has him under the impression that he is smarter, better than everyone else.  He talks about being humble, but that's bullshit.  There is nothing humble about this guy.  He's a major shit talker.  He has a disdain for anyone who isn't 'real', which is kind of ludicrous considering he spent his entire childhood trying to get so far away from his culture that he doesn't even see it.  He hates everyone..  He goes on about ABCs (American Born Chinese), David Chang, frat boys, college kids, Americans, white people, white people, white people.  He has such a chip on his shoulder it's amazing he doesn't tip over.  He doesn't consider himself American, doesn't subscribe to the idea of an American patriot.  When 9/11 happened it didn't really happen to him because this wasn't his country.  Then why stay here?  For a time he has to go to Taiwan for some sentencing thing.  Why didn't he stay there?  Oh, because there were no opportunities for him.  He had to come to AMERICA to do what he wanted to do.  He comes across as snobbish and ungrateful.

But the icing on the cake is how he totally relates with the struggle of black people.  I mean, he understands being held down because his parents sent him to 7 different private schools and raised him in a gated community where Tiger Woods lived.  He tries to distance himself by saying stuff like, well, it was his father's money not his.  When his father gives him a Mercedes for his first car he says it was such an insult because he didn't buy it for himself and showed what a horrible childhood he had.  It's hard to feel sorry for that kind of hardship.

He talks big about being hard and you can tell he so badly wants to be a 'gangsta' but his misdeeds were born out of desperation to be tough, not because he was.  He is, despite his protestations, a poseur.

Now, I'm not saying that he couldn't relate to the lyrics in hip hop.  I'm not saying it was easy growing up the only Asian around white kids or that having parents who beat their kids wasn't a shitty way to grow up, but no, I don't think that means you are the same as another race.  Just be your own.  Own your shit.  Carve your own path.  He doesn't want to be Taiwanese, he wants to be black, but he isn't.  But he'll take the Taiwanese when he sees how he can make it successful.

Maybe it's because I'm just not into the hip hop scene, don't speak the language, but it got tiring.  The book is full of alternately whining about being held down by the white man and patting himself on the back for being smarter than everyone else.  I can see why ABC changed his story and I'm glad they did.  ABC's Fresh Off The Boat might not be the show that Eddie Huang wanted, but it's put main cast Asians on a major network for the first time in 20 years and that should be something to be proud of.

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