Do You Want "Chinamen" With Your "Chinatown"?

Dear Uptight Seattleite, Why do we have to call it the "International District"? Such a joyless, antiseptic term, with none of the evocative power and history of "Chinatown." Other cities with Chinatowns don't have any hang-ups about calling them that. I just don't get it.Some Dim Guy

Dear Some Dim Guy, If you call the neighborhood "Chinatown," would you call its residents "Chinamen"? That term has history, too. Maybe you want them to wear those little pajamas and do laundry? And perhaps lay a bit of railroad track? But of course you wouldn't say "a Chinaman" any more than you'd say "a colored," "a gay," or "a Jew." The Jew thing I'm actually not sure about, but it does sound harsh somehow, doesn't it? "He's a Jew, she's a Jew, they're all Jews." But you know what? I'm pretty sure we shouldn't even be talking about this, so never mind. Also, I apologize—if that's called for. To get back to your question, though, I assume you're not some kind of Chinese supremacist, and therefore you would not want to exclude the contributions of Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, Laotian, and Cambodian people. And anyway, the official name is "the Chinatown–International District." So no one gets offended either way. It's a name that takes in the whole dragon-festooned realm from King Street Station eastward. A name that includes everyone from the dim-sum cart-runners at the House of Hong and the kids at Gossip Espresso to the noodle slingers at Pho So #1 and Mike the sushi man at Tsukushinbo. Not to mention the small army that runs the self-contained kingdom of Uwajimaya. Is the benevolent municipal hyphen that unites the two names so wrong, bringing together as it does the whole neighborhood in a warm, doughy, 11-syllable hum bao of tolerant redundancy? I can't answer that, Some Dim Guy, but I can tell you that the love we have for the C-ID is real, however awkwardly we may express it. Dear Uptight Seattleite, Sure, you people are tolerant. Not of dissenting political views but of pretentious one-syllable restaurants. Lark, Tilth, Spruce, Bip, Slarn—there seems to be no end of these places where, instead of a meal, you get little cylinders of stuff to smear on tiny crackers. Their grubby casualness is 100 times more smug than an old-school restaurant like Canlis.Miffed 'n' Hungry

Dear Miffed, I was just flipping through the channels while reading your letter. Of course, as you might know, I don't really watch TV. I don't even have one. Just a monitor for Bill Moyers and foreign DVDs. It does have a Comcast box attached, only because I haven't gotten around to canceling cable. So if you want to be pedantic about it, yes, it's a "TV," and I was "watching" it on this occasion. One does need to catch up on the crap they're feeding the masses from time to time. Anyway, as I was blowing past the news channels (44 through 48) to TNT on 54 (or maybe it was one of those other channels in the 50s that show cheesy old movies), I came across a military flight instructor saying, "If you blink up there, people? You are in a body bag." I bring this up only because it sums up so nicely the American approach to food: fast and lethal. I'm not saying you're guilty of such an approach, that even as I write this you're unloading, with an earth-shaking crash, your overfed body from a hulking SUV onto the pavement of the Olive Garden parking lot for their Never-Ending Festival of Carbs. But your impatience with Yab and those other one-syllable restaurants suggests that, at the very least, you've never been to Europe. Please don't take this as a criticism! You can't help that you haven't been exposed to the leisurely, wine-sipping, walk-everywhere Mediterranean lifestyle that informs these "pretentious" eateries. Your travel-deficit disorder doesn't mean you have to cop an uncool attitude while waiting 50 minutes for your entrée. Instead, check your American expectations of instant gratification at the door. Have another glass of $13 wine and settle into the old-world vibe. Bring back the simple pleasures of food by waiting for it without complaint. Welcome your hunger pains as an occasion to reflect on your own patterns of consumption. Or do like the rest of us and stop at Dick's on the way home. Have a question for the Uptight Seattleite? Send it to uptight@seattleweekly.com.

 
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