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17 Things All Chinese-Americans Are Born Knowing How to Do

United States
by Pamela Chan Mar 28, 2016

1. How to Dim Sum like no other

Forget BBQ pork buns, chicken potstickers, fried spring rolls, or those colorful gelatin pudding cups with tiny toothpick umbrellas sticking out on top. Dim Summing is an art, and growing up in a Chinese family, it’s also a weekly (well at least monthly) tradition.

Needless to say, ABCs come into this world knowing what’s good, what’s tasty, and exactly what to feast on once those push carts start a rollin’. Think Lo baak gou (fried turnip cake), Fong djau (braised chicken feet), Nor mai gai (sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf), Har gow (shrimp dumplings), Pai gwut (black bean spare ribs) — the list goes on. Finish out with some Jin deui (paste-filled sesame balls), Yu jiao (taro puffs), and God help us, plenty of tasty tiny Dan taat (egg custard tarts). Oh, and make sure to pair all that up with endless cups of fresh Oolong tea, tons of red vinegar sauce, and lots of time on your hands. Yes, we were born to lunch in style.

2. Chinglish

It’s English peppered with hints of Chinese — and pretty self-explanatory. It’s also (sometimes) the only way to converse with your ever-so-sweet grandparents or aunties who just so happen to know only several English phrases: “Heee—lloooo,” “Danka—yuuuu,” and “Noooo.” Of course, there’s also “Woi-shing-dun dee-cee” and “San-kwai-man-toee” (i.e. Washington D.C. and Sacramento, since they are often need-to-know for any American civics test).

Other than that though, Chinglish is utterly necessary for communication. Plus, it’s always nice to know that you grew up being totally fluent in a whole made-up, nonsensical language that no else seems to ever really understand.

3. How to be the perfect child every other parent yearns for

Talk about ‘model minority.’ You’re quiet, polite, well-behaved, and you always know when or where to say your P’s and Q’s. You’re bright beyond your years — a more than ‘well-rounded’ kid — and seem to willingly take on the heavy burden of serving as dutiful daughter/spectacular student/friendly family translator/cheerful chore taker-on-er all at the same time.

You do all this and more with nothing more than a sheepish grin and a shy smile because you are expected as a mere youngster to “look up to your elders” and to “ask no questions.” Respecting and honoring authority is a given, so “NO COMPLAIN… think about all those who have less,” your Tiger Mom and Doting Dad always said. And you wouldn’t dare defy those high expectations, since being every parent’s dream child just comes with the job description of being American born plus Chinese. Right?!

4. How to seriously despise Chinese School as a kid

…Then growing up and actually appreciating that you were forced to spend Saturday mornings learning your bo po mo fo’s and trying to scratch out seriously complex Chinese characters when you would rather be doing anything else — mainly munching on Lucky Charms in your PJs while laughing along with brightly-colored cartoons.

5. Chopstick creativity

You mastered the art of using chopsticks before you could walk or talk. It’s the one and only way to earn any sort of familial approval at a meal. No excuses.

Lick them, stick them, dunk them, or drum with them. Plus, they’re a fantastic last-minute substitute if you happen to run out of bobby pins.

6. Practicing on repeat

Whether it’s the piano, the cello, kung fu karate, or ballet en pointe, it’s in your nature to polish up on that technique and talent with endless drills, constant exercises, tiresome regimes, and tons of practice practice practice. It does make perfect, yes? And that’s exactly what we tend to strive for: utter perfection. Ugh.

7. Instinctively taking off your shoes when entering any house

Whether it’s carpet, hardwood, or shiny custom marble flooring, you’re always ready to bare those feet. It’s a sign of respect, cleanliness, and homeliness — not to mention ultimate Chineseness. Enough said.

8. How to effectively navigate a lazy susan

This is essential for any ABC, especially since family feasts at high-end seafood restaurants occur more often than you’d sometimes like. Once that waiter brings out that plate of sizzling ma-po tofu or honey walnut shrimp to the round-a-bout swivel plate in the center of the table, all hands are on deck. If you aren’t fast, you may have to wait a very long time before any food hits your plate.

9. How to wait desperately for late January and February to roll around each year. Oh, and there’s always September as well.

Why? Ummm… because it’s Chinese New Year — otherwise known as Christmastime plus 10 times better. Not only will you be grabbing red pockets full of cash like you would jelly beans at a candy store, but you’ll be bombarded with one-of-a-kind delicacies that’ll have you feasting for 15 straight days.

Then there’s the Moon Festival in the latter part of the year, where you can devour those devilishly good little cakes that are stuffed with fillings like lotus seed paste, sweet bean paste, jujube paste, and egg yolk. What’s more is that they’ve been stamped with the Chinese symbols for “longevity” and “harmony,” promising to bring you both for the coming year. They taste equally as great.

10. How to mix the sweet, the salty, the sour, the bitter, and the spicy oddly together and manage to still make it super duper tasty

Kung Pao chicken. Sweet and sour fish. Spicy bitter melon. Fiery and savory dan dan mian (noodles). You name it. We Chinese are famous for paying great attention to the color, smell, shape, and of course, the taste of our foods, which we regard as “the soul of Chinese cuisine.”

According to traditional Chinese medicine, the harmony of all five flavors can not only improve taste enjoyment, but also help you achieve balance to promote overall health. From numbing Sichuan spice and squeamishly sour Shanxi vinegar, to sweetly savory Hong Kong cuisine or salty northern preserves, it’s all about the flava. But don’t worry, you’ll always end up licking those chopsticks for sure — no matter how downright odd the dish name may sound.

11. How to battle hard to pay for the check.

There’s no such thing as going Dutch when you’re Chinese. When it comes to the bill, get ready for World War III.

12. Saying sorry and staying quiet

Whether you’re sorry or not really so sorry, apologizing seems to be second nature to meek and often-overlooked mice such as ourselves. Sad, but oh so true.

13. How to down bowls after bowls of hot steaming rice

Face it, you’re a naturally-born deep dish rice pot, and there’s no turning back.

14. How to secretly want to chew out your Tiger Mom

Mhm. It sounds pretty horrible, but the urge and struggle is definitely real. Deep down in your heart, though, you really do love, adore, and truly appreciate her — despite the constant poking, prodding, picking, and pestering. Sometimes, it just gets to be a little too much.

15. Drink. Tea.

Tea leaves, tea bags, green tea powder, or even Arizona Iced Tea. Face it, we Chinese love us some tea. Cold or hot, traditional or not, it seems to be the go-to-beverage for all. Probably because it has been for centuries.

16. How to stare in awe at those crazy large fish tanks in every crowded restaurant

Yes, my friends, the lobster, eel, and length-long catfish you are chomping on right now were just swimming around in those massive tanks a couple hours ago. Ouch.

17. How to expertly navigate the super crazy weekend crowds at 99 Ranch Market

What other choice do you have? It’s the only way to get your hands on any decent traditional Chinese goods.

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