Thursday, September 20, 2012

Gee, but It's Great to Be Back Home

It was announced this week that Chick-Fil-A will no longer donate money to groups that oppose same-sex marriage, a decision that in all likelihood grew out of a desire to expand into the lucrative Chicago market. I don't eat much in the way of fast food, and I don't live in the United States anymore, so this part is of no real interest to me.

What I find fascinating is the reaction of those who so vehemently supported Chick-Fil-A on Customer Appreciation Day, back when it first came to light that Chick-Fil-A was against gay marriage. A quick look at the Chick-Fil-A page on Facebook shows a lengthy trail of comments from people who are hurt, betrayed, and angered. "Goodbye, Chick-Fil-A," they say. "We thought you had principles."

Now, having principles is all well and good, but let's be realistic about this; when the CEO of Chick-Fil-A announced on radio that Chick-Fil-A supported traditional marriages and opposed non-traditional marriages, can anyone honestly tell me he wasn't going fishing? The amount of free publicity Chick-Fil-A got out of that one radio interview was easily two or three times their annual marketing budget. Customer Appreciation Day was the reward. Yes, all these hundreds of thousands of people were standing up as one, eating at Chick-Fil-A, and saying, with one voice, "We support your beliefs." For those people, the most important part of that sentence might be the bit about supporting beliefs, but for the CEO of Chick-Fil-A, the most important part is "eating at Chick-Fil-A." And, frankly, it should be

Chick-Fil-A reaped the benefits of its practices in a glorious, month-long frenzy of activity. And now, because no one's business ever closed because they stopped supporting something, they are doing the sensible thing, dropping their association with traditional marriage, and opening up branches in Chicago. And if a few of their southern branches do close? Rest assured that the profits from a Chicagoland Chick-Fil-A will far outstrip the lost earnings of a restaurant in rural Tennessee.

To the people who supported Chick-Fil-A on Customer Appreciation Day, who find themselves so hurt and betrayed now: Can you honestly tell me that before this became a national fad, you had any idea about what Chick-Fil-A did with its money? And can you honestly tell me you ate there because the company had the same values as you? No. You can't.

There's a good chance that Customer Appreciation Day was, and will remain, the only time any of you have actually done something to express your support of traditional marriage, and to voice your opposition to gay marriage. Which is fine. When I go to zoos, I put a quarter in the spinning drum to save the rainforest. We, as a people, like a convenient way to express our support. That's why the "Like" button is so successful as a cultural meme. One click lets me express my support in as generic and unthinking a way as possible. Just like ordering the #1 combo with slaw and a coke zero.

Many of you are complaining on Facebook, a company which has been very consistent in its support of Gay rights and equality. But that hasn't made the news yet. So I suppose, until it does, you can carry on with your new-found feelings of superiority towards Chick-Fil-A. You were in this together, you and those cows on the billboards, you and every person who works at a Chick-Fil-A. And now they all turned their backs on you. How dare they stop believing in something they originally believed in for the sake of a dollar just for the sake of a dollar?

The nerve of some people. Honestly.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The China Diaries: Who's Your Caterer?

Coming home from work one night, my roommate and I noticed a tent being set up on the sidewalk opposite our house. This, in and of itself, was not unusual. The Chinese approach to zoning laws and permits is noticeably lax in comparison with any Western country, and I get the impression you can put whatever you want up wherever and whenever you'd like.

The next morning, I could hear celebratory music coming up from around the tent. Mitchell and I looked out, and it was full of people. I've lived in China for a year, and, despite having bought a camera explicitly for the purposes of taking pictures in China, I haven't taken all that many. I don't find that much to photograph in Xi'an, which is equal parts failing on my part and on the part of the city. This seemed to provide the perfect opportunity to take some. I threw on an undershirt and some shorts, popped on my flip-flops, and went with Mitchell to look around.

It looked like a wonderful party. There were around 35 people sitting at tables, eating some lovely food (Photos of said food can be found at the bottom of the post). Everyone was chatting and having a good time. Being so obviously foreign in a country is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you have the occasional xenophobe, but on the other, much more full hand, you do get granted a sort of celebrity status. We often get stares when we go places, and we're always offered drinks by Chinese people, held in sway by our pale brilliance.

And this was *before* we got close enough to be in their way.
It gives you liberties, is the thing. We walked into a celebration we didn't know anything about, were allowed to walk around taking pictures of the people and their food, and generally be in the way, without raising much more than an "Oh, those crazy foreigners, at it again." And since this festival looked pretty open, we decided to order some food. There was a dish with green peppers and chicken that looked particularly good. To the left, you can see it in mid-wok.

They didn't blink an eye, and within a few moments they had scrounged up three stools for us to use, one as a table and two for the typical use, and served us. The good was delicious. They tried to give us beer, but it was a work day, so we bought some sodas from the convenience store.

About two minutes after we started eating, a young man came up to us and asked, in English, if there was anything he could help us with. We smiled and said that everything was wonderful, but he didn't walk away. After a few seconds, he said, "You are eating our lunch."

"Oh, is this your lunch?"

"Um, yes," he said. "This is my grandfather's funeral."

Well, then. This all seems... chipper.

We apologized, telling him we had no idea it was a funeral. "We heard this wonderful, happy music and saw all these people, and decided to come check it out. Then all the food looked so good and everyone was having such a good time, and when we ordered they didn't act like it was a problem or anything." It's very difficult, trying to apologize profusely while simultaneously continuing to eat the food. I addressed this by letting Mitchell do the apologising while I did the eating.

It's hard to say if he was offended, ultimately. He told us about some aspects of Chinese culture, that funerals in China are a happy affair when the person has lived a long life, and he told us about the black band he was wearing. To be fair to us, most of the people weren't wearing black bands; I would have noticed that and worked out that we were funeral crashing. I did an excellent job, while he talked about the band, of not saying "Oh! Yes! That's how the Pandas got their black spots! I learned about that in grade school!" I was proud of my discretion.

I compared the crowd of people at this celebration to the people at my own grandfather's funeral. The West is known for having a particularly dour relationship with death. We don't go into mourning for forty days, or anything so extreme as that, but we certainly do tend to focus on the negative aspects. Instead of celebrating what has been achieved, we tend to be sad just to be sad. And that's normal enough. It's even healthy. I love a good cry as much as the next girl. But I think the Chinese might be on to something here. I may not ask that my funeral be held in a tent, but, God damnit, there's going to be some good food.