Today is Independence Day in the United States, sometimes known simply as “The Fourth of July,” or simply “The Fourth.” With apologies to my British readers (not really), it is the day we commemorate telling the King of England to “scram!” Or, as the Chinese might say, “Liberation!”
I know that most July Fourth activities are best done outside — grilling, picnicking, boating, blowing things up — but if you should find your celebrations rained out and are looking for something to do inside, I’d like to recommend this fantastic PBS series called Liberty! The American Revolution. Here’s the blurb:
LIBERTY! The American Revolution is a dramatic documentary about the birth of the American Republic and the struggle of a loosely connected group of states to become a nation. The George Foster Peabody award-winning series brings the people, events, and ideas of the revolution to life through dramatic reenactments performed by a distinguished cast. LIBERTY! is hosted by ABC news anchor Forrest Sawyer and narrated by Edward Herrmann.
On July 3, John Adams, who of course features prominently in the documentary, wrote to his wife Abigail describing his thoughts and emotions following the Continental Congress’ approval of the resolution calling for independence from Great Britain the day before:
The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.—I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. (source: Founders Online, National Archives)
May you have a wonderful day of Pomp, Parades, Shows, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires ,and Illuminations.
The New York Times recently published a fascinating article about the influx of Chinese immigrants into Brooklyn and the growth of new “Chinatown” enclaves all over the borough.
It’s a wonderful depiction of the ebb and flow of immigrant communities in the city:
Just before 5 p.m., wave after wave of smiling toddlers came bounding down the stairs, their grandparents from China breathlessly in tow.
The parents soon arrived, weary from their jobs as postal carriers, police officers, restaurant owners and financial analysts. They whisked their children, fresh from lessons in math, Chinese and Spanish, into sport utility vehicles for the short trip home.
Such is the intergenerational tableau at IP Kids, a Montessori school that opened three years ago at the meeting point of Bensonhurst and Gravesend — long a hub of immigration in Brooklyn. Here, down the block from L&B Spumoni Gardens, the aging fixture of a once Italian neighborhood, and under the elevated train tracks, New York is transforming again.
With Chinese immigrants now the second largest foreign-born group in the city and soon to overtake Dominicans for the top spot, they are reshaping neighborhoods far beyond their traditional enclaves.
Nowhere is the rapid growth of the city’s Chinese population more pronounced than in Brooklyn.
As the sidewalks on Eighth Avenue overflow with new arrivals in Sunset Park, Brooklyn’s first Chinatown, and grocery stores proliferate along 86th Street in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn’s second Chinatown, immigrants have been pushing southeast toward the ocean. The newcomers have created satellite Chinatowns in neighborhoods that have long been enclaves for European immigrants: Bay Ridge, Borough Park, Coney Island, Dyker Heights, Gravesend, Homecrest and Marine Park.
Even though I have spent the better part of my life as an expat, I still love the patriotic American holidays and am unable to sing the national anthem without choking up.
Last week a friend and colleague from Southeast Asia and I were walking around one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. We got to talking about how, even though we love the countries that we have worked in (China, Laos, and Myanmar), we also love our home country, the United States. In fact, as a result of living overseas for so many years, there may be things we appreciate about this place that we wouldn’t otherwise.
So on this Fourth of July, here are 8 things that I really appreciate about the United States:
1. The clean air. We have virtually no pollution in the Twin Cities, something that I greatly appreciate after living so long in Beijing.
2. The traffic. When I lived in Beijing I always figured that it would take me at least one hour to get anywhere. In the Twin Cities, everything is 20 minutes away (at least inside the 694/494 loop). I spent the first several months back in town being 40 minutes early to everything, and when my friends or family fuss about the traffic here I laugh at them with derision.
3. Public libraries. Since most of my work is of the free-lance variety, I spend a lot of my time working in the local public library. I love that I can spend the day there working, and can even bring my lunch!
4. Public toilets. Ok, this may sound strange, but I LOVE the fact that I can go anywhere and find a clean public toilet!
5. Public parks. I love the fact that the seemingly thousands of parks are open to the public for free and are well kept. No walls, gates, or ticket sellers.
6. The interstate system. A fantastic way to get around a beautiful country.
7. The National Park system. 22 down, 27 to go!
8. Our political system. Yes, I like our political system. It’s chaotic and messy and inefficient, but it still provides levels of liberty and freedom and opportunity that are unimaginable in most places. I’m definitely with Winston Churchill on this one: “It is said that democracy is the worst form of government except all others that have been tried.”
This morning, as I was headed across town on the subway for a lunch meeting, I was reading my Kindle version of the book “Democracy in America,’” by Alexis de Tocqueville. Although written in the 1830’s, his descriptions of the United States and the character of its people and institutions remain strangely relevant and accurate in the 21st century.
The section I was reading today was on American presidential elections, and I found myself laughing out loud at his description:
“The epoch of the election of a President of the United States may be considered a crisis in the affairs of the nation. The influence which he exercises on public business is no doubt feeble and indirect; but the choice of a President, which is of small importance to the citizens individually, concerns the citizens collectively; and however trifling an interest may be, it assumes a great degree of importance as soon as it becomes general….”
“For a long while before the appointed time is at hand the election becomes the most important and the all-engrossing topic of discussion. The ardor of faction is redoubled; and all the artificial passions which the imagination can create in the bosom of a happy and peaceful land are agitated and brought to light. The President, on the other hand, is absorbed by the cares of self-defence. He no longer governs for the interest of the State, but for that of his re-election; he does homage to the majority, and instead of checking its passions, as his duty commands him to do, he frequently courts its worst caprices.
As the election draws near, the activity of intrigue and agitation of the populace increase; the citizens are divided into hostile camps, each of which assumes the name of its favorite candidate; the whole nation glows with feverish excitement; the election is the daily item of the public papers, the subject of private conversation, the end of every thought and every action, the sole interest of the present. As soon as the choice is determined, this ardor is dispelled; and as a calmer season returns, the current of the State, which had nearly broken its banks, sinks to its usual level.”
It seems that if de Tocqueville were to show up in the United States today he’d marvel at how little has changed since he wrote that. The intrigue and agitation are nothing new!
China is coming up to a major leadership change as well, but the intrigue and agitation are all taking place behind closed doors…..or should I say behind a red wall in the center of Beijing. When a decision has been made, it will be announced.
As far as the American election goes, despite the fuss, I’m grateful for the right to participate. I’ve requested my absentee ballot, and am thrilled that, “as the election draws near,” I’m on the other side of the world, where I do not have to actually hear the voice of either candidate or of a journalist reporting on a candidate.
If you have ever done a road trip across the US, or even in one particular region of the country, you will no doubt have noticed that, no matter how small or remote a town may be, it will always have a Chinese restaurant. This seems to be true, whether you are in a village in the wilderness of Maine or a one-horse town in Nebraska.
Many years ago I took a road trip from Minnesota to Yellowstone National Park with some Singaporean friends. After a couple of days on the road, eating burgers and sandwiches, by the time we reached Cody, Wyoming, they were in serious need of rice. I thought the chances of finding a Chinese restaurant in Cody were small, but lo-and-behold, there was one. My friends were thrilled, even if the food wasn’t that great.
Ranking the 10 best Chinese restaurants in the United States is fairly easy for me. It’s something I’ve often thought about, though I have never put pen to paper. However, I feel as though I must provide an explanation first, since I suspect the result is not what you might expect.
As you see, all 10 of the restaurants I listed are in California, most of them are in the Los Angeles area, and most of them serve Hong Kong style food. That might lead one to believe that I am biased towards restaurants in the city that I live that serve a particular cuisine.
Obviously no Panda Express or Leann Chin.
But it did get me wondering which Chinese restaurants in the Twin Cities would be on a “best” list?
My personal favorite is Hong Kong Noodles, in the Stadium Village area near the University of Minnesota. To be honest with you, it’s pretty much the only Chinese restaurant I will go to when I am in town. It’s small and crowded and noisy (which makes it very authentic), and they’ve got great Hong Kong style dishes that are actually difficult for me to find in Beijing.
I am sure that we will cross at least one river, and we’ll definitely be driving through some woods on our way to Lutsen this morning. My nieces are scattered around the country (Edinburg, TX; Hollywood, CA; Juneau, AK), so neither my mom, sister, nor I had much interest in putting on a big Thanksgiving Dinner.
So we’re going to Lutsen Resort, on the north shore of Lake Superior. We’ve rented a condo and made reservations for the Thanksgiving Buffet at the lodge so we’re good to go. If you were hanging around this blog 4 years ago, you may remember that Lutsen is the sight of the infamous blizzard wedding of Pierre and Kari. (my niece).
In case you missed it, and in honor of the happy couple who now live in Juneau, Alaska, here is a reprise of the blog:
“THIS IS INSANE”
I could be wrong, but unless you were one of a small group of people who attended my niece’s wedding last weekend, you have probably never heard a bride utter those words into a microphone just before reciting her vows. Don’t worry. It wasn’t a reference to those upcoming vows, but most likely was a reference to the fact that we were all standing outside along the shores of Lake Superior in a blinding snowstorm.
We Minnesotans spend most of our winter existence walking a fine line between being hardy and insane. I guess at that moment my niece surmised that we had all crossed the line into insanity, never mind the fact that she and the groom were leading the way. Her statement notwithstanding, however, the consensus among the guests was that it was the most fun wedding. Ever. It wouldn’t surprise me if the headlines in the local newspaper read “Beach Wedding in a Blizzard.” When it was all over, there was a foot of new snow on the ground and a happily married couple. And, as far as I know, no one caught pneumonia, which is a good thing as well.
To say that the wedding of Kari and Pierre was unconventional would be an understatement. But then again Kari has never done anything conventional in her life, so there was no reason to expect that her wedding would suddenly be conventional. To start with, neither of them like to be the center of attention, so the thought of the typical American “princess for a day” wedding was out of the question. They wanted something that would be fun — for their friends, not just them, and something that would allow all of us to get in touch with our inner Minnesotans. The logical place then was outside, and in Minnesota, “outside” doesn’t get any better than the north shore of Lake Superior, that greatest of Great Lakes. And along The North Shore there is no finer establishment than Lutsen Lodge, a historic resort nestled in a cove where the Poplar River runs into the Lake. Never mind that the date was December 1.
The weekend wedding festivities began on Thursday night, with Pierre’s father preparing a home-cooked Lebanese meal for the families and the other early birds who had arrived. Stuffed zuchini, pita, bakhlava—all in the heart of lutefisk country! Friday was a day for “playing” (as the Chinese would say). Some folks went to Sven and Olie’s Pizza in Grand Marais, some played hockey, and others just enjoyed the beauty of the shore. Friday evening, the guests convened again for dinner at a restaurant at Lutsen Mountain. Another unconventional aspect to this wedding was that there were no groomsmen or bridesmaids (they didn’t want friends to have to spend money buying outfits they would never wear again). And since it was to be a short ceremony outside, there really wasn’t anything to rehearse, so instead of this being a rehearsal dinner for members of the wedding party, it was a groom’s dinner for everyone. Pizza, buffalo wings, and dart-games were the order of the evening.
The wedding announcements had stated that the ceremony would be held outside “weather permitting.” If weather didn’t permit, then it would be held in a conference room in the lodge. Saturday morning we awoke to news of a major snowstorm headed our way. A big one. A “ten-incher.” Would this be the impermissible weather that forced us indoors? Not likely….that would be far too conventional for this couple. By noon the snow was flying. By 3pm, it was flying horizontally….off the lake! Never mind. At 3:30 all the guests gathered down on the shoreline, sipping coffee and hot chocolate. Then Kari and her dad walked down from the lodge. I probably don’t need to add here that the ceremony was short, and as soon as it was over we all fled back to the lodge for a wonderful sit-down dinner. I think one thing is clear—this wedding has forever raised the bar on what is meant by “weather permitting.”
After dinner, the plan was to gather around a bonfire on the beach. But there was this little problem of a raging blizzard. Could one actually start a bonfire in a blizzard, and if so, would anyone in their right mind actually go out and enjoy it. Well, we learned that the answers to both questions for this group were a resounding YES. It wasn’t easy, but eventually Ken became the hero of the weekend and got the fire going. The bride and groom changed back into their ice-fishing clothes and joined the party by the fire, singing and dancing to Johnny Cash tunes (Pierre had driven his truck down to the beach) late into the night.
The next morning we bad the bride and groom farewell as they headed off on their honeymoon….to Ely, Minnesota! The rest of the family loaded up the vans and cars and headed back to the Cities, still chuckling about the beach wedding in a blizzard!
Not surprising for a couple who were married in a blizzard on the beach, Kari and Pierre spent last winter homesteading in Alaska, on the edge of the Aluetian Islands. You can read about their adventures ontheir blog North to Alaska. Now they are living in Juneau, and they blog at Whaleburps. Click on over and check it out.