thoughts on food, culture, and community

Archive for the month “August, 2013”

I was supposed to laugh: When flirtation crosses the line

Last week, my boyfriend Jon introduced me to an acquaintance. I had been seated at a restaurant during a Troegs event that Jon was hosting, but I quickly swiveled in my chair to extend my handshake. The man before me was over 60 and harmless with twinkly blue eyes and a long white goatee, and my hand touched his as Jon said, “And this is my girlfriend, Sylvia.”

“Not for long,” the man answered.

For a split second, confusion hovered in the air, but it was just long enough. Before I knew it, the man had snuggled his arm tightly around my shoulder as if to take me away.

His great, thundering laughter rang out as he removed his arm, and I found myself chuckling, just a bit. But when he stepped back, he eyed me up and down, and I looked away, doubly uncomfortable.

Later in the evening, the man approached our table to shake Jon’s hand and announce his departure, and he once again turned toward me.

“And you,” he said, pointing, “remember what I said.”

My instinct was again to laugh — a girly, flirtatious laugh — but there was nothing in his statement that I thought was funny.

“And you,” I said, “remember who I arrived with this evening.”

The man laughed again. “You might change your mind,” he said. “Who knows? Women always change their minds.”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “I’ve been with this one for a long time. I’ve made my choice.”

The man put up his arms in protest. “I’m just joking,” he said with a small whine, as if I wasn’t getting it. “It’s a compliment.”

“I know,” I said. “But I need you to know. I’ve. Made. My. Choice.”


Flirtation happens. It’s a fact. No matter where I’ve lived, there’s always been a handful of unexpected invitations that range from a stranger’s innocuous “You are gorgeous” to a “hey, baby, why not a smile?” as I streak past, red-faced and frizzy-haired on an afternoon run. The line between accepting a compliment as genuine and feeling threatened or misjudged by one is very thin, and the way I react in such a situation is even more complicated.

Usually, I answer with laughter. I think many women do. I’ve laughed when I’ve been propositioned in shady parts of France, laughed when I’ve been gestured over to a restaurant table to be handed a stranger’s honest compliment, laughed when a man announced the various things we’d do if he could take me to a nearby hotel. Laughter makes me feel pretty and inaccessible; laughter emphasizes my femininity, which I’m somehow glad someone else noticed; and laughter is, at times, just vague enough to cover up a response that I don’t even know how to think or say or give.

But why do I laugh if I don’t find a man’s words to be funny?

Because I’m female, I often feel that I am expected to accept a man’s words, even if the suggested actions the words represent are just that — harmless suggestions. If I am flirted with, whether comfortably or uncomfortably, it is most acceptable to accept the situation lightly and move on, no matter how positively or negatively it makes me feel.

Brooklyn artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh also knows this conflict of expectations well. Her street art project, “Stop Telling Women To Smile,” uses graffiti to affirm that women can and should stand up against words, words that, while not necessarily accompanied by physical assault, can be equally degrading. With captions like, “I’m not your baby,” she asserts that a woman has a right to set her own social boundaries, even if this is the right to refuse the so-called teasing or jokes of someone else.

In the situation above, the double standards were evident. I would never have told the man’s wife that I planned on stealing him, and it is highly unlikely that he would have made the statement if Jon had told him we were married.

But I am woman, and to be beautiful I was supposed to laugh. I felt it instinctively. The giggle had bubbled up my throat, and I had pushed it back down. But I refuse to laugh at words that symbolize a proposition that will not happen, even if the man never intended it to, and I refuse to allow someone else’s words to define me in a way that is contrary to the person I am.

All I had been trying to do was to even the playing field.

Living above the land down under: All about… New Zealand {a cultural project}

“All about…” is a series of culturally-driven posts by guest writers who have lived, worked, or studied in a culture different than that of central Pennsylvania. These essays are not comprehensive cultural guides; rather, their purpose is to expose misunderstandings, clarify stereotypes, and highlight the similarities between familiar and unfamiliar cultures.

This week’s post is written by my cousin Stephan Troost of the Netherlands. Stephan is currently studying human geography and urban/regional planning at Utrecht University in Holland. In the fall of 2012, he spent five months living and studying at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. His favorite memory of living above the land down under is hitch-hiking the South Island — a total of 2000 beautiful and exciting kilometers — and only paying $20 New Zealand dollars to do so.

Fall 2012

90-Mile Beach, Northland; Fall 2012

On beautiful countrysides. Some people call New Zealand heaven on earth. In terms of nature, I’d definitely agree — New Zealand is perfect. I’ve had experiences before where I’ve gone to places that are supposedly amazing but have ended up being a bit disappointing. However, in New Zealand, anytime someone told you that a certain place was great, it always was.

When you’re driving, especially on South Island, the landscape can change drastically in just ten minutes — going from golden beaches to high mountains, waterfalls, forests as thick as green walls, and everything in between. Because New Zealand is so far from everything, there’s an incredibly diversity of species that exist nowhere else.

Too many landscapes!

Kepler Track, Fjordland; Fall 2012.

Landscape love

Coromandel Peninsula; Fall 2013

The temperature is quite moderate — around 14 degrees Celsius in an Auckland winter. The countryside is extremely green because it rains regularly, and the weather changes just as drastically as the landscape. This happened especially in Auckland. One moment, there would be a really big rain shower, and the next minute, it would be sunny like crazy. We say in Holland that our weather’s always changing, but at least in Holland, we can mostly predict what’s going to happen next!

On cultural history and diversity. In my opinion, New Zealand was not heaven on earth when it came to the people, but that’s usual. People will be people. New Zealand was colonized by the British, so most people are still from European descent. However, a lot of people come from different Pacific islands or Asia — like China, Malaysia, or Thailand — to work. I found the different cultures very interesting, especially the colorful and exotic Pacific Islander culture, since it is so different from the culture I’m used to in the Netherlands. Some kiwis — that’s what New Zealanders call themselves because of the kiwi bird — struggle with the fact that immigration has been really high since the 1980s. There are only 4.5 million people on the island, and 45% of Auckland’s population is non-European.  In a few years, no ethnic group in Auckland will have the majority.

The indigenous people are called the Maori, and New Zealanders recognize the Maori as the original inhabitants of the country. An aspect of Maori culture that is often seen is an aggressive type of dance that they used to do to scare other tribes: the haka. It’s good for tourists, but it also shows that New Zealand has a really different history than just a British one.

Multicultural New Zealand

Multicultural New Zealand; Fall 2012

On government, food prices, and public transportation. In Auckland, people live close to one another, but large suburbs are also common, so having a car is a must. Like the States, public transportation is horrible in comparison to that of Europe.

Since New Zealand is so far from everything and everybody, I found the government to be really liberal and independent. In Europe, the news often focuses on events from all over the world, but New Zealand news was mostly about New Zealand, Australia, and random other world events.


Auckland, New Zealand; Fall 2012


The Waterfront, Auckland, New Zealand; Fall 2012

A lot of internationals go to New Zealand, so there are a ton of American fast food restaurants in New Zealand, like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, and Dominos. People are very active in New Zealand, but they eat a lot of fast food as well. Maybe it has to do with the fact that groceries are very expensive.

On its difference from Australia. New Zealand is not Australia. People think it’s simple to fly from Melborne to Sydney to Auckland, but a flight from Sydney to Auckland is still three and a half hours. Both countries have British influences so there are some similarities, but since they’re far apart, it’s more like how it would feel if Canada and the States were separated by 1300 miles. In New Zealand, rugby is the big sport, so a match between Australia and New Zealand is a big deal for Kiwis.

On accents. I found the New Zealand way of speaking English to be really funny. A lot of Americans are familiar with Australian and British accents, but a kiwi accent is different – kind of blend between British and Australian. In the US, if you would say, “I’m expecting somebody,” in New Zealand, you’d say, “I’m expicting somebody.” Find a Youtube clip of Prime Minister, John Key, and you’ll know what I mean.

In general, everyone was relaxed, friendly (“no worries, mate”), and real. They did not act like Americans who pretend to like someone just to be polite; they also didn’t act like Europeans who have to say everything they think. In the countryside, people just helped each other — that’s how I got to hitchhike so much. It’s common and safe there.

Culture-wise, I felt like New Zealand was rather British, but maybe it was more like a combination between the States and Europe. Or maybe it was just an even better combination than all that together.

Pork BBQ and pickled jalapenos, Kristy’s Whistle Stop, Enola, Pennsylvania

All About burger and Porky Pig fries, Whistle Stop, August 2013

All About burger and Porky Pig fries, Whistle Stop, August 2013

So I lost a bet on these two cleverly-named dishes at Kristy’s Whistle Stop, Enola.

But give me some credit. Both are slathered in pork BBQ and thrown with a handful of pickled jalapenos.

How was I supposed to remember that the Porky Pig was the one with the fries, the hot sauce, and the nacho cheese, and that the All-Aboard was a burger with the BBQ, the jalapenos, as well as the cole slaw and a giant, crisp onion ring?

The worst part about this photograph is the fact that I already wrote about Kristy’s Whistle Stop in 2010, and my own article confirms that it has been my mind, not the names “Porky Pig fries” and “All-Aboard burger,” that have undergone a transformation.

Maybe brain freeze from a giant mint Oreo hurricane — Kristy’s version of Dairy Queen’s blizzard, or McDonald’s McFlurry — will redeem my mental state.

Kristy’s Whistle Stop
600 S. Enola Rd
Routes 11 & 15
Enola, PA

(717) 909-3881

Monday-Saturday, 11am-9pm
Sundays, 12pm-8pm

The future we’d hardly hoped for: All about… Taiwan {a cultural project}

“All about…” is a series of culturally-driven posts by guest writers who have lived, worked, or studied in a culture different than that of central Pennsylvania. These essays are not comprehensive cultural guides; rather, their purpose is to expose misunderstandings, clarify stereotypes, and highlight the similarities between familiar and unfamiliar cultures.

Wan-Jiun (Paul) Chiou is a professor of finance at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. He specializes in portfolio management, international finance, financial institution management, and the impact of law environment on financial markets. He used to teach in several colleges in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Taiwan. Paul always enjoys being with young people and sharing ideas. He also likes to play games with his family. 

When some people first meet me and learn that I originally come from Taiwan, their first response is “I love Thai food!”

Oh, thanks. I love Thai food too. But you’re thinking of the wrong country!

Taiwan is located in southeastern Asia and is a group of islands off the southeastern coast of China bordering the East China Sea, the Philippine Sea, the South China Sea, and the Taiwan Strait. (Thailand, where Thai food is from, is a small country on the Indochina peninsula, bordered by Burma, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia.) Her size is about that of Maryland and Delaware combined.  Though the weather is mostly tropical, two-thirds of the country is mountainous, making Taiwan vary in its ecological environment. The highest mountain, Mount Jade (Yu Shan), is more than 13,000 feet high and is the highest mountain in East Asia.

Ken-ting National Park

Ken-ting National Park

Another question that I get often is “Is Taiwan part of China?”

The fact is: NO. If you want to visit Taiwan, the visa from China’s embassy will NOT work.  You need to go to a Taipei Cultural and Economic Office (TECO) for the visa.

What?  Why go to the “Taipei” office, but not the “Taiwan” one?  In addition, why is there no Taiwanese embassy in the United States?

This is a very complicated issue caused by powers like China, United States, Japan, and the rest of the world.  In the past, Taiwan was like a small leaf in large waters, pushed by waves from different directions. Now more and more Taiwanese people realize they need to fight for the better future that their ancestors hardly hoped was possible.

Currently the population of Taiwan is more than 23 million, similar to the size of California. The majority of Taiwanese (84%), mainly Holos and Hakkas,* are of mixed decedent, including aboriginals, Chinese immigrants, Europeans (primarily Dutch and Spanish), and Japanese. About 14% of them, including my family, are mainland Chinese who fled China after the Nationalist’s defeat in the Chinese Civil War in 1949. The 13 indigenous tribes—like the Native Indians in the U.S.— represent the remaining 2%.  In recent years, due to work and marriage, more and more new immigrants from China, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and the other countries are coming to join this big family.

Ang Lee (director of film “Life of Pi”)

Familiar Taiwanese-American Faces: Ang Lee (director of film “Life of Pi”)

Jeremy Lin (NBA Linsanity!)

Familiar Taiwanese-American Faces: Jeremy Lin (NBA Linsanity!)

Familiar Taiwanese Faces: Jerry Yang (co-founder and former CEO of Yahoo!)

Familiar Taiwanese-American Faces: Jerry Yang (co-founder and former CEO of Yahoo!)

In the 16th and 17th centuries, Taiwan, also known as Ilha Formosa (meaning “beautiful island in Spanish”), was the stepping stone for pirate groups and merchandisers from sailing from Japan, China, the Netherlands, Spain, and others. This island had been an independent kingdom until some troops from the Ming Empire occupied Taiwan for 30 years. After about 200 years of ineffective and corrupt ruling under the Qing Empire, Taiwan and surrounding islands were ceded in full sovereignty to the Empire of Japan in 1895. After the end of WWII in 1945, the US Navy ferried troops from the Republic of China (ROC) to Taiwan in order to accept the formal surrender of the Japanese military forces, but there was not an international treaty signed to settle the future of Taiwan. After being defeated in China’s civil war in 1949, the Chinese Nationalist Party ruled that the ROC would occupy Taiwan as a “base” to fight against the communists in mainland China. Therefore, believe or not, the official name of Taiwan is the Republic of China. Do not feel guilty; you are not the only one getting confused by the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People’s Republic of China (China).

After more than 38 years of being ruled under martial law and the dictatorship of the nationalists, the people of Taiwan started to fight for basic rights in mid 1980s.  In 1996, Taiwan held the first direct presidential election under the military threat of China. Now more and more people believe that Taiwan and China should be two different countries due to their differences in lifestyle, democracy, and freedom.

“Mr. Democracy,” Dr. Lee Teng-Hui, President of Taiwan 1988-2000

“Mr. Democracy,” Dr. Lee Teng-Hui, President of Taiwan 1988-2000

As China becomes more powerful, Taiwan is often pushed aside, occupying the place of an “international orphan.” She lost her seat in international organizations (including the UN) in 1970s, is being cut diplomatic relations with other countries (including the U.S.), etc. Today, there are only five countries in the world without diplomatic relations with the United States.  Does America want to continue to treat Taiwan like she treats other hostile countries like Iran, Cuba, or North Korea, just because of her relationship with China?

But visiting Taiwan is wonderful. I should add that you do not need to spend much money to easily enjoy Taiwan’s scenery and delicious cuisine.

Travel in Taiwan is generally convenient and safe. You only need to pay less than $35 to take a train or bus 200 miles from Taipei, the capital, to Kaohsiung, the second largest city in south. The old capital, Tainan, has much history, or you could visit the famous Ken-ting National Park in Pingtung. The eastern coast of Taiwan, Taidong and Hualien, also showcases the power and beauty of the gorgeous Pacific Ocean.  In Taipei, the National Palace Museum is a must for visitors. The exhibits there represent the finest artworks of China’s history.

The first official academy of Taiwan in Tainan

The first official academy of Taiwan in Tainan

Taiwan’s high speed train travels 200 miles per hour between the south and the north.

Taiwan’s high speed train travels 200 miles per hour between the south and the north.

The National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium in Ken-Ting National Park, Pingtung

The National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium in Ken-Ting National Park, Pingtung

One of the best reasons to visit Taiwan is to experience the core of Chinese culture that is preserved there.  Language is the best example. Though people in Taiwan and China share the same official spoken languages, the Taiwanese use traditional characters while the Chinese use simplified ones that were created during its Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 70s. In addition, the Taiwanese are also open to western culture and are always ready to embrace new ideas. In Taiwan, you certainly will not feel that you are a stranger!

Ma-chi (rice cakes) ready to eat!

Ma-chi (rice cakes) ready to eat!

No matter where you want to visit, you certainly need to visit the local night markets and try turkey rice bowls in Chai-Yi, Tainan dan zai noodles, Changhua ba-wan (meat sphere), oyster omelets, and other yummy yummies.

It’s not Thai food, but it will not disappoint!

Night markets are the best (but inexpensive) place to explore the delicious Taiwan!

Night markets are the best and most inexpensive place to explore the delicious cuisine of Taiwan!

* Holos are people who speak a dialect in southern Fujian in China. The language spoken by the Holos also is regarded as the Taiwanese language. The Hakkas were primarily from Guangdong in China and immigrated to Taiwan 200 years ago. Hakka means “guests” in Chinese and have a situation similar to that of the Jews in Europe. In 1990s, the leaders of the three Chinese countries — China (Deng Xiaopin), Taiwan (Lee Teng-Huie), and Singapore (Lee Kuan Yew) — were all Hokkaese.

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