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[AC Logo] Christmas at the Chans
Every year, I got money from "Santa" in a Chinese red packet. Most years, it was twenty bucks. A few times, I got fifty. Once, I had an I.O.U. ...
-- Marty Chan, Chinacity Humour

For many years, Christmas at my parents' place was a Holiday Hell.

We had one Christmas album which played day and night. A Very Disco Christmas featured the Bee Gees singing "Silver Bells," the Village People belting out "Silent Night" and the Doberman Pinscher Choir yapping "Jingle Bells."

Back in the Seventies, my parents hadn't a clue about the holiday season. They were fresh off the sleigh, but they tried to get into the spirit of the season.

While our neighbours trimmed their trees, dad screwed together a Zeller's Everlast Tree Facsimile. Instead of tinsel and Christmas ornaments, he hung shredded Chinese newspapers and Oriental pin cushions.

Mom fared little better. Speaking next-to-no English, she accidentally strayed from Julia Child's recipe for Christmas cookies. As a result, our family nibbled on ginger root men.

However, her Christmas dinner hit a little nearer to the mark. It wasn't turkey, but it was close: Peking Duck, and you don't want to know what it was stuffed with.

Dear old deluded mom and pop thought they were celebrating a "White" Christmas. They even tried to drag me into their charade.

On Christmas Eve, mom would lay out milk and a huge plate of ginger root men for Santa. Dad tied one of his dress socks to the front door knob -- we had no chimney. Then dad gave mom a knowing wink as he rushed me up to bed, so that I wouldn't catch the fat man in the act.

Rushing me to bed early served another purpose.

Every year, the Ders, Ongs, Lees and all of dad's other buddies would converge on our house with their menthol cigarettes and Mah Jong tiles. Dad would crack open his private stock of Crown Royal and then they'd all settle down to a good old-fashioned Chinese Christmas.

The next morning, I could tell how well "Santa" did at the Mah Jong table simply by looking in my argyll "stocking." Every year, I got money from "Santa" in a Chinese red packet. Most years, it was twenty bucks. A few times, I got fifty. Once, I had an I.O.U..

Of course, now Christmas is a little more "White" and a little less weird, thanks to the video I gave mom and pop: "Christmas For The Holiday Impaired." However, some traditions die hard. We still listen to yapping "Jingle Bells" and I still nibble on the odd ginger root man.

Marty Chan is a playwright and freelance writer in Edmonton.

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[AC Logo] No Eggrolls Here
For you non-Chinese readers, don't believe the waiter when he tells you the writing means "Good health and fortune." It really says, "Remember to put fortune cookies at this table."
-- Marty Chan, Chinacity Humour

Newsflash! Chinese food is bad for your heart. Last month, government-sponsored experts concluded that Oriental cuisine can kill.

After hearing that report, I strapped myself to the nearest heart monitor and made a list of "no-no" food. It included all of my mother's cooking, even spaghetti, but that's because she makes it with chicken hearts instead of meatballs.

Looking at my 33 page list, I foolishly hoped that maybe some food would be safe -- dishes like oyster omelettes or stewed chicken feet. Doubting the experts, I took a closer look at their report. To my surprise, they listed none of the foods on my list.

Kung Pao Chicken. Eggrolls. Mu Shu Pork. Egg Foo Yong. Which China did this food come from?

Then it hit me. These experts must be caucasian. Their Chinese food experience must have come from the traditional dinner for one, two, or more, menus. They must have rated western Chinese food -- now there's an oxymoron -- as hazardous to diners' health.

Anyone who has frequented a traditional Chinese restaurant -- and no, the Foody Goody doesn't count -- will have noticed the class distinction between lo fan and Chinese eaters.

First, the seating arrangements. Non-Chinese diners are strategically seated near the walls, away from the centre of the restaurant. They are left outside the main action of cuisine, but they have the pleasure of looking at rice paper paintings of Chinese writing, pagodas and tigers. For you non-Chinese readers, don't believe the waiter when he tells you the writing means "Good health and fortune." It really says, "Remember to put fortune cookies at this table."

Second, the table settings. You can immediately tell which table is set for Chinese eaters. It is the one with chopsticks and soya sauce. For non-Asians, the table is set with forks, knives, salt and pepper. Also, it is the one with the lime green placemat that outlines the astrological Chinese calendar and describes the personalities of oxen, roosters and rats.

Finally, and most importantly, is the menu. There are two menus in every Chinese restaurant. One is written in English, the other in Chinese. The English one offers a selection of Mu Shu Pork, Kung Pao Chicken and all the other heart-stopping dishes listed in the experts' report. The Chinese one offers an exotic and healthy feast of Chinese delicacies from steamed clams to a tofu hot pot. And no, there are no eggrolls on this menu.

Marty Chan is a playwright and freelance writer in Edmonton.

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[AC Logo] Noodle Wars
By Marty Chan, Chinacity Humour

Perestroika may have melted the cold war, but it will take a double-pot boiler to soften the impending noodle Armageddon between Italy and China.

In anticipation of the last, big cook-off, both factions have been stockpiling stickier, faster-cooking, and better-tasting pastas. Chinese chefs, for example, designed the trim and tasty chow mein noodle to counter those delicious slinky spaghetti strands from Italy. Fat chow fun noodles invaded restaurants shortly after lasagna conquered diners' tastebuds.

These noodles are weapons in a war that has been waged over the last 800 years.

Tensions have not gone limp since that fateful event in the twelfth century when Marco Polo pilfered pasta from under Kublai Khan's nose.

Khan should have fortified the gates when he spotted Polo marching toward the Forbidden City. But, instead, he invited the noodle nabber to dinner.

The grandson of Genghis Khan should have suspected the thin Italian when he asked for a second helping, even though other dinner guests were still working on their first. But he assumed his guest had a hollow leg.

When Marco bade farewell, his Mongol host should have said something about the bulge in his pocket. But Khan thought he was merely happy to go home.

Imagine if Khan had taken Polo prisoner. Instead of cracking open a tin of Chef Boyardee's spaghetti and meatballs, hungry kids could be digging into a can of Chef Hu-Wan-Chu's chow mein and fishballs. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese might be Wong's Macaroni and Tripe.

Chinese menus would be armed with a battery of combinations, like Fettucini Alfredo with Szechuan Beef, or linguini and egg rolls.

But, of course, all this is just wishful thinking. The time when Chinese and Italian pastas might have boiled peacefully in the same pot has since passed.

Even today, following in the footsteps of Marco Polo, Italian intelligence agents infiltrate Chinatowns across the world. Look at the heart of any Chinatown and somewhere you will find an innocent-looking Italian shop. In San Francisco, it is a "dry goods store". In New York, it is a "clothing outlet". In Edmonton, it is a "bakery".

But don't let appearances fool you. Connected by the same strand of pasta, these shops serve as fronts for pasta spies to keep surveillance on the latest Chinese noodle developments.

Look closely at these "mom and pop" operations, and you will see dozens of antennae poking out of the roofs. Peer into the back rooms, and you'll discover the laboratories where Italian scientists are digging through hundreds of Chinese take-out cartons.

All this international intrigue is a key ingredient of the simmering pasta war. It has helped to keep the heat turned high on the diplomatic stoves of these two countries. We can only hope that some day pasta will be used as a food of peace, not as a weapon of war. Until that day, as the great pacifist, John Lennon, said, "Give peace and pasta a chance."

Marty Chan is a playwright and freelance writer in Edmonton.

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