It all happened so fast. When I wrote my satire of David Sedaris three months ago, I didn’t think anyone would read it. When it comes to writing for this blog, that’s usually a safe bet.
But this time something happened. From what I can piece together, Amy, an intern at Sinica, read it and sent it to Kaiser Kuo, who, among other things, writes the back-page column of the Beijinger. Kaiser put out an APB and got my e-mail from his cousin Arvin Chen, who was my TA in film school. Small world. Kaiser, who had been looking to step down as the back-page columnist, asked if I was interested in taking over the column and I almost shat myself before saying yes. After some back and forth with Jonathan White, the managing editor of the Beijinger, I was confirmed as the new back-page columnist on September 22.
My reaction? Yawn. Although some might object to the crass manner in which Mr. Sedaris points out certain facts about China, none of them are blatantly untrue. He has cherry-picked some of the more disgusting facts about China, but many of them are the very things that the Chinese deplore about their own society. I can’t recall off-hand any Chinese person who explicitly encourages blowing snot on the street—however widely it might be accepted.
Before I went to China, I made sure to know nothing about it. No books, no movies, not even the lottery numbers inside fortune cookies. The only thing I knew about China was that my rosewood end table and Zen-chic Roman shades were manufactured there. It was a conscious decision, because I wanted to hate the country and the people as much as possible, and I was afraid that if I weren’t completely ignorant going in, I might accidentally gain perspective and unwittingly feel empathy, which, let me tell you, isn’t very funny. So it was for humor that I endeavored to be as prejudiced and anal retentive as possible during my trip, to see how much of a spoiled dandy I could be if I really worked hard at it.
At first, I was tempted to rise above this all-too-obvious jibe at one of the world’s great cuisines, borne of one of the world’s once-great cultures. More than anything, I was bemused that anyone would be interested in David Sedaris’ views on food. It’s kind of like asking for Hemingway’s views on leather galoshes. Interesting? Maybe. Irrelevant? Most definitely.