Thursday, February 15, 2024

China Star, bad inspections, and weird poetry.

Signage went up on the door to China Star in Greenfield on Valentine's Day, alerting consumers of a closure by the county health department on the 14th due to a shocking amount of food safety violations. Restaurants have occupied the space for decades, dating back to the Yangtze Restaurant in 1984, Dragon Palace in 1987, Yen's Gourmet in the early 1990s, and finally China Star sometime in the late 00s. New ownership took over in 2021, which seems to correspond to decreasing food safety and increasingly bad reviews.

Before its decline it had decent Americanized Chinese food as an alternative to the spicier, more authentic menus at Chengdu Gourmet, Sichuan Gourmet, and How Lee, among others, about a mile down the road. It also occupied space in my head through its setting in a newspaper poem in 2013. On February 9, 2013, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published "Learn to Speak Chinese" by Walt Peterson to mark the start of the Lunar New Year holiday.
In the year of the Dragon,
go to the China Star Restaurant
near the far end of Murray.
The waitress is beautiful
with warm ways.

Eschew the General Tso's
in favor of Peking duck.
She is slight with straight black hair.
Say to her,

"I am a sheep, elegant and creative.
You must be a snake, with your beauty."
(Ignore the stuff on the placemat
about the vanity and temper of the snake, for now.)

Tell her you are shy and prefer anonymity.
Say your number is 27
though it really is 21.
Say, zao can. That means "breakfast."
Tell her, Wo ai ni.

Above the plastic bricks
of the phony arch to the kitchen
LONG the Great Chinese Dragon
will roll his eyes.
Do not make eye contact.
Through the smell of sandalwood
and kerosene, you have just told her you love her.

She will say, "I'm sorry, Sir,
I grew up here in Greenfield,
attended Sant Rosalia's School.
I don't understand you."

Reply, Killing time voids opportunities.
The poem created a small amount of controversy online, diminished because fewer and fewer people actually read the newspaper and because, especially in 2013, working to combat anti-Asian rhetoric was not a thing. It also attracted a few letters printed in the Post-Gaette, a forum since replaced by Facebook and Nextdoor among certain demographics. One letter by Robert Park of Greenfield on February 16 condemned "the poem's reinforcement of trite Asian stereotypes" while another by local poet Michael Wurster on February 28 who likened the poem's speaker to Archie Bunker, "a clueless man in a changing world," and encouraged Park to review "the Shakespeare comedies or their Chinese equivalent for further elucidation." Peterson's poem does clumsily attempt satire of the fetishization of Asian-Americans, or misguided customers who confuse any piece of realia as a cultural touchtone, though it was especially bizarre in its selection as the lone observance of the Lunar New Year. The holiday should not be off limits to non-Asian poets, as Park suggested in his letter, but there should be better tributes than fan fiction about hitting on waitresses and close reading generic menus.

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