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Home: The Toast

1. The Un-enthusiast 

You are not depressed, you don’t think. You still delight in the little pleasures, like free samples, casual Fridays, and sometimes dinner. You order with resignation from a lazy memory. “I’ll have the, um, General Go’s Chicken. The thing with the broccoli,” you sigh into the phone. If asked, “Do you mean the General Tso’s Chicken?” you respond, “Whatever.” You have just finished a long day of copying text from one Word document into another Word document and trawling the internet for videos of pitbulls falling down stairs. You have no patience for being corrected and no interest in the nuances of Chinese pronunciation. You barely care what you’re ordering – isn’t it all, in some sense, deep fried chicken smothered with sweet and sour sauce on a bed of broccoli? – much less how it is pronounced. Next time, you will again try to order the “General Go’s Chicken.” 

Soulmates: Teenager; Grad Student

2. The Priss

You think of yourself as easy-going with a good sense of humor but you don’t understand the appeal of beer or Seth Rogan movies. You, too, have just completed a grueling workday at your computer, except you finished your copying and pasting within twenty-five minutes of getting to the office, and spent the other seven hours jotting down Pinterest ideas on how to refurbish your medicine cabinet. Even though you are skeptical of most Asian ingredients, you agreed to Chinese food because your date suggested it, and you did not want to seem too high maintenance. You order the General Tso’s Chicken with all white meat, steamed, no M.S.G., no soy sauce, and no corn starch. You repeat your order two or even three times because the stakes are high. You believe you have identified the only edible items on the menu and that if you allow any miscommunication to occur, you might open your take-out box to find a severed human head seasoned with oriental carcinogens. You want your order read back and you wait on the line for a total. “Thank you,” you say as you hang up. “And no M.S.G.”  

Soulmates: China-Backhand; Sushi Babe

3. The China-Hand

You love Travel in an unqualified way. The most adventurous of the bunch, you savor every minute of the ordering process, injecting snippets of personal, China-related information after each item. “Nee-how. I’ll have the Peking Duck.” Your brother has just been transferred to UBS’s Hong Kong office, and your family recently bought tickets to visit over Christmas. “And the morning glory stir-fried with garlic.” You are starting a Mandarin class in the fall. “And then can you recommend a tofu dish?” You saw a fascinating special about tofu fermentation on the History Channel last week. “Oh, just give me anything. Whatever you think I’ll like. I won’t even ask what it is.” You secretly hope for a carcinogen-laced head. You bring a thermos for hot tea when you pick up your order, and ask for extra chopsticks. 

Soulmates: Grad Student; Sushi Babe

4. The China-Backhand

Your worst fear is having the wool pulled over your eyes. Like the China-hand, you have some familiarity with Chinese culture. You work with an Asian-American colleague and have frequented a handful of Chinatowns throughout the country. You may have even been to Vancouver. Interactions with the Chinese, however, have left you vaguely suspicious. You order the baby bok choy, off-menu. “I know you usually make it with shiitake mushrooms,” you say discerningly, “I’d like it without the mushrooms.” You are a vigilant reader of your local newspaper’s international section. You follow all the stories about contaminated milk in Beijing, lead toys in Chongqing, avian flu in Shanghai. During these periods of crisis in the East, you will avoid the restaurant entirely on the off-chance that the kitchen imports its dairy and poultry products from the affected areas 10,000 miles away. You will return when the U.S. State Department website announces that it is again safe for American tourists to visit China.  

Soulmates: Priss; Sushi Babe

5. The Teenager

You feel like you could accomplish great things if people would just give you a chance. You are currently reading Dostoevsky. You arrive in person with several friends who all shuffle up to the front for menus. The group immediately retreats outside. Ordering this meal is the most responsibility you have ever had. After half an hour of deliberation, you approach the take-out counter once more, the smell of menthols still lingering on your hoodie. You will have five mixed-appetizer platters. When you make a special request, your voice is humble, shakey. “And would it maybe be okay to have more chicken fingers instead of the, um, fried shrimp? Sorry.” When it is time to pay, money comes tumbling out your pocket in arbitrary quantities: first a 5, then a 20, a 10, then two more 5s, another 10, and finally, dimes. 

Soulmates: Un-enthusiast; Grad student

6. The Grad Student

You match the teenager in profile, except you do not arrive with friends, and are ordering five mixed-appetizer platters for, one presumes, the week. 

Soulmates: Teenager; Un-enthusiast

7. The Sushi Babe

You believe that happiness is the result of adequately loving yourself. Strangers are often doing things for you like holding open elevator doors, letting you cut in line, or offering you a light. Except you don’t smoke. You are apt to describe food items as “cute,” which is why you prefer your seafood to be sculpted into rice-based petit-fours. But you cannot possibly fathom, with your fun yoga pants and your beach-ready bod, the history of rancor that exists between China and Japan. It is not exactly your fault that the forces of capitalism have driven so many Chinese restaurants to serve terrible sushi, the culinary staple of their ancient foe. Of course, you do not deserve to be met with such wilful ignorance when you ask whether the tekka-maki is an inside-out roll, nor with such disbelief when you order gyoza instead of the pan-fried dumplings. But by choosing the bento box option, you are only fueling your server’s insecurity that her cuisine is the Danny DeVito to sushi’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now you know. 

Soulmates: Priss; China-Backhand

8. The One

You’re a dreamer with a stable income. You call from an inside space sheltered from weather and traffic noises, where reception is flawless. You say “Hello” before starting to order the chicken with broccoli, but then pause mid-sentence, and ask, “Actually, do you have any favorites?” Upon recommendation, you choose the spicy bamboo shoots with a side of dan dan noodles. You run about five minutes early, but insist that there is no rush. You pay with exact change and then stand off to the side, allowing other customers to ingress and egress. When the food is ready, you open the bag and fish out the fortune cookie, which you eat on the spot. You ask for help pronouncing the Chinese characters on the back of the fortune. The pronunciation is way off. You laugh, blush, try again. Before turning away for the door, you take another menu from the counter. For next time.     

Soulmates: Chinese restaurant employees

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Xiaoqi Chu is a writer based in New York.

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