Life & Leisure

The Asian connection

Is it politically incorrect for a Filipino to like Korean and Chinese food?

I’ve never denied it — I like Chinese food and I can live on Chinese dishes three hundred and sixty five days a year. I don’t deny either that I’ve learned to love other Asian cuisines especially Thai and Japanese food and even including Korean cuisine. What I didn’t count on was people adding political color to my eating and cooking preferences.

I have a few Korean recipes on my food blog and there was this angry email about why I was supporting the Koreans when they are taking over the Philippines. It was a long email about how Koreans are taking over residential areas, including blocks of units in condominium buildings, and schools, and about how they have put up businesses to the detriment of Filipino entrepreneurs.

First of all, I don’t see how liking Korean food can be made out to sound unpatriotic. While I note the growing number of Koreans in the Philippines, I don’t really have strong feelings for or against the diaspora. They bring in money which is a boost to the economy yet I haven’t heard of the crime rate rising because of them. There is a rather large Korean community in Antipolo, I have encountered Koreans in the supermarket many times, and they are polite, neat and well-behaved. And they respect queues. Which is really more than I can say about Filipinos who allow their toddlers to run — screaming and wailing — around the supermarket as though it were a public playground. Honestly. So unless schools and employers start setting quotas in favor of Koreans, to the detriment of Filipino students and workers, I’m not going to get alarmed nor feel threatened.

I don’t understand the resentment, really. We’re promoting our country to lure visitors to come, we represent ourselves as a hospitable and generous people, and when they do come and like what they find and they decide to stay, we get alarmed and want them to leave. Why? Do we just want them to come here and spend their money then leave so we don’t have to deal with them beyond a superficial level?

In contrast, why, oh why, aren’t there violent objections about Americans and Europeans buying up beachfront properties and building expensive resorts, shutting out poor Filipinos who are better entitled to enjoy the natural resources of this country? Why are they more acceptable? Why are they perceived as less threatening?

And what about the reverse situation? Many wealthy Filipino families send their children abroad to study. The number just isn’t too high because there aren’t that many Filipino families that can afford the practice so the presence of their children in their host countries is not as noticeable as the presence of so many Koreans studying in the Philippines. But it’s not the Koreans’ fault that they can afford to send their children abroad to study, is it?

On another level, Filipinos have been engaged in a diaspora too for the past several decades although under different circumstances. What else do you call the massive influx of Filipino workers on foreign shores? Ought I encourage the thinking that the citizens of those countries should resent the presence of Filipino workers who take jobs that would be theirs if it weren’t for the fact that Filipinos are willing to accept lower pay? Or, in the case of the thousands of Filipino nurses and domestic helpers in North America and Europe, because they are willing to do menial work that their white counterparts consider to be beneath them? If they are banned from entering and working abroad because the foreigners start feeling the same way some Filipinos do about the presence of Koreans in the Philippines, how would you feel about the Filipino families that will starve as a consequence?

That angry email about the Koreans, I found bordering on racism. But that’s child’s play compared to the recent emails about why I have so many Chinese recipes in my food blog. They came right around the time when Google threatened to pull out of China after alleged cyber attacks on Gmail accounts. Gmail, a web-based email service, is part of Google’s services.

It may not be a familiar issue to a lot of people, except probably for those who, like me, spend a lot of time online. To give you a better background of the whole thing, let me backtrack to 2006 when, after being denied entry by the Chinese government for years, Google was finally able to put up but with a twist. Words and phrases in the Chinese government’s banned list were filtered. So were websites and specific web addresses that are likely to contain “offensive” material.

Even back then, many people thought it was a sell-out. Google, that proponent of free information, was censoring content just to be able to do business in China. But, after a while, the brouhaha died down and life on the internet went on. Until the Gmail cyber attacks. Suddenly, Google was threatening to stop censoring content in China and there was talk about a complete pull out which, to this day, remains uncertain.

In short, in the West-dominated internet that we know, China has a lot of critics. And when the Gmail cyber attacks hit the news, suddenly, there were a number of emails, six to be exact, saying that by glorifying Chinese cuisine, I was in effect perpetrating the Chinese culture and everything it represents – including censorship and violation of human rights. One of them even said it would be more prudent to delete all Chinese recipes from my food blog and never mention Chinese food again.

And I go, what? WHAT??? Heaven knows I’ll all too familiar with the politics of food and I have written more than once about why there’s something wrong with the way we import rice and meat when we’re an agricultural country. But Google has a miff with China and I’m bad because I like Chinese food? What the… oh, never mind.

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