Hyphen's sensei of sensibility answers your questions about Asian culture.

January 11, 2010

Dear InterrogAsian,

I am a Lebanese American and am in my second year at San Francisco State. I grew up with few Asians in my grade school and high school; I can only think of one Japanese kid, who was third generation. Most of what I have learned about Asian culture is from stereotypes through media. I now live in the Sunset district of San Francisco and have mostly Chinese neighbors. I am used to people being welcoming to a new neighbor, but I have a suspicion that there is something about Chinese or maybe Asian culture that keeps my neighbors to themselves. Why are Asians so cold to strangers? I swear they have something against me for being white. Last time I waved at an older Asian man in my neighborhood, he ignored me while staring. Maybe I missed a history class where the whites pillaged all of Asia. Help me connect the missing pieces.

- Lebnils (from the Interwebs)

My personal feeling is that whenever a stranger gives you a "hello" and a friendly wave, they want something. And I ain't trying to part with $5 even if you ran out of gas and need money and your car won't start. Eye contact has long been considered an act of aggression or disobethence in Asian culture. In my own house, I still haven't once looked my dad in the face. Plus, I've watched enough kung fu theater to know what happens when mortal fools mess up a mission - they always bow their heads and avoid eye contact when addressing the evil master (who, in turn, metes out some form of payback). So don't take it personal if you don't get a wave back. He ain't dissing you. You're merely conforming to an ancient ritual.

Dear InterrogAsian,

I've been reading about Kogi, the Korean taco truck that rolls around SoCaI and is known for its BBQ burritos and other Mexicasian eats. Now I'm all about bridging barriers with my lactose intolerant friends, but this Mexican American almost blew Jarritos soda out my nose when I heard about Kogi. A Korean taco truck!? (BTW, does it have a box of Kleenex in the back?) Anyway, around my town, Koreans have already co-opted the sushi and teriyaki scene - and there's a place called Cape Cod Fish and Chips that's run by Koreans. (They also make a great teriyaki bowl.) So is Mexican food now fair game for Koreans? What's the next step in the Korean culinary takeover? Is it the Korean falafel?

- Pocho de Sacramento

Orale, Pocho. I think this emergence, picked up by the blogs and The New York Times, speaks to a larger phenomenon: Koreans are some creative mothereffers. Some of the most talented Asian folks out there are Korean - artists, breakdancers, comedians, battle rappers, writers, soccer players, bloggers, singers, soap stars. Combine that creativity with a deeply rooted industrious nature and POW: The Korean taco truck was bound to happen (the Twitter aspect was nextlevel brand marketing genius, and see the Lazy Susan section in this issue for a story on Kogi BBQ). I'll admit to a bias against Korean-owned Japanese spots, but your taste buds are colorblind. Taco trucks have been the same for decades; give the Korean flavors an abrazo, amigo. I've not eaten at one, but the overwhelming consensus is that it's good - great, even. But is it worth waiting half an hour or more for? If I'm drunk and hungry and some damn truck pulls up offering a Spam Kimchi Slider, game over. I'm posting up.

Don't know Michelle Wie from Michelle Yeoh? Send your questions about Asian culture to interrogasian [at]