When Chinatown McDonald's closed down I did not feel one bit of sadness in my body about it. And yet, thinking back I realize I actually have a ton of memories tied to the place. It's just that I refuse to shed a tear for any McDonald's even though the chain represented feelings of safety and magic in my youth. I imagine people who were raised staunchly Catholic but grew to have political views opposing the Church, might feel the same way.
When I was a young Chinatown tween and began going to go to Kwong Kow Chinese School on Sundays, instead of every week, McDonald's was where my two hour respite from Chinese culture being rammed down my throat would take place. There was dulcimer in the morning, maybe some Kung Fu at Bo Sim Mark, maybe some painting, two hours of break and then three hours of sitting at a desk for Chinese School or something like that. I am hazy about the details.
I just think it is telling that I would choose to go to McDonald's of all places, when I was in Chinatown.
But McDonald's was cheap. It had those burgers and fries that clogged your arteries in that feel good way (until you got yeet hei) that made you feel like a real American. I would stuff the junk into my mouth while quickly doing my Chinese homework the "fast" way. That means instead of writing out each word properly, I would try to do it assembly line style, one stroke all the way down the line then another all the way down the line. That way I would be able to complete years of Chinese homework without ever having to actually learn Chinese.
Old Chinese men would step in and try to help me. Young Chinese men would try to sell my mother things. Like subscription to a magazine, or membership to a church. It is true that Chinatown was one of the few warm places in the winter with nice tables where they wouldn't kick you out right away.
One Chinese New Year, before I started really doing lion dance (I had only taken a summer course at Kwong Kow with Jing, who would later be my Si Hing, running the class.) I took my classmates and a teacher from Roxbury's Nativity Prep to see the Chinese New Year Parade. Claudio and Stephen, and Mr. Mayo.
The parade was still such that you would have knee high firecracker paper like it had snowed red, and thick clouds of gunpowder that would engulf whole alley like streets.
My friends wanted to go to McDonald's so bad. There is a such thing ans too much Chineseness, especially when it is burning your lungs.
Later I would work at McDonald's. In fact it was one of the most skilled jobs I have ever had. I had to translate Taishanese into Spanish and back again. I saw people walking in and knew they were headed to the bathroom to have sex. I learned I am horrible with money.
One time, seeing a black man with his white girlfriend, I learned that you can be in an inter-racial relationship, and still be racist as hell. I also learned that I pass for white.
"Hey man," the black guy whispered, "Everyone in here be looking like monkeys except you and me. You know what I'm saying? Better be hoping they don't get no Vietnam flashbacks."
"What did he say?" my female manager asked in Chinese. I would not pass the hate along then. But I'll pass it along now because it's funny in retrospect. A lot of Chinese will say to me, "Wait I thought white people call them monkeys." So let it be known, I guess all of the many colors of primates of the homo sapien variety are going around calling the other colors monkeys.
But back then in that moment I could have strangled him. I just gave him his food and waved him away when he came back trying to charge his phone.
"What.. what are you half asian or something.. I didn't know."
Well that makes it okay then right?
I was pissed as hell when I worked there. After just a two hour shift when a friend said hi to me in the street (a Si Hing actually) I almost Kung Fued him because I was lost in my own self absorbed tired anger.
One time they asked a co-worker to go get fries from the freezer. After she was gone for a long time, I went to check on her. She had gotten stuck in there!
"Gau Sing!" she cried. I had saved her... sort of.
I also made friends in the short time I worked there that bordered on brotherhood. I would see these guys years later and I felt closer to them then the guys I had gone to high school with.
I also learned that I was lazy. I mean if you told me to do something I would do it. But for instance I didn't automatically restock stuff.
"Why don't you restock?" asked a diligent Fujianese coworker, in Cantonese. Now that's saying something. Not only did he find time to restock. He also found time to learn English AND Cantonese.
I shrugged. I mean there's no excuse right? I saw him later driving a really nice car still in his 20's.
I even had some sort of underworld meeting at McDonald's It was later on. I was sleeping at Moh Goon with my head toward the window and it was one of those really cold winters. Even though I had worn a hat to sleep the cold had gone in. I awoke not having slept enough and was told that I needed to accompany someone to a "meeting."
They say that Wai Siu Bo was not able to pull any tricks in Halinjiang. The people are too cold there for bullshit and will just kill you. (I have since met people from there at the playground and actually they were very pleasant. I met people from Russian cities north of there and they were pleasant too.)
That being said. I was cold and pissed and when I went to this meeting sitting across from some guy I knew and another tatooed guy I did not know I did not care what anyone was saying. I just sat there and didn't say a word of Chinese or English. But I can tell you, if I had been around people that were IRRATIONALLY violent, at that moment I would have engaged in absurd violence that had nothing to do with morality or justice and everything to do with the cold having frozen any sort of moral compass.
You know, we had this meeting there and exchanged paperwork... and we didn't even bother to order a damn thing. Now wonder they went out of business.
More about working there.
I smoked in the back with Taishanese guys, not because I wanted to smoke, more for the social aspect. I had never met YOUNG Taishanese guys who spoke Taishanese until then. It was weird. The manager from Hong Kong left and then suddenly I was like, "Did we just all switch languages?" Yes. Yes we had.
We dropped a ton of Apple pies once and put them all back in. They weren't baked yet so actually, no harm done. It's the baking that kills the germs.
"I'll never eat apple pie." Said one of the guys.
I spoke Chinese which was good. But nobody believed it. So they put a sign on my register that I spoke Chinese.... in English.
But even though I spoke Chinese I still got stuff wrong. For instance Yi tung chan (happy meal or Child's meal) sound a hell of a lot like Yi ho chan (combo number 2). I got a ton of "Sei Gwai Lo" 's from that guy.
Even though I was wrong in a way, if the counter hadn't separated us I would have smashed his face in because it was a mistake. I just looked at him instead.
I see all these viral videos of Fast food workers going nuts and am I surprised?
No! I was angry as hell from the assholes that wen tin there. People stuck in Chinatown, looking for an American oasis... only to find Chinese people working there. Yeah those people are going to be real friendly.
And then Old Chinese people, equally upset about everything.
Some of the old Chinese people were just there for the Yu bao (Fish fillet). It's pretty popular among elderly Chinese. It's cheap and now that I write about it... they didn't taste bad at all.
The owner once stopped by and was upset that I was unable to smile while I was trying to do the work. (it was my first week. But let's face it. I'm not really cut out for that kind of work. Except for the translating part. They needed me for that.) "That's the owner." They said in hushed tone as if I were supposed to fear her presence. I shrugged at that too.
Anyway, a hot pot place is opening there soon.
And my kids did not even really know there was a McDonald's there. They have been to McDonald's but they get Yeet hei for real. Like the kind where they throw up after eating chicken nuggets.
Oh Chinatown McDonald's I have so many memories of you. Pretty girls would go there for some reason, and drunks and bums, and wise old Chinese men passing on their culture....
I'd rather have a hot pot place any day.