By Jennifer 8. Lee | April 20, 2008
Sometimes people ask how it came to be that I would write a story on Chinese restaurants. The story actually starts two years before the book with a story I did for the New York Times, published in January 2003, on a Fuzhounese immigrant family that travelled from New York City to rural Georgia to run a Chinese restaurant.
This is one of my favorite lines from the article:
She was leaving the only place in the country that had an identity to the Fujianese: New York City. Other parts of the United States are not called Indiana or Virginia or Georgia. Instead they are collectively known as waizhou — Mandarin Chinese for ”out of state.”
For the Fujianese, waizhou is more than a geographic description. It is the white space left over where there is no New York, no Chinatown, no East Broadway. Waizhou is where fathers and sons go away for weeks and months at a time to work 12-hour days in Chinese restaurants. Waizhou is crisscrossed by Greyhound bus routes and dotted with little towns, all of which either already have or could use a Chinese restaurant. Waizhou schools are better. In waizhou, supermarkets sell crab meat prepackaged in boxes.
The family makes up one chapter in my book. Often people tell me it’s their favorite chapter because of its bittersweet ending.
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