This picture kind of tells you how the day went. As flowing & fun & productive as yesterday was, today was frustrating & full of false starts & annoyance. This cactus is in the back of a restaurant where, almost before the first sentence was out of our mouths, the owner said No, no, I'm not interested, I don't want anything! We said, Actually we're not selling anything... & she frowned, No, no, I don't care. They had no take-out menus, no business cards either, & as we left I shrugged, oh well, it'll be as if they didn't exist at all. (Except that now there's this prickly pear on my blog.) Lady, that little feng shui mirror isn't doing you any good.

That really wasn't the worst part of it, though. In the morning we went on a house tour. Natchez is famous for its intensely restored & preserved antebellum mansions, so we thought we should check it out. Well, at the end of the tour the lady of this house tacked on some horrifying racist comments about African American people in Mississippi; although of course she didn't say "African American people in Mississippi", she said "these people". It was quite a shock to my tender Berkeley system! I was so upset that I actually had to go & cry a little bit after that, & then I was in a bad mood for the next few hours. I mean, it's one thing to know that you're going to run into this stuff; it's another to actually hear it.

Fortunately, the day improved toward the late afternoon & we got some good interviews with people about their earliest Chinese restaurant memories. One guy we talked to said his first time eating Chinese food had been just two weeks ago! That's kinda cool, don't you think?


Spotted just north of Baton Rouge. I'm not even sure what town we were in. I do know that this restaurant was not in my database. I like that.


Baton Rouge was good to us today. This place had a sign on the front that said "closed for remodeling" but there was a suspiciously quiet air about it, no sign of construction at all. At the music store next door, the nice folks gave me the dish: the guy had owed a whole bunch of back taxes & left the country! So it's all over for the Mandarin Seafood Mongolian BBQ.



This is David, son of the owners at Lee's Chinese Inn in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, one of the towns along the River Road between New Orleans & Baton Rouge. While I was talking to David, I noticed that he had a little batch of business cards on the counter: Buddha's Computers. You go, David! Restaurant dude by day, PC Technician by night... or something along those lines, anyway. I didn't press him for details.


First Chinese restaurant of the trip! We'd been remarking that it was odd to be in a city for over 24 hours without seeing a single Chinese restaurant... when I spied this one, we started wondering: maybe we've been going past dozens of them, but they're so subtle & understated that we've missed them entirely? This one was a takeout joint hidden in the back of a corner store, across the street from an HIV testing site. Wow, I thought, something I've never seen before... the menu was up high on the wall, discontinued items unceremoniously lined out. Breakfast options included "grit only" for $1.00. The women behind the counter turned out to be Vietnamese, no surprise since most Asians in the area are Vietnamese. As I watched them busily spreading mayonnaise on split French rolls, I had a flash of complete familiarity, & realized there really isn't much difference between a po boy & a Vietnamese sandwich. It all makes sense for a quasi-Francophone place like New Orleans. When we came back outside, the assortment of African American men who'd been standing around on our way in had been completely replaced by a more uniform handful of black-clad white street kids.


We're here! We landed in New Orleans & collected our mass quantities of luggage, including a taped-shut cooler loaded with various cooking implements. I don't think I've ever piled up one of those smarte cartes so high. I pushed it while Donna walked alongside with one hand steadying the topmost piece of luggage, her other hand carrying her bass. People actually laughed out loud at us as we precariously wheeled toward the rental car counter. That's ok though, because I was laughing out loud too. We stepped out of the terminal into a moderate level of humidity, just enough to add a tropical ambiance. Temperature in the lower 80s. Not too different from, say, Hawaii. Nice! Then I thought I caught a whiff of BBQ. Hey, we must be in the South! Donna thought I was imagining it, but you know, whatif someone was picking up someone at the airport & brought them some BBQ? It's entirely possible. We barely managed to cram all our stuff into the rental car, even though it's an "Intermediate" size Taurus, several steps up from my usual "Economy" rental. Thank you Creative Work Fund!

We found our way to the B&B, schlepped our stuff upstairs into our room, & then it was nap time. I'm way too old for these pre-trip, last-minute-packing all-nighters anymore. Plus I can't sleep on planes. Doesn't matter how tired I am or how long the flight is, I can only get a maximum of about an hour sleep on a plane, & that's if I'm lucky. After a long nap we managed to stumble out to dinner. There was crawfish etouffee & catfish, but in the end my main feeling was: oh, we're still in America. After a very promising veggie soup (in the "just like mom used to make" vein), the salad arrived with Ranch dressing glopped on top, & then the etouffee was just kind of, I dunno, really ordinary, regular food. I probably shouldn't get into it too much, not being a food critic or anything. (Except perhaps in my own mind... some people are rockstars in their own minds, some people are porn stars... but wait, I'm not really a food writer in my imagination, that's not exactly it... oh, I think my sleepiness is catching up with me... zzz....) Well anyway, that's what we get for picking a restaurant based almost completely on its immediate accessibility: two short blocks away, a mere break from the all-important mission of paying down the sleep debt.


Technical difficulties: I've gotten some reports that the survey is having issues. Crashing, not working, &c. I'm sorry I don't know how to fix this. Maybe too many enthusiastic Times readers are trying to fill it out at once? If it's not working for you, please, pretty please, come back later & try again. Thank you. I am humbled by the awesome power of one little paragraph in the Dining section!

Today's mail brought a manila envelope from Gainesville, Florida. When I opened it & took the two menus out, I saw that they had gotten wet & were stained with the orangey color of the envelope. Hurricane menus?! Awwww....

Here's the New York Times article by Michael Luo: "As All-American as Egg Foo Yong". There's even a mention of moi in there.

I've always spelled it Egg Foo Yung. When I had occasion to spell it. (Not often.)

By the way, Dealership has a new album out. I haven't had a chance to get my hands on it yet, but I bet it's good. Have I ever complained to you about my Dealership curse? Every time they play, I want to go, but something always happens so I can't. Basically, if Dealership is playing anywhere near me, I can count on getting sick or having some kind of car or transit breakdown, or extreme drama -- I think one time there was actually a death in the family! I'm not even kidding. I have tried to accept this but it's hard, you know? Because I can just tell they would be so much fun live.


I sent the following out to my mailing list a couple days ago. Here it is again (slightly edited) for the benefit of any blog readers who aren't on my list:

The Chinese Restaurant Project is about to head for the South! Nope, not Los Angeles. We're talking Mississippi, Alabama, bits of Arkansas & Louisiana. Maybe even Memphis! Do Chinese restaurants near Graceland have big tubs of peanut butter on the buffet next to the sweet & sour sauce??

For the Southern trip I've teamed up with the Chinese Historical Society of America, where I'll be showing work from this trip next spring. The good folks at CHSA are helping out with research, PR, & admin for the project. Yay CHSA!

The trip, the show, & indeed this whole Southern branch of the project is generously funded by the very fabulous Creative Work Fund, so the trip can be longer (23 days!) & I won't have to stay in such divey motels this time! Yay for the Creative Work Fund!

Donna Keiko Ozawa, who also came with me to Wyoming, will be accompanying me on this trip to shoot video for a piece she's working on about the project. She'll also be providing logistical, creative & moral support! Yay Donna!

If you'd like to help out with this trip, here's how: put us in touch with your friends, relatives & colleagues in the South! They don't have to be Chinese! We're looking to meet up with regular nice folks who are willing to be interviewed about their experiences with Chinese restaurants. We can interview them on camera or if they're shy, just with sound recording. We can spend 10 minutes or we can spend an hour, whatever works for them & us. Just to give you an idea of where we'll be going, here are some of the major stops we have planned: New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Montgomery, Birmingham, Memphis, Little Rock, Greenville, Jackson, Natchez.

If you have somebody who might be interested, please email me the following info:
Relationship to you
Phone number
Email if they have it
Approximate age
Whether or not they are affiliated w/ a Chinese restaurant

Yay for you!

Also welcome: tips on where to eat, where to stay, cool little towns to visit, good outdoor swimming pools (can't let all those hush puppies get the better of us), &c.... We're leaving in about a week. I'll be blogging all along the way, so you can read about our adventures on the road. I'll be posting photos too. Hopefully I won't have anything to say about hurricanes!

Thanks again for your support!


Hurricane aftermath note from The New York Times: "Emergency food distribution points were set up by the authorities in Baldwin County, but several restaurants began to reopen amid fallen trees, including the Feng Garden Chinese Restaurant and a Burger King with its front sign missing."

You go, Feng Garden!


I fretted about Hurricane Ivan all day yesterday, & now I'm keeping an eye on Jeanne. They're predicting Jeanne will stay well east of where we're going to be, but I'm worrying anyway because who knows what she'll really do?

Anyway, I think we'll take Mobile off the itinerary, but for now, I'm sticking to the plan to land in New Orleans & drive from there. Supposedly I was going to get all our motel reservations nailed down this week. Ha! As if. I'm just glad we're not down there already.

Closer to home, Poly Vinyl Chloride generously treated 3 lucky friends to Neil Young at the Berkeley Community Theater last night. Thank you, Poly! I feel like I'm living quite high on the hog; just last week I got to see the eternally fabulous Prince. His Royal Purpleness had the entire audience eating out of his hand, wrapped around his little finger, you choose your metaphor.... Neil Young is a whole different type of fabulous, but his audience no less adoring. He didn't sing "Hurricane", but I have it stuck in my head right now anyway.

Uh oh.


I don't remember who told me, months & months ago, that I should look at Stephen Shore, but whoever it was: Thank you!!! (Now that I finally got around to following up.... You should be, um, impressed at how long I keep little tiny scraps of notes floating around my desk.) Since I am an admitted photo newbie (& how!), I'm not embarrassed to say I had never heard of Shore & am seeing his work from the 70s as a kind of revelation. Lucky for me, Aperture Foundation just (re)published a big luscious book of this good stuff. Now you know what I spent money on this week.


So, I was talking to Mike Luo, a New York Times writer who's researching Chinese restaurants (yay!), & he said that there are more Chinese restaurants in the USA than all the McDonald's, Wendy's, & Burger Kings put together!

Dang! I was like, how is that even possible? It sounds too good to be true! But a little research shows that Alabama has only 135 McDonald's (or should I say McDonald'ses? McDonald's'?) & my database has 231 Chinese restaurants there. Wyoming has 7 McDonald'ses & over 60 Chinese restaurants. Then if you think about the number of Chinese restaurants in San Francisco as opposed to McDonald's', well, hey.... So you can start to see how this trippy factoid can actually be true. Gotta love those journalist types for coming up with this stuff!



I know, it just seems like a really, really bad joke... but it's
real. Would I make this up? So sad.