For a client lunch recently, I was led to a themed restaurant in a chic part of downtown Shen Zhen. The restaurant Da Lang Wo (Big Wolf Lair) was a confusing mix of neanderthal caves with animal wall etchings, displays of super-nationalism, and the occasional nod to wolves.
Outside the cave entrance hung, non-apologetically, a bold sign that read "No Japanese allowed." I was caught between feeling offended for the entire Japanese race, appalled at the blatant discrimination, ashamed at such exclusive nationalism, secretly relieved that I was welcome, and anxious that they were going to kick me out because many Chinese people thought I looked Japanese.
I kept up a constant stream of Mandarin monologue in front of the waitress to prove that I was somehow more Chinese than I came across. I threw out as many slangs as I knew, but not too many so that I stuck out like a conspicuous Chinese-learner.
Handwritten notices and newspapers reminding customers
of the Rape of Nanjing, when Japanese soldiers committed
an unspeakable number of crimes during a three month
occupation of a Chinese city.
While the round moon (baked naan bread) and the wolves' prey pot (lamb stew) tasted delicious, it definitely felt weird eating at a place where others were not allowed simply because of their race or national history. It smacked of the civil rights era that I had read about in high school textbooks, where African Americans were routinely denied entrance into certain public areas. It felt wrong, but yet others around me laughed about it, took photos of it with their bejeweled Japanese phones, and pumped their fists in the air proclaiming their sudden bursts of China pride. And while I didn't join in, I certainly tried to fit in. And that's really what bothered me the most.