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April 18, 2009

My chat with the manager of the Chinese restaurant whose flag was stolen

Just got off the phone with Linda Lam, the manager of OI-C Bowl Chinese Kitchen and Bar on North Main Street. A flag that the restaurant had flying out front, a flag of the People's Republic of China, was reported stolen Thursday.

I explained to Linda that I had posted a story about her flag and a reader's objections to it on this blog on March 24. Well, Linda, busy restaurateur that she is, had not seen the blog and was not aware of its existence. I told her I was sorry that I hadn't contacted her back when I first published my story.

"Oh, that's okay. Thank you for telling me that."



Linda says she and her family is from Hong Kong, a former territory of the United Kingdom which became part of mainland China in 1997. She said the flag had been sent to her friends in Hong Kong. She said she and the other restaurant staff meant absolutely nothing political in flying it.

"We are just a restaurant, for relaxing, and for people being happy," she said.

She added that she viewed flying this flag the same as other restaurants--Mexican, Italian, French--flying the flags of the nations whose cuisine they serve. I said that I thought that some people have negative associations with this flag: they see it as representing communism, and people still have strong feelings against that political ideology; that many Americans fear China because of its size and economic power; that people from mainland China may have negative feelings about a flag that represents a leadership that oppressed family members in the past.

She again said that her restaurant and its ownership are not trying to make any kind of political statement: "We're have nothing to do with government or politics."

Furthermore she said: "This is America, this is the United States. Lots of restaurants flying different kinds of flags. I don't know why anyone is aiming at us. That is not the spirit of free speech."

She repeated what she told the Contra Costa Times Friday, that she received a call from a man about two weeks ago who complained that the Chinese flag did not represent democracy. She added that whoever took had to put a lot of effort into the theft.

And, yes, she plans to get ahold of another Chinese flag and fly it again.

Okay, readers, she sounds like a nice woman, who just wants to make a living running a local business. It's hard to disagree with her point about free speech, a cornerstone of American democracy. But perhaps she's being a bit naive and idealistic in thinking that everyone will agree that a flag representing the Communist Party-run nation of China is not political.

Oh, with regard to my gripe with the Contra Costa Times. We'll see. So, she couldn't have complained to the Times about my blog, because she didn't know about it. It's possible the reporter, Roman Gokhman, wasn't aware of my story about the flag. After all, my blog is fairly new. But my story did receive a fair amount of response after Claycord.com picked it up, and I'm pretty sure most Times reporters keep up, or should keep up, with Claycord.com these days.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think people need to chill out about the flag. China practices some version of communism (though now it's somewhere in between capitalism and communism, with the urban elite prospering like crazy in recent yrs, til the current global economic upheaval), and U.S. corporations and the U.S. government are in so deep with China as a trading partner and goods supplier, China is a done deal. Whoever's hassling this one unfortunate restaurant owner needs to get a clue and devote their righteous indignation to something that truly needs addressing and that they can truly do something constructive about.

Anonymous said...

she knows now that obama is in power, to support communism she must fly the american flag.

Anonymous said...

Wow SM? Do you proof these. There are several grammatical errors in the first 5 lines of this story. Yikes girl.

Anonymous said...

Wow... What an idiot this guy must be to pull down a Chinese flag in front of a Chinese restaurant to make a political statement. He was probably wearing clothes made in china when he did it, and his house is probably filled with a bunch of Chinese made kitchen appliances. I bet his kid plays T-ball with a Chinese bat. What a hypocrite. If he really wanted to make a political statement about oppressive regimes, he should have tossed a brick through the windshield of a car festooned with idiotic Christian bumper stickers or better yet vandalized a mosque.

Anonymous said...

Ching Chong Bing Bong.

Arl your frag are berong to us.

Anonymous said...

This "discussion" is sad and sick. Who next will be scared off?

Anonymous said...

Note that it was a HUGE flag. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But I don't see Le Bistro hanging a French flag, I don't see Havana hanging a Cuban flag out front, I don't see Taqueria Mexican restaurant hanging a Mexican flag out front.

Again, they have every right to hang a massive flag out front, but it certainly is out of the ordinary.

Soccer Mom said...

8:52 a.m. Is the discussion itself sad and sick, or are the viewpoints sad and sick? Should we not have the discussion, or should we get the "sad" and "sick" attitudes out in the open?

I vote for the latter. I think keeping the "sad" and "sick" viewpoints hidden beneath a veneer of we're all polite and politically sensitive and beyond hate, ignorance, and prejudice doesn't really get us anywhere either. Because we're not beyond any of that, are we?

The owners of this restaurant don't sound scared. The manager said business was off, but not because of any recent controversy about the flag. Business is off for everyone downtown.

Meanwhile, I told the manager, Linda, that I had not yet eaten at her restaurant, but that my husband and son and I are big fans of Asian food (My husband and I lived in Asia for a few years), and that we'll have to give it a try. I read a good review of it.

Soccer Mom said...

Anon 10:20:
No, I cannot see Havana flying a Cuban flag out front. And, as I said, I haven't been in any Vietnamese restaurants that fly the flag of that country (or the flag that the government of that country has adopted).

Is objecting to this PRC flag the same as objecting to Chinese culture? I hope, at least, that's not the case with those that object to the flag.

Anonymous said...

I think this is where a blog differs from balanced, ethical news. A Chinese restaurant flying a Chinese flag is simply not a story; not news. The reactions to it in a blog become newsworthy (to some people); like "shock radio" or talk-show TV. Let's just be clear that this isn't the same as news-gathering.

Mr. Mayor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mr. Mayor said...

So you're telling me that a communist flag flying in front of a Chinese restaurant isn't news, but the slaughtering of two pigs and a story telling us how the other pigs reacted when the others were shot during a "fundraiser" is news?

Yeah, that seems fair and balanced.

I'd rather hear about the Chinese flag.

Mayor

Soccer Mom said...

To 11:03 a.m.: I appreciate you voicing your viewpoint. You raise some interesting, challenging questions that go to the heart of the question: "what is journalism" these days...

You bring up some good questions.

What is "balanced, ethical?"

Then you differentiate between news-gathering and "shock radio" or "talk TV."

Finally, you ask what makes a "story," and what an event or situation worthy of being calling "news" and published as such.

Okay, so what is YOUR definition of "news" and a "story?"

And what is so inferior about shock radio or talk TV compared with, oh! the pillars of journalism (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, network TV news, 60 Minutes, NPR).

Is the New York Times always ethical and balanced? The Wall Street Journal? Fox News? NPR? Many people, coming from varying poitical viewpoints, would have plenty to say on this question.

I guess I'd say I'd assume a story from the New York Times or WSJ had "more credibility" than some other news sources. Yeah, you generally need to be smart, talented, and good, to work at these publications. Then again, there was Jayson Blair...

Ethical, balanced? Both esteemed publications have come under some heavy scrutiny on these questions lately.

Frankly, I view them all, including TV, radio, magazines, blogs much more esteemed than my own, with some level of skeptism.

And, I LOVE talk some talk radio. From shows on NPR, to the shows on KGO, to, yes--Howard Stern, back when I still had my Sirius satellite radio hook-up. No, on TV and radio, I can't stomach Hannity, O'Reilly, Nancy Grace, Greta Van Sustern or Limbaugh, but that's my political bent, and they all give me a headache with their screeching styles and formats.

"Balanced, ethical."

Okay, so a "Chinese restaurant flying a Chinese flag is simply not a story; not news."

Why?

Does it become "news" when the restaurant decides to fly it? Does it become news when some readers share their objections with a blogger--not an "ethnical, balanced news-gatherer"--like me? Does it become "news" when the flag is stolen? Apparently, the more "ethical, balanced" Contra Costa Times thought so, and wrote a story.

So, it becomes a "story" when it becomes part of a criminal act...

Where is the line on what is "news" and was is "not?"

Back when I worked in traditional news, as a regular daily newspaper reporter, I would have deemed the flying of this flag as NOT newsworthy.

Why? You know, I'm not sure why.

Back then, I would have dismissed a lot of stories as NOT newsworthy, based on some shifty, undefined guideline of what's news and what's not, what is a story and what's not.

And you know what? Looking back on my career as a daily newspaper reporter in the tradional mold with a traditional sense of what's "news" and what's "not news," I can say I missed a hell of a lot of good, important stories. A lot of stories about what people I covered REALLY cared about, what affected their lives in an immediate and lasting way, and they were passionate about. What they were angry about. What they might--horrors--gossip--about.

I look at regular newsspapers, and I think, on some level, they serve their function. Then, I compare what they are covering to what some of the local blogs are covering. And I think the blogs, like Claycord, have it all over them. Claycord, at least, is giving mention and voice to the big and little things that people in the community really react to, that REALLY affect their lives. Things that they THINK about about, and FEEL things about.

So, I post something about a local restaurant flying this flag, because a reader objects. I asked other readers what they think. I get 80 some comments. By Crazy in Suburbia standards, that's quite a number. People have strong opinions and this particular "non-news," "non-story." They want to have their say.

You know? If NO ONE had responded, I'd have to concede you have a point.

The opposite was true.

Maybe it's gossip. Opinion. Maybe I didn't engage in "news-=gathering" in the old way. (Acutally, I did. I put in as much time in gathering information--more actually, I would say--than the "ethical, balanced, professinoal" Times reporter.)

These days, what is the purpose of newspapers, of journalism in our democratic society? Seems to me, it's been the same as it has always been: To report, to give voice, to encourage dialogue among citizens ... Right? Or am I missing something?

There was certainly plenty of dialogue--a lot of it interesting and thoughtful, some of it emotional and reaction--about this restaurant's decision to fly this particular flag.

By the way, if you're wondering about my "credentials" to speak on the free speech issue, I am a recipient of a James Madison Freedom of Information Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

That's right, this "blogger" has enjoyed the distinction of being labeled a "professional" journalist points in her life.

And, it's a professional badge I wear with pride. Actually, with this blog, more so than at any other point in my career and life.

kashgar216 said...

Or maybe the thief was ticked off that the restaurant did not fly the flag of the other China: Republic of China.

Anonymous said...

I agree that she has the right to fly whatever flag she wants. I too have rights. I have the right to walk around town with an unloaded gun clearly visible on me. One of the reasons I don't do it is plain common sense because of the attention it would bring to me from the police and public. I would be constantly hassled/questioned/scrutinized/detained etc. Even though it is my right to 'bear arms' there can be a negative consequences to me if I assert that right in certain locations. Same thing with the 'Red Chinese' flag! It is the owner's right to fly it but the negative consequences gained (including the bad pr for the restaurant)seem to me hardly worth the effort of asserting that right. I find it strange that someone from Hong Kong would even fly that flag.It has been only a generation since people were shot trying to escape from Communist China by trying swim the dangerous waters to Hong Kong on their quest for freedom. Also if she is so proud of her Chinese food, why is the name of the restaurant a play on the word for 'delicious' in Japanese? Temper the whole argument, and learn a little marketing lady. Hang the same size Stars & Stripes right at the same hight and right next to your red banner, and your bottom line might improve and you'll probably never again be mentioned in a Blog.