Sino-Holwerda Relations

7/06/2011

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Some of the sites I will link to are in Chinese.  I find that Google Translator does a pretty good job with most of them, but not all.

Last week, after the explosion of angry interest in my blog from Taiwan, I posted a message that I hoped would lay things to rest.  The next day, I said that I'd spoken my last about it, and announced my new project (Enter The Danny - second installment tomorrow!)  That night, I was contacted by Dan Bloom, a semi-retired American journalist who has lived in Taiwan for many years.  He let me know that this story was no longer just about what had been printed in my blog or on CNN.  It had gone viral in Taiwan.  It was in the newspapers.  It was being talked about online and by politicians.  It was on national TV!

With Dan's help, I got a letter printed in the Taipei Times.  As I type this, it has been viewed over 4,200 times.  The tone of it is a little more abject and conciliatory than what I honestly felt by that point, but I figured that maybe by falling on the sword a little bit, I could stop the by now very steady stream of hate mail that was coming to my inbox.  Most of it was variations on the same theme ("you are a fat, ignorant American slob."), but a few seized on the fact that Blake had been in the video, and told me that I was raising my children to be stupid racists.  All because I didn't like a goddamn rotten egg.

The letter seemed to stem the tide of Taiwanese anger.

This weekend the story reached mainland China, an additional 1.6 billion people.  Events played out pretty much the same, with two interesting new additions.
  1. My name transliterates to Hao Wada.
  2. China's largest egg producer demanded an official apology from me and from CNN.  CNN apologized.  I'm done apologizing.  I have offered an apology and an olive branch, and the rest of the world can choose to accept it or not.
I posted this to the comments section of the original story on CNN (which, let's face it, does about as much good as spitting in the ocean).
I'm not sure if should wade into the middle of this.  If I may, though, here is some additional information about my experience with pi dan, which this article does not make clear.

I am not a reporter. I have a personal blog where I post stories about my family, and about silly projects that I embark upon. In April, I had a month-long series called Project Gastronome, in which I tried a different food each night, either something unusual or something that I had never tried before. Century eggs were only one food of the many that I ate over the course of the month.  If you view my blog, you will see that I tried foods from many different cultures, including several other Asian foods which I enjoyed very much.

Around the same time, CNN solicited submissions for their "most revolting foods" iReport. The iReports section of their website is made up entirely of user-generated content, not content from professional journalists. I think there's been a lot of misunderstanding about that. Having just tried the eggs, and not having enjoyed them, I decided to submit the story as an entry.

Where this whole thing took a turn for the worse is when CNN published this compilation article, and included ONLY foods from Asia. Taken in isolation, my story may not have been the best piece of writing in the world, but I doubt it would have ignited any cultural furor. However, when it was first on a list that quickly came to be seen as an example of Western prejudice...

Many have made the point that I ate the eggs "incorrectly."  I was fully aware of that, even when I tried them. If you visit my blog and view the video, I even say that exact thing. This was partly because, as has been said, I didn't know the correct way to prepare them. But it was also simply because I thought that eating them that way would just be funny. Simple humor? Sure. But that's all it was - humor.

This whole incident has become like a game of Telephone, where the story changes more the farther it goes from the source. Again, if you return to the source (my blog), you will notice that I never once say anything insulting about China, Taiwan, or any other people or cultures. My only "offense" was trying another country's delicacy and deciding that I didn't like it. I agree that CNN's presentation of the list was lacking in sensitivity, but I hardly deserve the scorn that's been heaped upon me.  It seems to me that the true ignorance lies in never trying new things, so I'm not bothered by those of you who have tried to label me with that word.  I'm a husband, a father, and somebody who enjoys trying new things.

Peace to all of you.
Which brings us to today.  Boy, I took the long way here, huh?  I received two email messages from reporters wanting to follow up with me.  The first was from the China Branch of the Voice of America network.  Here's the thing - I'm kind of tired of talking about all of this by now.  But this is Voice of America!  Have you ever read about their history during the Cold War?  It's an institution!  I agreed to the interview, and received a phone call from Xiaoyan Zhang, a reporter in Washington, DC about an hour later, during my lunch break.  I had asked her before hand if she would mind giving me a sampling of the questions she'd be asking, because I didn't feel like setting myself up for a hit piece.  She assured me that she was not out to get me, and that she wanted to present my story fairly.

I have never been more self-conscious about the answers I've given to questions.  Some flowed easily, like when she asked how I had researched century eggs and decided to try them (I didn't, they were an impulse buy when I saw them on the shelf), or if I had ever expected so much reaction to all of this (no, I thought I was doing pretty great when I got more than five comments on that blog entry).  Others were stickier, like when she asked what else I knew or liked about Chinese culture.  I didn't want to give some stupid reply, so I said the first thing that came to mind, "Well, I really enjoy Chinese cinema."  Such as?  [Don't say kung fu movies, don't say kung fu movies...]  "Um, kung fu movies."  I covered pretty quickly, though, by saying that as a citizen of the USA, a young nation, I'm impressed and respectful of China's rich sense of heritage and tradition, and how that is a part of people's lives there.

Xiaoyan was very friendly, asked me if she could use a photo of me from my blog, and said that she and her coworkers had actually enjoyed my video very much.  My first interview with an international media outlet was complete, which was a very strange feeling.  I just spoke to a news service that goes out worldwide, and it's just another Wednesday at the office.

The story ran this afternoon, complete with audio.  Unfortunately, Google Translator does a pretty poor job with the translation, as does Babel Fish, but it gets it close enough that you can cipher it out.  The audio is in Chinese, too, except for brief snippets of my voice that you can hear before the translator begins to speak.  If you know anybody who's fairly fluent, and who wouldn't mind sending along an idea of what the audio says, I'd be most appreciative.  I was pleased to see that they used one of my favorite pictures of me for the story!

I was more suspicious of the second journalist.  They claimed to be from Beijing's second biggest paper (Mirror Evening), but they were mailing me from a Yahoo address.  I forwarded the message to Dan Bloom, who assured me that the paper was legit, and that the reporter probably uses a Yahoo address to keep his editor from reading his mail.  He did mention that the paper is essentially a mouthpiece for the Communist Party, but that he felt like it was still a safe discussion to enter into.  I emailed answers to their questions, which were pretty much the same battery of questions that I've seen for a week now.

And, for now, that's where it stands.  I think I'm pretty much done with media requests, and will be declining any further interviews.  I'm bored with defending myself, and need to adopt the habit that I've heard celebrities talk about: never look for what people are saying about you online.  Especially when it gives you search results like this one.

14 comments:

parish said...

Wow. I've had people hate me for dumb reasons on the Internet, but at worst it's usually a few dozen bitchy kids on a forum. You got a whole country horked off. I'm kind of jealous!

Actually, I'm not. Being piled on by anonymous hordes is a terrible feeling, even when you know they're totally misinformed and off-base. You've handled this with far more grace and even-temperedness than the Internet lynch mob deserves. You're a good man, Daniel Holwerda, and I am proud to know you.

Anonymous said...

This is absurd. You don't have to apologize. Century eggs are disgusting. And I am Chinese. But that's not the point. Why on earth should people get so sore about a casual remark? Oh never mind the fools.

Danny said...

@Jeremy - Thanks. It's funny, I remember when I first got internet access back in college, and I relished the feeling of wading into the fray about really stupid things. I'm talking stuff like which is the best cut of Blade Runner, who was the biggest jerk on the Real World, what was the best Jane's Addiction bootleg album... There was a thrill about going into battle. I don't know if it's just that I'm older now, or that this became so much more personal, but you're right. It's a lousy feeling to be piled on. I've had a lot of anxiety this week, but I'm also trying to keep a sense of humor about all of this.

And to be fair, I have also had some kind people contact me, I just didn't write about it above. I'll write something about them later.

@Anonymous Friend - Thanks very much for your note. I honestly think the majority of people feel a lot like you do, but it's the loud ones that get the attention.

metallikyle said...

Wow, Danny, I feel like Han Solo at the beginning of Return of the Jedi. I stop reading for a few months and look what happens! Don't the bastards get you down. Your friends know what an adventurous connoisseur of cuisine you are.

And your description of century eggs STILL makes me laugh out loud.

PS - The answers to your college internet frays are as follows...

1) Original theatrical release
2) Puck
3) Sex n Drugs n Rock n Roll

thestranger said...

Hello Mr. Holwerda,
My name is Irene Chan, a Chinese journalist based in Beijing. I understand it might not be a good time to contact you as you have been tired of interviews. But I am pretty interested in your story. What I mean is not simply about the Century Egg, but more about your personal hobbies and the interesting projects that you have been working on. I hope that by talking with you, we could provide more real, fair and diverse information for the Chinese readers.

The newspaper I work for is called China Youth. It is printed in Chinese and have a national circulation. And specifically, the column I am writing for focuses on the unusual stories of ordinary people. This column publishes once a week and has a very good reputation in China.

It would be more than happy to make an interview with you. I you could spare any time this week, just inform me through my email: irenechan2015@gmail.com.

With best wishes,

Irene Chan

chadhot said...

Now i understand Daniel Stern's line from City Slickers a bit more, "If hate were people, I'd be China!"

Danny said...

@Kyle - ORIGINAL THEATRICAL RELEASE?!? NOW WE FIGHT!

Anonymous said...

As a Chinese, I feel ashamed of the rude remarks and unreasonable requests we have made. I guess people didn't know that it was just personal opinion instead of a major US media making such a list. The fact that nearly all the "most disgusting foods" selected are from Asia might be off-putting to many Asians, and that I understand.

I like how you try different things and have fun in life. It's a great attitude that many can benefit from.

I watched quite a few experiments of yours. I just want to let you know that the quality of the products you've tried varies greatly depending on brands and freshness. The freshly made foods would taste drastically different from the canned ones for sure even though they are called the same thing. Don't form an opinion on the food as yet! ;) It'd be great if you get a chance to travel to some Asian countries and try some of the food in restaurants or local markets! Though I'm pretty sure that all century eggs taste alike. lol

Coming from the northern part of China, our tradition of eating it alone is to dip it in a special sauce made of vinegar (the black-color one), sugar, and a lot of shredded ginger bits (let the ginger bits sit so the ginger flavor gets into the rest of the ingredients and it kills the "bad smell" of the egg). Voila~ ready to serve! We sometimes also spread the "marinated" egg on pancakes(you know how gooey it is). I only like the egg prepared that way, or cooked in rice porridge (a traditional dish you can find in most Chinese restaurants). Every dim-sum place in the US carries this "pi dan congee". I can imagine how weird it must taste without any flavoring ingredients. Hope you can give it another chance! haha...

Danny said...

You have a good point, because the smell was a lot of the challenge. The texture wasn't bad, it was just like an ordinary hard-boiled egg. Thanks for your note!

dan said...

EDITORIAL from Taipei Times newspaper today, unsigned lead editorial, oage 8

The goose that laid the century egg

Taiwanese politicians and media personalities love to overreact, especially when a foreigner says something that touches a nerve and which they can use to elevate their name in the international mediasphere.

That is exactly what happened when Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) called Americans “chicken-hearted” after a US food blogger in Texas wrote about his bad experience with century eggs, called pi dan in Taiwan, on CNN’s iReport.

Completely missing the point, which is normal on the legislative floor, Tien said Westerners should be “more courageous and willing to try new things.”

Is that not precisely what Danny Holwerda did when he went to an Asian market in Texas and picked up a strange-looking egg that he had no idea how to prepare?

The fact is, Holwerda went further than many Americans would be willing to go in trying new things; he just did not happen to like it. Maybe if he had tried pi dan prepared on tofu with green onion and soy paste, the way Taiwanese like it, he would have had a different experience.

Or maybe he would not have liked it regardless. Is it a crime for an American not to like something that many Taiwanese like?

Here is a suggestion: Maybe Tien should visit the US and try some of its wonderful delicacies, like pickled pigs’ feet, Rocky Mountain oysters, or any of the assortment of salty bean dishes that fly in the face of everything red bean paste stands for.

Instead of condemning Holwerda, Tien should praise the Texan for putting pi dan on CNN’s map. After all, probably thousands more people know about pi dan now than before his report and just might be willing to give it a try — if it is prepared correctly.

In a heartfelt letter to the Taipei Times, Holwerda apologized profusely for causing any offense, saying he had not intended to anger Taiwanese and adding that if he gets the chance, he would love to visit Taiwan and sample its wonderful cuisine.

Does that sound chicken-hearted?

This entire episode brings to mind another example of legislative overreaction after a CNN report ostensibly promoting the benefits of a trip to Taiwan — the case of the “gluttonous city.” An article on CNN in early May called Taipei the best city for gluttony in Asia, prompting all manner of misinterpretation in the legislature.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chiang Nai-shin (蔣乃辛) asked: “What’s wrong with eating?”

Government Information Office Minister Philip Yang (楊永明) said the article had “damaged” the nation’s image.

What they completely failed to understand was that the article was directed at people who like to eat and that it could well attract people to visit Taiwan and spend their hard-earned tourist dollars.

Taiwan unquestionably offers great food and dining, and pi dan is a wonderful dish when prepared properly.

However, Holwerda might want to carry his earplugs with his chopsticks if he does come to Taiwan — that way he will be able to eat in peace.

Nate said...

You are the face of America Danny...at least to Chinese Egg eaters.

Danny said...

Dan - you're the best, man. Thanks for posting that in here, and for helping me keep abreast of this whole thing.

Nate - America deserves a better face than mine. Now, if they were looking for the hair of America, I fully expect I'd be at the top of that list.

Dan on the Run said...

Reminds me of eating squid guts in Japan. Not terrible, but not far from chilled cut bait.

The Japanese guys that took me out just tried to get me to eat it hoping I would be grossed out. When they told me what it was after I ate a good chunk, they waited for me to be disgusted, instead I grabbed a bigger hunk and ate that.

As it turned out, while it is considered a delicacy, it was not of their taste either.

I got your back Bro.

Anonymous said...

Dan,
Wish you a "Revolting" Xmas and "Centuric Eggy" Year

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