Yesterday at the Sacremento airport the new ambassador to China, Gary Locke was photographed carrying a backpack, ordering his own coffee and using a Starbucks coupon. The photographer ZhaoHui Tang, from Bellevue, WA uploaded the image to the Chinese social media network Sina Weibo and it was reposted over 40,000 times. Was it because Gary Locke is the first Chinese-American ambassador to China and a former governor of Washington state? Or was it because he was carrying his own luggage, getting his own coffee and using a coupon? If you chose the latter you are right and a Chinese National.
In my 7/8ths homeland (the other 1/8th is Scotland, he snuck in there somehow a generation back) China, it is unheard of that a high official would do any three of what Ambassador Locke did. However, back here in the US of A, us Asian Americans are the coupon clippers of legend.
Growing up I helped my mother find and clip coupons, we would look for the staples we needed, the ones for stuff that my mom thought too luxurious got sent over to the neighbors. After leaving home and starting my own life here in Los Angeles, I looked forward to the Sunday paper for the coupons (yes, the news too). I would tear through and find coupons for soap, cheese, more cans of tomato paste, ice cream I would never eat, and anything that the local grocery store would offer double discount on. At the check-out I would feel the same thrill that a slot machine player would feel when they hit triple Sevens.
Now I have moved onto Groupon and Social Living, at the beginning I was a devout buyer, over the last six months I have lost my interest because of the pile of unused coupons. I mean how many cupcakes can I eat? And really, will I go to that Yoga studio in the valley? The only person I know who is still a fanatic is my friend Kristina Wong, whenever we go out we plan according to the Groupons she has. She is what my mother would be, if my mother could navigate the internet. If she could, I know I would be eating at Ethiopian cafes in the south bay, or getting what body hair I have in a Med Spa out in Beverly Hills.
Ambassador Locke has it right, he is the best example of the successful Asian American to represent us in the Peoples' Republic of China; thrifty, independent and humble enough to carry his own baggage. I wish him the best of luck and China can learn from his example.
Artist, designer and teacher Ophelia Chong explores her adopted city of Los Angeles with an eye and ear for the small moments that tests the duality of being an Asian American. Join her on her journey every Thursday on KCET's SoCal blog.
Image: 110,000 RMB / Ophelia Chong