A Restaurant Inside my Heart:
Chinese Popular Music as a Catalyst
for Spiritual Reflection
By Yang Dou
Toss the chopped scallion in the wok,
Add an egg and let them cook,
Stir-fried rice in a Chinese look.
When I hear these lyrics, I smell a bowl of delicious Chinese stir-fried rice. I am reminded of a home in my soul. This home is not shaped in the form of a Christian cross or a Buddhist prayer flag or even a national flag. It is shaped in the form of an imaginary Chinese restaurant.
Whitehead’s philosophy speaks of lures toward wholeness within the human heart. It says that these lures come from the divine reality; from the one whom Christians call God. If this is true, then God reaches me through the image of this restaurant, and through the music which takes me into it. Popular music is one way that many people in the world develop their theologies. I am one of these “many people.”
I heard this song on the Mid-Autumn Day of 2010. If you are familiar with Chinese culture, you would know that Mid-Autumn Day is a festival celebrating the reunion of family. It is the second most important festival to Chinese people other than Spring Festival. On that day, people would try their best to come back home and get together with families. The ones who are not able to make it would also look at the full moon which represents the reunion of a family, making wishes for the very best of their families.
I, as usual, was by myself in the States on that “family day”. Fascinated by the lyrics, I went on listening.
Wonton not sold out? No big deal
I can eat them as my meal.
Out of window is the Pearl Harbor
While I am playing Liang Shanbo.
Here’s the story behind the lyrics. A Chinese man came to the States many years ago, running a little Chinese restaurant near Pearl Harbor. Struggling for life in a foreign country, what comforts him most is the folksong of his mother tongue. As the song continues, the singer tells us that he has been to Berlin, Milan, Kyoto, Cairo, Warsaw, Seoul, and many other cities, and has been walking on different streets in different cities. Then comes my favorite line--
It may be a random street in a random city
But I’m looking for the root of my destiny.
You see, as I was alone in the United States, I, too, was looking for my destiny. Hearing this song on that special day indeed made me homesick, but other than being homesick, I started to think where the home of my soul really is.
Of course, my parents, friends, and many beloved ones are in China, far away from me. However, the emotional connection between us has never been cut off by the distance. Muslims say that God is closer to us than our jugular veins. My family is closer to me than my jugular vein. This is the Confucian side of my life. I think we Chinese meet God, at least in part, through our families. I suspect this is true in many parts of the world.
Still, I look for the home of my soul. Even as I am walking on a random street of a random city, the home of my soul is in some ways destined. I am from China, not from the United States. I come from my family, not yours. Back in the days when I was in China, living with my family, I never knew the feel of homesickness and never thought about how I cherish the love coming from them. Being away from home has taught me the real meaning of home. And I start to believe that if I could find the home in my soul and keep it always in my heart, I would be never lonely.
What is this home? Yes, it partly consists of things that are actual: friends and family, for example. But in Whitehead's philosophy possibilities are real, too. They are objects in our imagination, as real in their ways as are the food we eat. If God is real, then surely God meets us in possibilities, too.
I constantly have this dream of running a little Chinese restaurant of my own in America one day. My original intention was to show Americans real Chinese cuisines. I hoped that Chinese culture could be spread through tasty food. Now, I realize that the idea of the Chinese restaurant actually is me finding the home of my soul. The root of my culture and my life is somehow located in this imaginary restaurant, blooming and flourishing. Although it still remains a dream, I wish it would come true in future.
Before I came to America, I had an image of the American as a solitary person, a lonely ranger. I knew that this was not so much an option for us Chinese. We must look for the home in our soul in a crowd. Now I realize that Americans, too, have a family side. They, too, are Confucian in their way. Maybe love of family is a bridge between East and West.
Still, there must be more than this. More than Confucianism. As I get to know more about American people and their lives, besides seeking for the warmth and love from family, they, or most of them, are counting on a more spiritual existence, to be specific, the religion they believe in. For various reasons, they are apart from their hometowns and families; while by the faith deeply rooted in their soul, they are looking forward to the ultimate reunion. A kind of deep togetherness. I think Whitehead calls it peace.
East or west, black or blond, we look for this reunion. It is a reunion with something deep within us and around us, like the wind or stars. And it is a reunion with our families, our loved ones, who are at home with us. Our homes must be open tables, with everyone included.
In any case now I myself have a home in America, too, with American friends. I can bring them home with me some day, or I can bring my family to America. But in my imagination they gather in a restaurant. There’s some stir-fried rice in the wok. I can smell it. This possibility has an olfactory dimension. It's not simply a picture in the imagination; it is an odor, too.
Back, then, to Whitehead and this idea of lures for feeling. I know that some people think of lures as callings. They hear them, like callings from God in the Bible. But surely God can come to people in smells, too; especially that of stir-fried rice.
In the beginning is the rice and it is with God and it is God. My friends and family are God, too. Maybe that’s what Christians mean by holy communion. Maybe that's peace. A restaurant where everyone can come.