Bringing a Taste of China to Germany – Lin’s Story

December, Frankfurt train station. It was a typical early afternoon in a pre-Christmas Germany city. On the small Christmas market next to the train station, some people were standing around a little wood cabin selling heart-shaped ginger bread, drinking mulled wine. Not far from the Christmas market, steam was coming out from the ground floor of a building. From 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day except for Sundays, the steam doesn’t stop.

The steam comes out from the famous “Lukas’ Noodle Shop”. Opened in early 2015, the shop quickly became the hit in the Chinese community in Frankfurt. Its owner, Lin, a small woman with short hair who always wears a smile on her face, works almost every day in the restaurant.

agriculture asia cat china
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Originally from a small village in Zhejiang Province, China, Lin is the youngest daughter in a family of six. After high school, Lin couldn’t afford going to university. To make a living, she left her home village and started working at different restaurants in the next big city at the age of eighteen. Five years later, her newly wedded husband moved to Germany for a better professional opportunity. A few months later, Lin came along.

Lin had no idea what she could do when she arrived in the foreign country. She didn’t know the language nor the culture. Helping out in some Chinese restaurants in Frankfurt, she was soon tired of the so-called “Chinese food” that were mostly just fried things with rice on the side. “Way too much fat in dishes.” She said. Like many Chinese people living in Western countries, Lin was unhappy with the restaurants there. “Many places are so overprized!” She thought about opening her own restaurant to fill the gap between people’s expectation on Chinese cuisine and the disappointing local businesses. “My idea was to open a Chinese food-street model restaurant. It offers snacks from different regions in China, ideally in a fast-food style.” She said.

Just when the preparation was going well, one day, the local police called her up with a terrible news — her husband passed away in a car accident. “It was the darkest year in my life,” Lin said, “I went home to China and stayed with my family for some months, couldn’t bear to go anywhere else.” Her family wanted to persuade her to stay in China. But she believed that something unfinished was still waiting for her in Germany. “My life had to go on. And my life is no longer in China.”

A year later, Lin came back to Germany after mourning her husband. With the support from friends and the local community, she decided to invest her savings to open her restaurant. “It has been my dream since I moved to Germany — running a restaurant where Chinese people, especially students, can enjoy something that reminds them of the taste of home without paying too much money.”

She didn’t have enough money to open the food street restaurant. “‘What if there’s a type of food that exists almost in every city in China?’ I asked myself. Then it came to me — hand-pulled beef noodles from Lanzhou! It’s a type of food that is so popular in China that almost every town has some places selling noodles like that.” To ensure the food is authentic Lanzhou flavor as she would promise to the customers, Lin sent a friend, Lukas, to Lanzhou, to attend a noodle-making academy in order to master the craft and art. After several months’ training, Lukas returned to Germany, became the noodle master of the restaurant.

woman standing in front of building
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“Our customers are not only from mainland China, but also from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Many Germans like to come to us too.” Lin explained proudly, “still, we had to adjust the flavor and ingredients a little bit. The original taste is very aromatic but also too spicy for many people here. Of course, the soup itself is guaranteed to be authentic. We’ve given our best.”

The restaurant has only ten tables, with a big open kitchen next to the door. Every customer coming in and even every person walking by can see how Lukas pulling noodles as if it was martial art. Lukas’ Noodle Shop is attracting more and more home-taste-seeking Chinese people and curious non-Chinese taste buds. “Tasty but fair price” is the most comment Lin receives. “Business has just taken off, I realized that I have grey hair now. But I’m feeling better than ever.” Lin said, her smiling face glowing hope and happiness, “because I’m living my dream.”

The “World Park” and Some Thoughts on Postmodernism

Postmodernism is featured as many: intertextuality, re-making, identity ambiguity, mocking and self-mocking, and lost of meaning. The idea of “all that could be created has already been created” is a display of desperation as well as confusion. The emergence of postmodernism, which resulted from human’s desire for an alternative to post-war trauma, . Assisted by advanced technologies, humans are able to create “fantasies” that could help them to face the imagined world, or simply representations of fantasies that carry the philosophical features.

An interesting instance of this matter is “World” park in Beijing, as a simulation of the concentration of most famous architectures all over the world, which is consisted of small-sized replicas of Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Sphinxes and other landmarks. Just as animation movies, originally aimed at children, which started to serve for adult audience at the rise of the post-Second-World-War changes, the theme park “World” shows not only to children who do not have experiences into the “world”, but most importantly, it displays all the people in the country who were not able to see the authentic ones with their own eyes. Although “fake”, these replicas in the park construct a simulation that satisfies the longing of people for the world that is totally different from theirs. But it is indeed a “fantasy”, as all the other postmodern works. Disney World is a fantasy. Although built based on real architecture, it represents a world not existing in this world; while the “World” park represents the places that actually exist in the world. However for the audience, it is still a “fantasy land”. Perhaps that is the most ironic point of this instance. Until the end of 20th century, travelling to another side of the border was still a upper-class privilege in China. Since the “open-up” of the country in 1970s and the introduction of free market and many other western economic and cultural concepts, the common Chinese people started to feel eager to know more about the outside world. High travelling expenses and visa restrictions (to clear up, “visa restriction” on citizens does not refer to they are not allowed to leave the country by their own government, rather the foreign countries only issue entering permission in this country in rare cases. It is a diplomatic matter, which means it is always mutual.) made it virtually impossible for the common. Thus, the theme parks like “World” park were built up to cater the needs of the Chinese people who eagerly wanted to see and to connect with the rest of the world.

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a replica of the “Golden Gate Bridge”

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A Simulation of The White House

Further, another question was raised on extension of this example: geographically the same distance between China and the western world, why didn’t the western countries also build such theme parks replicating eastern famous buildings as China did? The answer is less than obvious. The victory of capitalism decided the dominance of western culture since the end of the Cold War. On the opposite of the time of Marco Polo, western society in the late 20th century had not so much curiosity for eastern cultures other than judgments about them as “under-developed”, “oppressed” and “mysterious”. Even today it is still the same. As whom I can speak for, the Chinese, Japanese and South Korean people watch large amount of contemporary western movies and TV series, and to know more about the western modern life. How much do westerns watch eastern TVs? Apart from the culture dominance of western society the last question can also be answered to by different concepts of travelling and travel-expense-affordability.

ImagePeople experience a Arab camel ride in the World Park

The postmodern simulation creates nothing more but illusions. The illusion is created on the variable level of believability depending on the purpose of the simulations. The “World” park does not need to make visitors to feel as if they were really in the authentic places, but the technologies that enable to make alteration on a person’s identity needs to. Does the plastic surgery really alter who the person is? Or the same as all the other postmodern products, it only creates a fantasy for humanity to escape from the reality to dive into the illusion, which is also created by the humans, so that they can mock at the “imperfection” of reality, then mock at the mocking and finally at the existence of themselves.

ImageNew York and the Manhattan Skyline, of course before 9/11, 2011

A typical “ultimate question” of Postmodernism is no longer “Who am I?” and “Where I am?” but rather “Who do I want to be?” and “Where do I want to go?” In a era that always emphasises “nothing is impossible”, the technology-advanced postmodern society virtually made everything possible by imagination and simulate imagination into reality. However, no matter how postmodern philosophy thrives, people are not living in any of the fantasy and will never be. The ironic feature of postmodern works could be critical so that humans would reflect themselves and try to make the reality better.