Last Thursday, after slurping apple sauce noodles at Beijing’s trendy Noodle Loft, one of the owners, American Johnny Hsu, whose wife and child still live in San Francisco, gave me a tour of his two-story establishment on the edge of the city’s Central Business District.
“We have eight kinds of noodles,” boasted Hsu as one of his chefs sliced noodles with a chopstick. “We even have green spinach noodles that are 25 feet long."
Foreign media personalities, including chef and television host Anthony Bourdain, have profiled the restaurant. The chefs at the Beijing Ritz-Carlton are also showing up for noodle-making lessons.
But beyond the “glitzy eatery in modern
A naturalized American citizen, Hsu was born in
But a little over a year ago, he jet westward for Beijing, and with the exception of his being without his family, he told me that he does not miss San Francisco very much.
“This is the place to be,” Hsu told me as one of his chefs demonstrated how to make a noodle shaped like a cat’s ear. “There’s great growth.”
Hsu’s sentiments reverberate throughout much of the history of Chinese migration. The outward-looking, merchant-minded, ambitious, and economically sophisticated have rarely been hesitant to journey toward places where opportunities abound.
Even before the world rushed into California for gold in 1849, a number of Chinese entrepreneurs were already thinking about business prospects on North America’s western frontier. In 1846, as words spread that war was likely to break out between the
If and when fighting began there would be a need for supplies. American soldiers quartered on the frontier would need food to eat, shoes and clothes to wear and alcohol to drink. “Armies always travel on their stomachs,” writes historian Loren Fessler. So it was understood that restaurants would be in great demand. The merchants in
Because of the social and cultural connections between the
Those sojourners understood the comparative advantages of being Chinese in their adopted country, and also appreciated how their statuses as Chinese in
Hsu is a case of history continuing on its course. His American college degree and citizenship allow him to be seen in
Obviously, for people like Hsu, today’s
The growth has brought more people—both domestic and foreign—into major Chinese urban centers in search of opportunities. But most of
Hsu’s wife and child have no plans to join him in
“As long as things are good,” Hsu answered quickly, pointing out that he and his partners have plans to open four more restaurants in
And so like so many sojourners before him, Hsu will live his life along the fortunes of the international economic cycle, trusting good luck and his own adaptive skills. Should China’s economy slow in the years ahead, which it will, or should China’s economy faces more serious trouble, which it might, Hsu will just adjust accordingly. Until then, though, he is quite content to leverage his marginality.