The One About Scallion Pancakes

I have a weird story about scallion pancakes. It goes like this.

Around this time last year, I was walking down my street in San Francisco when a woman waved something at me. I thought she needed help with something, so I went closer. Instead, she clicked something (she was waving a torch, the kind you ignite gas stoves with), and she held the flame in my face.

I had no idea what she was doing.

She said, "I'm going to burn you!"

"Why?" I was really confused.

"Because you're Chinese."


That's what was happening. Until that point, I had largely avoided the worst of that stuff. I had no idea what to do. A bus arrived. I got into it.

As I was leaving, she kept pointing it at me, and she said, I'm also going to burn your dog! She is.. also Chinese!

I know she wasn't well.

I know that she needs help.

But I didn't know what I would do when that happened to me, finally.

Not much, maybe other than a lot of crying. I got to take time off work. I had therapy. I talked to a lot of people. I thought often of the moment, of what had happened, and I don't remember anything else about her now (I am face blind, that helps). If I saw her again on the streets (this happened around the corner where I live), I would not recognize her. But I remember the flame that she briefly lit, and how it changed everything about my life and my experience of the city that I had, up until that moment, thought of as home.

I don't think of her very much now. But it comes up when I least expect it. For example, when I took out a package of Trader Joe's Taiwanese Green Onions Pancake.

Now, it's probably a perfectly fine product for most people, but it's going to be forever remembered in my home now as The Time I Had Trader Joe's Scallion Pancakes and Absolutely Lost My Shit.

Somehow, the act of eating a frozen scallion pancake had unearthed all kinds of.. feelings. Mainly, why the hell am I here? There's racism, and there's frozen scallion pancakes! I would never accept frozen pancakes for any meal back home! Least of all scallion pancakes with COCONUT OIL made for WHITE PEOPLE, that aren't even flaky or layered.. or good!!!

I was inconsolable.

My wife never buys them anymore. She calls it my crying pancakes.

(We really like this one. It doesn't make me cry.)

My pancake nervous breakdown, that probably wasn't really about pancakes, but about immigration, identity, immigration, anxiety, concern about the state of the world and my personal safety, led me to book a flight back to Singapore.

More than anything else, I just needed to know that I was going to have the safety and comforts of home in my family house with my parents and with food I like. Where I was never going to have to eat anything frozen, ever. So I did that, shortly after my pancake breakdown.

And the first meal that I had when I got there was a scallion pancake. From here. Freshly made. By hand. Not frozen. Available for breakfast. For a buck or something. It was really good, and I did not cry.

But my parents could not understand why I so desperately wanted to eat a scallion pancake. It was not something I would crave, or ask for. It's not even really... Singaporean at all.

I could not explain how: between two scallion pancakes, one frozen and one fresh, laid the entire spectrum of my sadness and grief as well as my happiness and joy. I get to be queer, autistic, and to be with the person that I love. But I also get fires in my face, and frozen scallion pancakes that make me cry.

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