HOU GOU FONDUE
All I want is a bowl of chop suey, A bowl of chop suey and you-ey, A cozy little table for two-ey, With a bowl of chop suey and you-ey. For a place that’s very Chinesy Is nice for a hug and squeezy, Where we can do a billion coo-eys With a bowl of chop suey for two-ey. Ben Bernie, Alyce Goering, and Walter Bullock, “A Bowl of Chop Suey and You-ey,” 1934, as performed by Sam Robbins and his Hotel McAlpin Orchestra
China was the first to attempt export of goods/ culture on a massive global scale with the Silk Roads. The trade routes not only became a way of exchange of goods but subsequently transformed into veins pumping culture, from one place to another. Food, music, art, language can be traced travelling this physical networks around the globe, in some cases adapted and re-appropriated whilst at others displacing what was once the norm.
The Silk Roads set the basis of a huge change from local to global, from intra to inter - globalisation; a word that has re-emerged as a concept with the boom of the internet and infrastructure and has overshadowed the world from early 90’s until today. Massive debates on the pros and cons - an open free market, cultural and material cross pollination, access to a global economy where countries have a voice outside the context they have operated for centuries. With the evolution of technology, the spread of knowledge, exchange nurtured this massive spread of ideas from micro to macro scale, from local to global. A dish invented in a street market somewhere could be scaled up into a world-wide phenomenon.
Yet the negative effects of this free movement of ideas, products, dishes infiltrating into different worlds and cultures has been alarming for some. The once tiny dish served in one area, scaled up and exported into different contexts cities overshadowing and ‘killing’ the local. Corporations capitalising on this dishes which in a way substitute local culture dishes and eliminating them.
This in particular has caused another movement against global food, against the faceless ‘corporation’ wanting to preserve the local cultures. Yet what is really local? We are at the point now that we are agonising on notions of authenticity, locality and truth. The term itself has often become a marketing construct to sell a product which has no longer a true identity. Locality has been bought by large corporations, wrapped and packaged and resold to the public.
Our project looks at how the Lazy Susan, an invention made in the US to share food on the table. It was exported and assimilated within China then re-exported back into the world. Our fascination with China and its long history exporting culture becomes the departure point and the main trigger for the Hou Gou table. We looked into Chinatowns and how these micro depictions of the mainland, emerge in every major city, showing how the country operates and handles physical and conceptual territory to establish itself in foreign lands.
This phenomenon of Chinese micro worlds, in cities around the world became the basis for our speculative fiction. Exotic islands floating against western cities, bright luscious red colours, exuberant pagodas and mythical dragons of the far east floating within our western cities of brick. We were interested not only in how their rich recipes and dishes are consumed within foreign territories but also how China has found a recipe to establish itself in the built environment and create a strong identity which can be easily replicated, pasted and appropriated around the world. Starting from a dish such as the hot pot, scaling up to the table, interior, street and whole building blocks, it has generated a robust presence and a business paradigm like no other. China has managed to export these conceptual islands to the rest of the world creating an archipelago of culture which infiltrates and enriches our cities.