Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Man cannot sit down and wait for roast duck to fly into mouth.

- Chinese proverb

Five Chinese restaurants into my vacation, I've noticed that fortune cookies happen to be a staple here. If the waiters aren't distributing a bunch of them to your table after your meal, they're offering the doughy treats in a transparent plastic bowl next to the exit.

Fortune cookies are remarkably uncomplicated snacks -- almost Zen-like in the way they're taken apart, read and eaten. They're not even "cookies", for that matter -- just thin batter pancakes that happen to be folded into crescent shapes in order to harbor the mysterious piece of paper inside.

Personally, I don't have a good relationship with fortune cookies. One of my first experiences with them involved stuffing my mouth with what I thought was dessert, and then complaining to my relatives about the weird papery taste.

Even at a stage later in life (when I've hopefully taught myself not to eat any more foods with hidden messages in them), I refuse to ascribe any mystical or charming value to fortune cookies. The cookies, for their part, refuse to give me any respect at all. That's Chinese pastry for you.

I remember making the mistake of opening up a fortune cookie early this year, at a nice little restaurant near my place of work. The tiny slip of paper inside essentially told me this:

There is no right time to get married, only the right person.

Oh yeah, that's right. Remind me of my bachelorhood, why don't you.

Despite this ominous little reminder, I decided to open up a second fortune cookie. I don't know if I did it because I was still hungry, or because I wanted to erase the stigma of the first message, but I did it nonetheless. The piece of paper inside this new one said:

Listen to the first fortune cookie, Sean.

All right, no, that was a joke. What it really said was:

Wisdom comes in many faces, but never from your own.

Yeah, my relationship with fortune cookies is a little strained right now.

It's kind of obvious at this point that there's at least one factory that churns out these fortune cookies, packages them, and then delivers them to Chinese restaurants across the United States. In five different eating establishments in multiple locales, I've noticed that the baking style and packaging has been very consistent.

What's not consistent, however, are the fortunes themselves. I find myself wondering just how many different sayings there are that can be found on little slips of paper. (For that matter, I find myself wondering if the fortune cookie manufacturers actually pay people to come up with sayings like these. Writers like me can probably make a killing that way.) When a group of seven people gets a totally different gathering of interesting quotations in five different restaurants, you know that someone out there is going to great lengths to keep things new and refreshing.

It would probably be a lot better if fortune cookies dispensed some better pieces of advice, though. It's hard enough to puzzle out what the current Zen-like quotations mean; I, for one, would rather that the fortune-writers put down the stuff that would be immediately useful for many of us:

You probably haven't noticed this yet, buddy, but your fly is open.

Stop ogling. Her boyfriend's going to come around the corner behind you in... oh, about two seconds.

The winning numbers for this month's $340-million state lottery are 21, 3, 40, 18, 7, and...

Fact is, one can probably write anything he or she wants in these fortune cookies. I mean, who would complain if they got offended? We'd all probably just take them as worthwhile pieces of advice or something:

Nobody likes a weasel. Stop sucking up to the boss.

I hate to break it to you, buddy boy, but most women do
not find a hanging gut sexy.

Stop trying to hide it. Everybody knows you're bald, anyway.

And hey, why can't companies place advertisements in fortune cookies, anyway? You'd at least be catering to a significant portion of the Asian-American public:

Looking for bargain-basement prices on used clothes? Then drop by Jin's Emporium right next door! Lowest prices on everything from shawls to hats to men's trousers and cowboy boots! Open Mondays to Saturdays, 10 to 8.

Hong's Fortune Cookie Factory... for all your fortune cookie needs. Guaranteed accurate fortunes written by our top-level team of pesudo-astrological experts!

Okay, I'll stop now. I'm starting to get pretty insulting.

Now, just so that I can technically make this a suman latik post, how about the possibility of inserting pieces of paper with little bits of wisdom into the glutinous-rice treats themselves? I would imagine that there are a lot of people in the country who would benefit from a little less stupidity.

Sadly, the more I think of it, the more I figure that it probably wouldn't work.

They'd probably just complain of the strange papery taste in their mouths.


cstiu said...

Do any of the fortune cookies say, "Your blog readers are going crazy from the tremendous shortage of blog posts from your site, please help them with their sanity soon (Go back home)"? :)

Sean said...

cstiu: Er... no. But that's good advice. :)