While Oliver and I have been out of town, one of our favourite restaurants, The Noodle House, has become the focus of teen anger. The mayor claims that these attacks are not racially motivated, but surely this reflects some sort of very limited view of racism: the teen gangs aren’t attacking Swiss Chalet or the Dairy Queen, after all, and whether they have choosen their target because the of the race of the management, or because The Noodle House is a small, independent business that they don’t understand, the ignorance is the same.
Many of the more important events in my life in the last 13 years have happened at The Noodle House.
Catherine and I had our first big argument there; an argument big enough that whenever we were in sight of arguing again, one of us (usually me) would suggest that we retire to The Noodle House to continue.
Island Services Network was conceived in The Noodle House (it was born, several years later, in Pat’s Rose and Grey). A much younger Peter and Kevin, working for others at the time and frustrated by the dearth of affortable Internet, mused together over several orders of samosas and Kung Pao Gar Ding how things could be different. We called it “Noodle Net” at the time. And sometimes we still do.
Oliver had his first meal out at The Noodle House. He was in a car seat. We were with my parents. We got to sit at the coveted “lazy susan table.” We’ve been back many times since.
As any regular patron of The Noodle House will know, the service is among the best in the world: after several visits, your regular order is memorized and offered to you as a starting place. Catherine asked for chopsticks once, 10 years ago. She has received them, and the hot sauce she asked for, every order since.
And yet, despite all this, it has taken teen attacks for me to learn that the names of the owners are Tommy and Lina Ko. Short of chit-chat at the cash register on the way out, I’ve never inquired about their names. Or their life. Or stopped to consider their important role in my life. I’ve been happy to eat their tasty food, benefit from their warm service, and then leave to return two or three weeks later.
And it’s taken the teen attacks for the community to be forced to confront the racism that lurks within us. That is us.
While I laud efforts, like this one from Zach Stephens, and am proud of the fact that Mayor Lee and the Chief of Police were so quick to react to the immediate situation, I fear that, even if the Kos are convinced to keep The Noodle House and stay in Charlottetown, we’ll all be too quick to take this incident as an aberration rather than as an important sign that deep within the Island soul is a tremendous, powerful fear of the strange, new and unknown.
When this fear leads Islanders to value and honour the past, to conserve a special way of life, to resist the senseless modernities of the big city, and to bond together in strong and powerful families and communities, it can be a positive, attractive, life-affirming force. The kind of force that brings people like us to the Island as refugees from urban life.
When this fear leads Islanders to reject the foreign, to stay too close to home to much of the time, to resist adopting new attitudes and new approaches, and to consider everyone new and different as a potential threat to the established and known, we see it manifest in disturbing, frightening, hateful ways.
As much as it’s important not to lose sight of the immediate need to quell the teen violence, perhaps we should also take the opportunity to consider our own part in building the foundation that allowed it to manifest against something that perhaps only now we realize we hold so dear.