Hidden Monsters

The famous sweet eggplant “fries” at Panda King

In most horror movies, the protagonist is facing a life-or-death struggle that is made doubly scary by the inability of the people around them to acknowledge that anything weird is actually happening. This is why most of those horror movie protagonists are women (famously referred to as “final girls”, a trope created by Jamie Lee Curtis in “Halloween”) or children (think the little girl in “Poltergeist”, Danny in “The Shining”, or Linda Blair in “The Exorcist”). When men are in danger, it is usually due to a real, tangible existential threat like in “The Thing”, “Predator” or “Alien” (although Sigourney Weaver ultimately becomes a final girl, too). In contrast, the observations of women and children are easy to dismiss.

These observations are so easy to dismiss, in fact, that women often end up dismissing the little pricks of worry about the maybe-monsters in their own lives. The truth of the matter is — and I think deep down we all know this– monsters are real. They are the ones who are OK with getting their friends and family sick as long as the stock market goes up. They are the ones who are fine with children being in jail as long as they don’t know them personally. Even more commonly, they are the ones who hurt us in our day-to-day lives, but cry victim when confronted with their abuses. They turn their outrages against us in upon themselves, fashioning themselves the heroes in our own horror stories. With blood made of acid and snapping jaws that protrude, they cast themselves as Ripley, turning us into John Hurt choking on glass noodles, secondary players in the “Alien” movie of our own lives. And we allow this to happen. We think we are too smart to be twisted or turned or manipulated. We gaslight ourselves.

I know about this because I once loved monsters, and willingly welcomed them into my life. Even after I discovered them for what they were — the vampires and big bad wolves of the forest — I figured that I deserved whatever depredations they saw fit to grant me, a form of emotional cutting. I fancied myself the ultimate giver. But that was a while ago. Like the lifting of a curse sent by an evil fairy, it takes a long time for the enchanted villager to realise that they need to protect themselves if they want to keep from falling asleep for another 100 years.

I am writing this on the day before Halloween, in the run-up to the U.S. election. Obviously I have particular monsters in mind. But I’ve also been thinking of the monsters I’ve known personally, and the time and energy it took to finally vanquish them. It takes a lot of energy, guys. The kind of energy that you can only get from the very best comfort food that you can find.

Everyone’s A-1 comfort food is different, but for me, Chinese-American junk food is the sort of thing I turn to when I feel like how Don Lemon looks right now, in the homestretch to election day. The PTSD from 2016 is real, yinz. So to shore up our magical defences and the steely resolve of Ripley in a power loader, I binge on fried eggplant sticks, lacquered to a glossy sweet sheen, and sweet-and-sour chicken, similarly glazed but with a bright, citrusy tang. I get these things at Panda King (80/5 Chula 46, Phayathai Rd., 084-210-6522), which is not the platonic ideal of American-Chinese food (the mapo tofu is soupy, the fried dumplings resemble a cervical pillow) but is good enough when the spiritual wolves are howling at the door. A quick meal here and you are ready once again to set ablaze your very own alien egg chamber. Just make sure not to ignore the little voices in your head next time.

Sweet and sour chicken

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Hidden Monsters

  1. I’ve been eating my feelings for months. When anyone asks if I had the virus, I rub my belly and admit, “I got the Covid 19 [pounds] right here.”

    My recent go-to comfort is a bucket of “secret spicy sauce” boneless Korean chicken wings from the local H-Mart. Can’t wait to introduce you to them one day!

  2. ajarn777

    This is a wonderful dish, Cantonese comfort food at its best, one that I grew to love during my time in Hong Kong in 1979, the cold winter months of January and February offering just the right climate to be so comforted. Magaret Thatcher’s much-touted 50-years of respite was a pipe dream in the making, the handover of 1997 two decades down the line. The pipe dream morphed into a nightmare, but Cantonese food remains one of the great cuisines of the world, a constant in a world much troubled. Keep well. Stay safe.

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