Sunday, February 15, 2009


Wu’s Bamboo House in Redlands, California, was a blocky stucco building that squatted at the edge of a large municipal parking lot. Several large signs near the door proclaimed “Chinese-American Food,” and a loudspeaker over the entrance blared hymns and religious messages in English.

Inside, a smiling Chinese man greeted me, inviting me to sit anywhere I’d like. Apparently I was the only diner. Evangelical music filled the dining room. On every table was a bottle of catsup and several religious tracts.

The man—was it Mister Wu himself?—brought me a menu that listed hamburgers, steaks fried chicken, and “Regular Chinese Luncheon.” I asked if they offered either of my Asian favorites, Ginger Beef, or Chow Yuk.

“Yes, yes, yes,” Mr. Wu replied, repeating my words. He took the menu and vanished into the kitchen.

Looking around, I saw a table just inside the entrance that was covered with an assortment of religious tracts, all arranged in tidy stacks. Also on the table was a four-by-five-inch card that said, “Smile, God loves you.”

On the wall were several framed panels calligraphed in Chinese characters and probably bearing the same message. I read one of the tracts on my table while I waited. It was written in English, and it described how heart attacks are the result of poor eating habits, smoking, lack of exercise, and other forms of bad living. It ended with a short Gospel message.

I have always avoided fatty foods. In the last twenty years I had smoked half a cigar. Several times a week I jog four or five miles. When I perish, it won’t be the result of bad living.

Presently Mr. Wu returned and placed in front of me a large platter that held neither Chow Yuk nor Ginger Beef. When I delicately asked about the slight mistake, he said, “Yes, yes, yes. We all out of ginger and Chow Yuk, so I give you Regular.”

Regular was deep fried egg roll, fried wonton, fried rice, and what I guessed was chop suey.

After a few bites I realized the rice was brown rice, cooked perfectly and delightfully chewy. And what I assumed were slices of beef, or maybe pork, in the chop suey were not real meat but a soy substitute. The egg rolls were crisp, and not at all greasy. It was a healthy Chinese vegetarian meal. And it was delicious.

When I finished I made my way to the men’s room, down a hall whose walls were hung with pictures of Jesus. On top of the toiled tank was a rack holding religious tracts. On one wall was a metal rack of order forms for free Bibles.

At the front desk I paid my bill, noting more tracts placed around the cash register. There were signs assuring me of God’s love. I told Mr. Wu I greatly enjoyed my meal.

He smiled, showing many teeth, and said, “Yes, yes, yes.”

Mr. Wu handed me my change and gave me a fresh peach.

He smiled some more and said, “No charge for Chinese peach. Good eating, good health, and God love you.”