After reading the title of this story, I was expecting some really strange fictional story. I envisioned a fully functioning chicken coup out west, complete with problems with gangs and crime. Until one day a mysterious stranger, cowboy chicken, arrived to clean up the coup. Silly and corny, I know. But instead I got an entertaining story that turned into a brutal lessen about capitalist America for a few Chinese workers.
The story follows the narrator, Hongwen, along his path of enlightenment within a brand new fast food restaurant called Cowboy Chicken in a Chinese city. The story describes the grand opening of the fast food restaurant and the hustlings and bustlings of a booming business until it all starts to go sour for the employees. They tried an all you can eat buffet, but apparently Chinese locals aren't accustomed to this practice because Cowboy Chicken's profits were soon eaten away, literally. I thought it was funny that these Chinese people didn't know what a buffet was, considering that around here most of the restaurants owned and operated by Chinese people are, in fact, all you can eat Chinese food buffets. Cowboy Chicken soon becomes the talk of the town, and local businesses begin to have business lunches there. Pretty soon, wedding parties are organized within Cowboy Chicken because of it's "exotic" food. I laughed at the thought of someone wanting their wedding party to be catered by a fast food restaurant. Anyway, some guy shows up talking about how he is going to sue the company because he found a fly in his food. He is sent away, and then Hongwen and Jinglin made sure he wouldn't come back by taking him down an alley and threatening him with a pocketknife. Everything is going fine until the full-time employees decide to pay their manager, Peter, a visit at his new home that is still being built off in the surrounding countryside. They are astounded and disheartened by the amount of money that he makes. Of course, this makes them suspicious of him and so they start to follow his every move to see what other perks his job gets him. They follow him one night after work to see what he does with all the food that he takes home and discover that he burns it (and pees on it apparently). Of course they are furious because they live in socialist China and many people they know are starving, and here is Peter wasting all this meat. After threatening to go public with the information leads them nowhere, the workers decide to try to get Peter fired by the owner Mr. Shapiro. That does not work, so they inform their boss that they are going on strike from the restaurant. Due to some incorrect wording because none of them speak good English, they end up threatening to strike at Cowboy Chicken rather than go on strike. So Mr. Shapiro calls in the cops for security. When the workers return from their half a day strike, they are promptly told that they are completely replaceable and "Terminated!" all at the same time. Hence the brutal lesson on capitalist America.
For the most part I thought this story was pretty entertaining and I laughed out loud at several spots. I'm not sure a lot of parts were even meant to be funny, but the honesty of some parts made it funny to me. For instance, when they were discussing how they all got diarrhea from the wedding party, I thought that was hilarious. The one worker said he thought he would crap his guts out. An old woman unfolded a common paper napkin with a flower pattern on it while eating at Cowboy Chicken, and apparently deemed it too beautiful to wipe her hands with. Most of the Chinese people could not manage to eat with a fork, so they all ate their cheesecake with chopsticks as if that would be easier to do. Stuff like that was all amusing to me. Most of it was just simple truth, but none of it would ever happen in this country. There were a few other parts that amused me for different reasons. On page 190, Hongwen describes Mr. Shapiro as hardly ever coming out of his office because he was too busy reading newspapers and dicking around in there to put in any real work. Shapiro also tried to date his female employees. This reminded me of some of the bosses I have worked for over the years.
Some of the other things that came to mind while reading this were cultural differences. I guess they don't put bathrooms in restaurants in China (page 189). And I thought it was interesting to see the other side of things having to do with our food. Also, Americans complain about our jobs being sent oversees more and more because of cheap labor and things like that. On page 187, the Chinese people complained that the American company was moving in on them, using their labor, and then shipping all the profits back to the U.S. I guess nobody wins in that situation. It's pretty crazy that a lot of the Chinese companies simply can't pay their employees the the wages that were promised to them because the money just isn't there. Hongwen made half again as much money in his first month working for Cowboy Chicken as his father did from the military after almost forty years. That's just sad. Their socialist government doesn't provide enough food or wages so they are hungry all the time, and yet they curse capitalism for having leftovers. They see the problems with their government but choose to focus their ill will on capitalism instead. On page 200, when they saw the woman with tons of rings and diamonds and gold on her fingers, they thought it was a bad thing. They said she was probably lazy because she undoubtedly did no housework with jewelry like that. Our society would think something far different about those rings.
One random thing I noticed was that there was yet another reference to the University of Iowa towards the beginning of the story. It seems like everything we read lately has something to do with that school. Lastly, I thought I would look up the exchange rate for the Chinese yuan, just to get an idea of the amounts they were talking about throughout the entire story. One U.S. dollar is worth about 6.83 yuan right now. This means the all you can eat buffet was less than three dollars, and Peter's giant 3 story victorian house complete with garage and sitting on 2 acres of land only cost around $40,000. Obviously that is extremely cheap, and still none of them could believe how wealthy Peter was. I could get used to stuff like that. Its not only a good exchange rate, but everything is cheaper there anyway. I need to make a trip to China. Anyway, this story lived up to it's name. It's a good read.