Benign Masochism: Putting Out the Fire of Spice-Based Stereotypes

“Can you make it a little spicy,” I asked the server at my local Sichuan greasy spoon.

“Are you sure?” the 19-year-old waitress says with that mix of disbelief, condescension, and surprise in Sichuan-accented Mandarin that makes you want to move to Chengdu and fall in love.

“Yes. I like spicy.”

“Foreigners can eat spicy?” she asks/declares to her colleague standing nearby.

Yes. Foreigners can eat spicy.

Don’t judge me, just leave me to my “benign masochism” and bring on the chilies.