Last weekend, I attended the Asian American Student Association’s Fall Ball. Themed after last year’s popular film “Crazy Rich Asians,” the event took place at the ornately decorated Chinese and Mongolian restaurant Tony Cheng’s in Chinatown. Although the food blew most other restaurants I’ve dined at out of the park, the sense of community the Fall Ball created made me realize how my connection to the Asian community on campus had been missing at Georgetown.
Tickets for Fall Ball were quick to sell out, with a waitlist starting to run a few days before the event. The point of Fall Ball is to bring not only students from AASA together, but also students from other Asian-cultural organizations on campus. What’s interesting about this event, though, is that each club sends a representative to get auctioned off for a date. These auctions are entirely made in jest, and usually involve some form of warming up the crowd. When asked, “What’s your favorite pick-up line?” one auctionee replied, “Are you Vietnamese? Because I’d love to pho you!”
The Asian dishes at Tony Cheng’s have served celebrities from all walks of life, such as the Clintons, the Bushes, and even Bradley Cooper, as evidenced by the numerous photos adorning the walls. The restaurant is split into two floors: the first focusing on Mongolian cuisine and the second catering to a more Chinese palate.
The process of waiting in the cold for an Uber, navigating through traffic, sitting at a table with my friends and enjoying good food transformed the night from just another club event to a night full of community and friendship.
The Fall Ball makes for a great opportunity to escape the Hilltop, to take a break from Leo’s food and to reconnect with my culture. Even the simple conversations in my brief Uber ride about our favorite restaurants and hobbies allowed me to feel more at home and offered a brief respite from the academic and high-stress culture of Georgetown.
In many Asian cultures, food is used as a connection among people; whether it’s acquaintances or close friends, everyone is automatically brought closer together as soon as the dishes are brought out. I attended this event with my proverbial “family,” which is a group of students from AASA who are paired up in order to provide mentorship and friendship. It was relaxing to speak with my “littles” so casually, talking about topics ranging from schoolwork to different transportation systems throughout the United States, while bonding over our shared cultural food.
By attending this event, I realized what I had been missing in my day-to-day Georgetown experience — the first being decent Chinese food. I know I’ve written previously about on-campus dining, but it just doesn’t compare to Tony Cheng’s. The dishes feature actual flavor in every single bite, and unlike 5Spice, each bite wasn’t drenched in oil or felt like I was eating a spoonful of salt. This authentic cuisine brought back memories of days when the majority of my Asian food options weren’t mere imitations of what I loved.
The second thing I realized I had been lacking at Georgetown is a sense of community. It was my first time during my two years at the Hilltop where I was in a room with a densely-populated Asian American demographic. Most of the time, I’m surrounded by people of ethnic backgrounds different from mine. But being in this environment, from the people to the Asian decorations in the restaurant, I felt as if the Hilltop and the world around me wasn’t as lonely as I thought and that I could speak to people who shared similar backgrounds as me.
The three-hour dinner was not only a great chance for me to catch up with my littles, but also a great chance for me to catch up with myself. I was debating whether I wanted to go because of the price — which was $20 — but I decided that this would be a good chance for me to experience something I never had before, to go out and be in a large room full of Asians.
At the venue, we ate together, poured tea for one another, joked together and enjoyed each other’s company. At the end of the day, I’m glad that I embarked on this journey and hope to continue more of these adventures in the future; the Fall Ball helped me make community in a way I hadn’t yet experienced on campus and experience more authentic Asian cuisine than offered on campus.
Tyler Chan is a junior in the College. This is the final installment of Food for Thought.