Uncle Ming’s Bar: a shot of contemporary orientalism

Lecturers explaining Orientalism should simply take their students on a field trip to Uncle Ming’s Bar — a grotesque hodgepodge of fetishized Asian cultures mixed together by owners who probably don’t know how to use chopsticks.

Ming’s is located on York Street, opposite Wynyard Park, down a flight of stairs semi-hidden under a modest tailor. Since opening in 2012, Ming’s has faithfully served the people of Sydney with its ambient atmosphere, creative cocktails and in-your-face racial insensitivity.

Yet upon arrival, you may at first be oblivious to the cultural bastardy that awaits you. As the child of a first-generation Chinese immigrant, I’m a little ashamed to admit that I was first fascinated by the soft red glow that bathes the place, and drawn – as if by magnetism – towards the nicely backlit bar, primed by boring critical thinking. .

Thankfully, once the alcohol wore off, the crimson oasis that lay before me eventually faded. What remains – upon closer inspection and a bit of online research – is a true example of why Ming exemplifies contemporary Orientalism.

At the risk of oversimplifying, Edward Said defined Orientalism as the Western tradition of perceiving the Orient as “exotic”, underdeveloped, and inferior in a way that allows for a presumption of authority. In the case of Ming, Orientalism manifests itself clearly in four key departments.

1. Exoticism

The bar is described as an “opium hotbed” run by fictional uncle Ming: one of “Shanghai’s most notorious characters – a sweet potato seller who began a life of crime as a policeman collecting drugs. ‘protection money from local opium traders’. If a team of writers were cooped up in a room with only Pauline Hanson interviews and Rush Hour gags playing on repeat, I doubt they could conjure up more offensive clichés for an establishment’s brand image than chinese theme.

Aside from the fact that associating China with opium is such an empty stereotype, describing a social destination as an opium den is utterly morbid. Opium – a source of morphine and heroin – caused widespread addiction in China from the 18and Century. Curiously, it was Western countries that imported the drug into Chinese territory, against the will and laws of the Qing dynasty. The problem has become so serious that China has waged two wars against Britain and Britain-France in an attempt, in part, to stop imports of the drug.

In this context, opium symbolizes a rather tragic segment of Chinese history. On top of that, a Google search for “opium pit” yields images of dark, crowded rooms filled with desperate, emaciated figures – the sight of which would likely terrify the ignorant halfwit who dreamed up the concept of the bar.

Beyond being unpleasant, these stereotypes perpetuate a form of alienating exoticism. For branding purposes, Ming operatives have created a caricature that subliminally alienates China and its people from Western hegemony. Consequently, the Chinese are not represented as part of the community but as the “Other”; not as daily customers of Ming’s, but as “sweet potato sellers”, opium users or “notorious” criminals in Shanghai.

2. Homogenization

Westerners confuse disparate Asian nationalities and reduce Asia to a single homogeneous entity is a common phenomenon. Once a drunken man indiscriminately shouted “ninja samurai” at my Chinese friend and I as we walked down a quiet western Sydney street. Ming’s elevates such ruthless homogenization to heights of dizzying insensitivity.

On the internet, Ming’s is marked as either Asian-themed or Chinese-themed. Obviously, for the owners, there is no real difference.

The fictional history of Ming and the etymology of his name indicate Chinese influence. However, upon entering the bar, it mixes with a careless concoction of elements from very different East Asian countries. Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, North Korea and Vietnam all contribute to Ming’s branding, menus and interior design.

Besides reinforcing the reductive Western perception of Asia as a homogenized entity, the grotesque cultural Frankenstein that is Uncle Ming provides a clear insight into the racist worldview of its management.

This is particularly evident in the bar’s blatant marketing, with their Instagram feed also serving as a public bulletin board for the account owner’s racist musings. The profile is littered with photos from various Asian cultures with captions disparaging its subjects in an effort to promote the bar in a comedic way. One is captioned “Throwback to that time Uncle Ming won the Melbourne Cup” and features a Japanese samurai warrior in a silk painting. Yeah, one Japanese Samurai warrior. Other posts identify Uncle Ming in photos of a real Chinese street vendor and a Japanese employee.

At Uncle Ming’s Bar, Asia is a monolithic entity that deserves no meaningful exploration, respect or celebration. On the contrary, its nations and people are to be stereotyped, ridiculed and exploited for profit.

3. Racist usurpations

The bar frequently adopts the online persona of Uncle Ming, which involves typing broken English and talking about Ming in the third person. One article, depicting a random man leaning on a sidewalk, is captioned “Uncle Ming has a menu on his website, so you don’t have to bend over and squint like cousin Chan… Uncle Ming forgot the time you penciled on Aunt Fung’s wall and blamed Uncle Ming.

Another message is captioned “Mumma Ming very angry at Uncle Ming. He forgets Mother’s Day. 16 voice messages. Uncle Ming has to wait until the afternoon, to drink and listen to the many times where he dishonored Mumma Ming.

The character Ming is also adopted in their responses to Google reviews. It reads “Ni Hao Mr Saagar, when Ming is busy, we can’t break the rules and wait only 3-7 minutes. Ming thinks you excuse your wife for being an hour late and don’t argue with the guard Aunty Ming doesn’t like to wait 1 hour and Ming is always sorry for Aunty.

If you’re feeling masochistic and want to study the full extent of the bar’s racism, browse their Instagram and Google’s criticism responses.

4. White, white, white

Unsurprisingly, photographic evidence suggests that Ming’s patronage is largely white, or failing that, largely stupid. While some Asian-looking revelers publicly tagged the bar in social media posts, it should be noted that these people’s ability to criticize the venue was likely inhibited by alcohol or their possession of fewer brain cells. than Instagram followers.

Like the majority of his customers, the general manager and co-founder of Uncle Ming’s Bar is the very white Justin Best. While I’m not alleging any malice on Best’s part, the man’s entrepreneurial spirit demonstrates a surprising lack of cultural sensitivity. Better (that is), if you’re reading this, try having a conversation with someone of Chinese descent. If that fails, maybe open a map of Asia and look at the dividing lines – you have to start somewhere.


If, after reading this article, you want the Uncle Ming experience without having to support a racist company, try sticking a block of dried instant noodles on a wall and go head first. Culturally and physiologically speaking, it should have a comparable impact.

If, instead, you want to get acquainted with the theory of Orientalism, check out Edward Said. Perhaps if Best had been lucky enough to stumble upon Said’s writing, he wouldn’t have opened a bar that is inherently bastardized and exploits cultures not its own. Maybe, in an alternate universe where he studied arts instead of business, Justin Best runs a tasteful CBD bar called Uncle Steve’s.

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