A recent graduate at the University of Southern California (USC) skipped the usual campus spots and instead chose to have his celebratory graduation photoshoot inside the on-campus Panda Express.
Garey Gan chose the restaurant to shoot his graduation photos instead of the locations suggested by his photographer friend, Pasadena Star News reported.
According to Gan, he made the decision simply because it was Panda Express which had brought him great comfort in his college years.
“For me, Panda Express has been a huge staple and symbol of Asian America,” the 22-year-old Business Administration major said. “Late at night or in between classes, if I wanted comfort food and to be reminded of home, I could depend on the rice and chow mein there.”
Gan, who came to Canada from Malaysia six years ago, moved to Los Angeles to attend USC after finishing high school at a boarding school on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.
According to Gan, connecting with Asian American students has allowed him to learn more about his identity.
“Ultimately, I’m still not American, but I sometimes feel like I’m Asian American because I’ve spent so many of my core years growing up in the last five years here,” Gan was quoted as saying.
Gan and photographer Emily Rose Smith began shooting at around 8 a.m. at the USC Panda Express to avoid disrupting its business. Employees even gave Gan a takeout box and chopsticks as props to enhance the photoshoot.
Gan considers Panda Express distinctly Chinese American and doesn’t directly compare to Chinese food he’s had in Malaysia or other parts of Asia.
“It’s authentic in some ways, but in other ways, it’s a new fusion,” Gan noted.
When he visits the USC Panda Express situated in a food court in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center, he usually orders a three-item plate with half-and-half sides consisting of white rice and either chow mein or steamed vegetables. Depending on “how healthy he’s feeling,” he’d include either honey walnut shrimp, Shanghai Angus beef and one of kung pao chicken, orange chicken or sweet fire chicken breast.
Gan also took his parents to Panda Express when his parents visited from Malaysia for his graduation.
“They wanted to see my go-to places, so of course I took them there. I think they understood why I like it so much,” he added.
To see more of Gan’s experiences in the United States, check out his new YouTube channel titled “Asian Almost American.”
Featured image via Instagram/gareygan