In Old Frontiersman’s Lost Horse, We Find Encouragement – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily just published my most recent column In old frontiersman’s lost horse, we find encouragement. Here is an excerpt:

Long before I ever uttered my first word in Mandarin Chinese, I encountered a story that has helped me redefine how I approach the good and the bad in life-the tale of the old frontiersman’s lost horse, or sai weng shi ma.

According to the tale, an old man living near the border happened to lose his horse when it ran away. People came to comfort him, but he responded by saying, “Why couldn’t this be something fortunate?” After a few months, the horse returned to the old man, bringing along with it a number of fine steeds from the frontier. People came to offer congratulations, but the old man said, “Why couldn’t this be a calamity?” The old man now had many horses at his home, and his son loved to ride. But one day, while on horseback, the son fell off and broke his leg. People came to console the old man, who instead told them, “Why couldn’t this be a good thing?” A year later, barbarians carried out a large-scale invasion on the frontier, and every able-bodied young man took up arms to go to war. The vast majority of the people living at the frontier died. But the son was saved from going to battle because of his lame leg, allowing him and his father to survive in safety.

Ever since I’ve first read this story as a high school student, I’ve returned to it again and again whenever the world yields more sorrows than sweetness. The idea that, perhaps, things that seemed bad might actually prove to have a silver lining, one we might not discern at first, has provided a certain reassurance I depend on amid the vicissitudes of life. And indeed, sometimes what seems apparently unfortunate can still yield blessings after all.

Read the full column here, and if you like it, share it!

Outbreak Spurs More Creativity, Ingenuity in the Kitchen – Pub’d on China Daily

During this novel coronavirus pneumonia outbreak, a lot of folks have spent more time indoors. And that has inspired a feast of delicious foods, cooked right in our own kitchens. Online I had noticed so many friends here in China sharing mouthwatering photos of their latest kitchen creations, which often reminded me of my own efforts to cook delectable dishes at home.

So I wrote a column about it for China Daily, titled Outbreak spurs more creativity, ingenuity in the kitchen. Here’s an excerpt:

As the novel coronavirus epidemic has swept across China, deeply affecting the lives of all of us who live here, it has also spurred many of us to rediscover the pleasures of cooking as a delicious way to pass the time and become a little more self-sufficient.

Just before the epidemic exploded, with news of human-to-human transmission, I had just received my latest kitchen gadget-an electric pressure cooker. This purchase was intended to satisfy my yearning for a faster and more convenient way to cook soybeans, which normally requires several hours of care on the stovetop after soaking overnight. I had visions of turning the two large bags of organic soybeans I had bought from the supermarket into the variety of soups and stews I crave during the winter.

The pressure cooker indeed helped me make a bean stew spiced with an aromatic Indian masala for Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner. But during the extended holiday, when authorities warned people to stay in as much as possible and we had run out of tofu, we used that pressure cooker almost daily to make a batch of soybeans that could serve as a high-protein substitute, with delectable results. For example, we used to always use tofu when we made our spicy Korean-style fried rice. But the soybeans actually tasted just as good, if not better, in the dish, and filled us up even more.

A couple of times, we also used the pressure cooked soybeans to create a version of one of my favorite dishes from childhood-baked beans, made with onions, ketchup, brown sugar, soy sauce, a little vinegar and a dash of garlic powder. Even my husband thought the dish rivaled some of the best canned versions we had enjoyed on our many camping trips in the US.

Read the entire column here. And if you like it, share it!

The Plum Blossom, Our Greatest ‘Friend’ of the Winter – Pub’d on China Daily

Recently, China Daily published my latest column titled The plum blossom, our greatest ‘friend’ of the winter. Here’s an excerpt:

If anyone had ever told me as a child growing up in the United States that a flower could flourish in the coldest days of winter, a flower that bloomed straight from the bare branches of a tree, I would have thought they had a vivid imagination or a penchant for spinning tall tales.

Yet years ago in late February, while strolling the eastern shores of the West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, with my husband, Jun, I encountered a spray of brilliant pink petals cascading over tree branches, which looked as artfully windswept as a bonsai. That striking shade, more typical of spring and summer flowers, seemed utterly defiant against the melancholy gray of the overcast sky and the mournful silhouettes of other trees, their leafless limbs stretched upward as if praying for an end to the chill of the season.

I almost didn’t believe my eyes at first. Surely flowers couldn’t bloom like that, direct from the branch, without the usual green leaves? And how could they thrive in this weather, where temperatures that hovered just above freezing had led us to don our warmest down jackets and even hats?

After my astonishment, I felt a certain appreciation for this ethereal beauty before me, painting the otherwise dreary February landscape into such a gloriously hopeful hue, promising better times just around the corner.
That is the power of the plum blossom, one of the most distinctive and cherished flowers in China.

You can read the full article here. And if you like it, share it!

Oh, Maqiu: Mistaking a Winter Solstice Treat for Tangyuan – Pub’d on China Daily

Last week, China Daily just published my latest column titled Oh, maqiu: Mistaking a winter solstice treat for tangyuan. Here’s an excerpt from that column:

All those years, I had it all wrong about maqiu, a traditional winter solstice food for my husband Jun’s family in rural Zhejiang province.

Whenever Jun mentioned the sesame balls he had eaten for the holiday while growing up, I had always imagined a version of tangyuan, those delicious glutinous rice balls stuffed with sweet sesame or red bean paste typically enjoyed in southern China. Except, he called them sesame balls or maqiu, not tangyuan. So I thought, maybe maqiu was just another name for tangyuan in the local dialect?

But then years ago, one night before winter solstice with Jun’s family, I watched my mother-in-law prepare maqiu in her kitchen and did a double take. She dropped inch-sized balls of glutinous rice dough, made from glutinous rice flour and cold water, straight into a wok of boiling water without tucking anything inside. Had she lost her mind? Where was the muss and fuss of filling the dough with sesame paste that I’d had to slog through all those years before, when Jun and I used to live in the United States?

Once the rice balls floated to the top, which took only a few minutes, she fished them out of the boiling water and then rolled them in a sweet mixture of toasted black sesame seeds and white sugar that coated every inch of the dough. That’s when I realized it-it was my mistake, not hers.

Read the full column here. And if you like it, share it!

The Huotong: A Seat of Warmth and Ingenuity at the Table – Pub’d on China Daily

Last week China Daily just published my latest column — The huotong: A seat of warmth and ingenuity at the table. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

Late autumn, in the days I lived with my in-laws in rural Zhejiang province, meant the arrival of one of the warmest companions I ever had at the dinner table-the huotong.

Imagine a wooden, thimble-shaped stool that’s half-enclosed, with one side open like a stage, cradling a metal receptacle built to hold burning embers, and you have an idea of what this traditional piece of dining room furniture looks like. Whenever the first chilling winds of the season would sweep through the village, my in-laws would fill one with a generous helping of warm cinders from their fire-powered wok, and place it near the table, usually right where I used to sit.

They were no strangers to my aversion to the cold of winter in a province that didn’t enjoy the steam heat typical of northern parts of China, nor the heating vents I relished at home growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, where almost every school year saw at least a handful of snow days or times that proved too frigid for us to attend classes. As a child, I would rush home from school in January and February and immediately ensconce myself in front of the heater.

Who would have imagined I would marry into a family accustomed to winters of wearing multiple layers of clothing and your jacket at all times, even at home.

Not surprisingly, my winter strategy at their home involved heavy use of an electric mattress pad and excessive layers of blankets. I felt loathe to leave the cocoon of warmth I had built for myself in the bedroom, including when mealtimes arrived. For me, that made the huotong such a welcome addition around the table.

Read the full piece right here — and if you like it, share it! Also, you can listen to an audio recording of me reading the essay here.

Watch Me Report from China Int’l Import Expo in Shanghai

China Daily sent me last week to do some video reporting from the China International Import Expo in Shanghai, and those videos have all gone live for you to watch and enjoy! You can see me:

In addition, I did two live broadcasts for China Daily from the expo — one on Nov 6, and another on Nov 7. However, those are only available to watch on the China Daily app (which you will need to download for your Android or iPhone, and then search the app to find — use the search term “CIIE” to find expo-related content).

And I’ve also included a number of photos below documenting my time at the expo, including behind the camera (thanks to my colleagues!).

471573476452_.pic On my first morning at the expo, I introduced the cultural heritage on display at the Meet Shanghai booth. Behind me is a selection of folk paintings done by rural painters from Shanghai.

431573476446_.pic Also during my first morning at the expo, I continued to show more of the cultural heritage from Shanghai — here I’m introducing Shanghai-style woolen embroidery, also used to make a dazzling picture of the Shanghai Pudong skyline hanging on the wall.

461573476451_.pic High-tech was a major highlight of the expo, and it appeared in some fascinating forms — such as this device. It’s rideable, and it can also follow you around like a dog. (It even looks like one, with a cute canine design.)

401573476441_.pic On Nov 7, I completed my second live broadcast at the expo from the food and agricultural products exhibition hall. Here, I’m talking to a representative from CJ Foods, a South Korean brand promoting their foods at the event.

411573476442_.pic That’s a wrap! Here I am after finishing the second live broadcast on Nov 7 (my final assignment at the expo), along with my colleagues from work.

I’ll be back later this week with a new blog post!

At China Int’l Import Expo in Shanghai to Shoot Videos for China Daily

This week, the China International Import Expo opens in Shanghai. And I’m there on behalf of China Daily website to host some videos, which include interviews with companies participating in the event (in its second year).

I’ll be on break from the blog during the week to focus on the video shoots, but will share with you any videos we put online from the event. And don’t worry, I’ll be back next week!

Gaining a ‘Bird-Watcher’s-Eye View’ of the World – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily has published my most recent column titled Gaining a ‘Bird-Watcher’s-Eye View’ of the World. Here’s an excerpt:

When my husband and I spotted a dusky brown bird bobbing on a rock in a stream not far from the family home in rural Zhejiang, a feeling of excitement swept through me.

“That’s a dipper, I’m certain of it!” I whispered in his ear, prompting him to reach for the camera draped over his shoulder and snap a photo.

The last time I laid eyes on such a bird was in Yosemite National Park, while trudging up switchbacks that rose 1,000 feet from the valley floor to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls. There, I encountered a bird perched on a rock near the cascading waters, and my hunch was later confirmed in the pages of the North American bird guide in my backpack: I had seen an American dipper.

The sweat slathered across my brow as well as sore feet and legs seemed a worthy trade-off for a glimpse of the only aquatic songbird in North America and one capable of “flying” underwater, as a nature documentary on TV had revealed.

It didn’t count as a rare sighting, since the dipper isn’t endangered. Still, the majesty of one of America’s most picturesque national parks framed the moment, leading me to cherish this bird — one not native to the Cleveland, Ohio, region where I grew up — all the more.

Never did I expect that, instead of spending hours on a strenuous hike up the granite cliffs of Yosemite, I only needed to venture on a short walk from my husband’s family home, tracing a mountain creek that cut through the valley.

You can read the full piece online, where you can also listen to an audio recording of me reading it. And as always, if you like it, share it!

Photo credit: By Robert tdc – https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/4427599266/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9771334

Pub’d on China Daily: An Ode to China’s Enchanting Sweet Osmanthus Flower

China Daily just published my latest column titled An ode to China’s enchanting sweet osmanthus flower. Here’s an excerpt:

When I think of a golden autumn, my mind often turns to one of the great jewels of the season-sweet osmanthus, a tiny flower that has charmed generations of people every fall with its unforgettable fragrance.

This blossom, which measures only 1 centimeter across and grows in clusters scattered about evergreen branches of the osmanthus tree, truly exemplifies the idea that size and appearance aren’t everything. After all, even when painted in the most eye-catching bright orange or buttery yellow hues, it could never rival the more showy peony or rose on looks. But the osmanthus bloom doesn’t have to, because its real strength lies in its honeyed scent, which, much like being in love, will leave you feeling a little giddy and lost in the moment, even when standing meters away from the flowers. If dreams had a fragrance, they might just smell like the osmanthus, imbuing a touch of paradise to even the most ordinary of places.

The osmanthus tree in the front yard of my in-laws’ home in rural Zhejiang province left me wonder-struck one early October morning when its flowers unfurled their magic. The alluring aroma, which had wafted indoors through an open window, enveloped me as I was descending the stairs. It brought me to a standstill for a few seconds as I breathed it in, along with this sensation of pure, unfettered happiness. Dreary clouds blanketed the entire sky above me and yet, even to this day, whenever I recall this memory, my mind bathes it in sunshine because of that intoxicating natural perfume that surrounded me. It’s that uplifting.

I’m certain this kind of wondrous effect factored into why my father-in-law refused to sell that osmanthus tree to horticultural dealers who would continually come by to inquire about its cost. “It’s not for sale,” he would simply tell them. Surely he already understood that nobody could put a price on the experience of having such a delicious fragrance right outside your doorstep every year.

You can read the full column here. And if you like it, share it!