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.