Fighting Against Racism Starts With Recognition – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily just published my latest column titled Fighting against racism starts with recognition. Here’s an excerpt:

Imagine that, while riding the bus, a passenger approached you and told you to “go back to your country”.

That’s what happened to a friend of mine during her brief stint living and working abroad in the United Kingdom, a time that shattered the idyllic notions she once harbored about the West.

The animus behind this and other similarly racist encounters she experienced had shocked her. She had never thought people could be capable of behaving like that in public.

Her story, however, didn’t surprise me-and not just because I had seen many reports over the years on racism in the UK, or that I had read Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, British journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge’s award-winning deep dive into race relations in her country.

Rather, it was because I had lived a version of it in the United States with my husband Jun, when we resided there for nearly eight years. That period served as a painful education in just how widespread racism and discrimination was in my own country. I saw the many ways, both covert and overt, in which people treated him worse than his white peers.

I shouldn’t have needed an education like this to realize that the scourge of racism and discrimination still thrived in the US. And my friend shouldn’t have had to spend time in the UK to discover the truth there.

The protests that have emerged in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other people of color have made it impossible to ignore what has been dubbed the pandemic of racism, an epidemic that didn’t begin in 2020. It has infected societies like the US and the UK for hundreds of years-and it is not a relic of the past that has magically disappeared.

You can read the full piece here — and if you like it, share it!

The Humble Power of ‘Sleeping on Sticks and Tasting Bile’ – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily recently published my latest column titled The Humble Power of ‘Sleeping on Sticks and Tasting Bile’. Here’s an excerpt:

The year 2020 has unleashed a tsunami of suffering that continues to engulf much of the world, undoubtedly reverberating throughout the lives of everyone across the globe.

In my own personal sphere, I have seen loved ones get furloughed from their jobs under the threat of more permanent layoffs, known friends who contracted COVID-19 (including one hospitalized in serious condition), and watched a restaurant where I marked one of my most memorable evenings with friends close its doors for good. And given that experts have forecast a gloomy outlook for the rest of 2020, it would seem that the global misery wrought by the coronavirus has only just begun.

In trying times like this, I have sought spiritual refuge in stories of resilience amid adversity — such as the tale of Goujian, the king of Yue during the Spring and Autumn period who inspired the Chinese saying woxin changdan, or sleeping on sticks and tasting bile.

It all began when Goujian saw his nation defeated by the Kingdom of Wu, whose king, Fuchai, demanded that Goujian become his royal servant. So the Yue king not only lost his crown but also found himself thrust into the lowest rungs of the palace of his enemy, a prisoner to the whims of a man who had destroyed his country. The demeaning work required of Goujian included mucking out manure as well as acting as a kind of personal stable boy to the monarch, from feeding the king’s horses to leading them whenever Fuchai wanted a ride.

And if you really want to talk about taking crap from someone, consider Goujian’s most legendary deed during his three years serving Fuchai: He tasted the Wu king’s excrement to diagnose illness in a move to gain the monarch’s trust. As repulsive as it sounds, it so deeply moved Fuchai, who saw the gesture as proof that Goujian had wholeheartedly submitted himself in service, that the king set him free.

You can read the full column here and also listen to me read a recording of the piece. And if you like it, share it!

Cracking the ‘Hummus Code’ in a Healthy Tradition at Home – Pub’d on China Daily

China Daily recently published my column titled Cracking the ‘hummus code’ in a healthy tradition at home. Here’s an excerpt:

As a longtime vegan enamored with many meat-free Middle Eastern dishes, which are much harder to find in restaurants in China, I made a powerful discovery in my own kitchen recently: I had finally cracked the “hummus code”.

Made of chickpeas, tahini sesame paste, olive oil, lemon juice and minced garlic, hummus is like a kind of high-protein manna from heaven to many vegans, including me. While most people serve it as a dip, often with soft pita bread and raw veggies, you can also add it to your favorite sandwich, dab it on your salad, or even smear it on your morning toast in place of butter. And speaking of butter, some of the best hummus I’ve ever sampled evoked the flavors of this classic spread in a lusciously creamy texture that will have you hooked.

So naturally, as I had been spending more time indoors due to the coronavirus, preferring to cook at home, it was only a matter of time before I started craving what was to me a vegan comfort food.
I just never expected that this time around, I would produce a hummus so smooth and buttery that even my husband Jun, a notoriously finicky eater, would be ooh-ing and aah-ing with every bite.

No doubt I owe some of my success to using a superior recipe this time around (from the blog Cookie and Kate, deservedly dubbed “best hummus recipe”), as well as my kitchen gadgets (pressure cooker and food processor both played pivotal supporting roles in the process). But regardless, the hummus proved a tasty revelation-that with my very own hands, I could actually whip up a version of the dish recalling restaurant offerings.

In this sense, I’m reminded of my mother-in-law in rural Zhejiang, who has over the years created on her own a repertoire of dishes so mouthwatering that I had jokingly christened her dinner table the best restaurant in China.

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

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.

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!