THE CHINA CONNECTIION


I miss the sight of the roasted ducks dripping succulent juice into the trough below, and promising the harbinger of good eating. Alas, the Dragon BBQ restaurant is no more. It is only the latest restaurant which has closed with no prior notice. Though this city has a huge influx of Asian people, we don’t seem to have a decent Chinese restaurant. One or two Chinese buffets have come and gone through the years, but they don’t last long. Where do they go for good Chinese food? Conversely, we have many Mexican restaurants.

During the years I took Tai Chi each morning, we had a monthly pot luck picnic. I was the only Caucasian and usually took cake or a casserole. They brought ethnic food including chicken feet. unidentifiable dishes and many delicious steamed buns. Always with an enormous jug of hot tea with leaves floating around. It was a great way to get connected.

A number of years ago I wanted to buy goose livers for a pate recipe, so I went up to Oakland which has a large Chinatown, taking my mother in law for a day’s jaunt. Popping into several markets, I realized that no one spoke English which left me wondering how to connect with them. So I flapped my arms and quacked, hoping I sounded like some sort of barnyard fowl. I never got the goose liver, but I got duck liver and we both got a free lunch.

My mother in law was raised on a ranch in Chico, CA, where they had a Chinese cook, who still wore a queue. A ranch hand, thinking it a joke, cut it off one day. My husband’s grandfather chased the culprit off the ranch, whereupon he and the “Chinee” cook shook hands. Amazingly to my husband’s grandfather, the cook offered him a Masonic handshake. I now have a large porcelain teapot which came with the cook from China.

My MIL was quite fond of the Chinese, partly stemming from the herbalist who cured her mother’s paralysis. Would she be pleased or not with the amount of Chinese immigrants today?

Advertisements

THE MOTHER TONGUE


entrance

Our expectations exceed the return in so many ways. For instance, when you step into my house, I expect you to speak English. Sometimes that doesn’t happen, but when I venture into YOUR house, I don’t speak your language either. This leads to confusion on both parts. Ours is still an English-speaking country, though I appreciate that this is hard to understand for many newcomers.

A teacher friend told me of a recent arrival from another country who was upset because her child was not being taught in their native language. I am reminded of an elderly Italian friend who came to this country at the age of 7 knowing no English, nor any English-speaking friends. She quickly learned the new language by listening and using sign language.

Some years ago I wanted to make a goose liver pate for a party, so I went to a likely looking market in Chinatown. As it turned out, no one spoke English and I spoke no Chinese, so I resorted to sign language. I pointed to the barbequed ducks hanging along a wall and flapped my elbows while loudly quacking like a duck. I wasn’t sure how to honk like a goose.

Two or three people came out of the kitchen, smiled and looked bewildered. It was the lunch hour, and soon someone came carrying trays of fried delicacies while smiling and pointing me to a plate and encouraging me to help myself. They all shook their heads when I offered to pay. I guess it was in return for the entertainment I had given them with my duck act. All of which shows that a smile can get you a free lunch. I did not get my goose liver from them however.

We live in an ethnically diversified community, and increasingly an diversified world.

For many years we hosted a backyard block party, inviting neighbors from up and down our street to come. Everyone brought a plate of food, sometimes a recipe from whatever country they had come from.

I learned a lesson on one occasion when I introduced two people from China to each other thinking they would have a common tie. They laughed and said they did not understand the language of the other. Later I discovered the same thing from members of my Tai Chi class, most of which had come from either China or Taiwan. It was a good learning experience for me. We need to understand one another in some way if only by language.

We are criticized for not welcoming newcomers to our society, but nothing is done to encourage them to adapt to our customs. New communities are being built with houses of many small rooms to accommodate families of several generations; children, working parents, and grandparents to care for the children. This is the norm in many places, tying into their comfort zone.

Lichen“Lichen” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

This painting of intertwined elements illustrates our society of people from all over the world. A confused mass without any connection to one another.

There is more to being a good citizen than minding your own business. Learn our language and let us learn your customs if possible.

AMAZING GRAZING~~~~Pineapple Pork Sweet and Sour


GUNG HAY FAT CHOY!!~ Happy Year of the Goatgoat

We went to our favorite local Chinese restaurant, only to find its doors locked and the restaurant idling away in sublime emptiness. The very nice gift card Dr. A had given me for Christmas sadly was now of use only to light the firecracker for Chinese New Year.

There are many good and some great Chinese restaurants in San Francisco and further north in Seattle and in Vancouver. One small restaurant in Vancouver had perfected Lemon Chicken to the extent that we often drove there from Seattle just to eat it. I have never been able to duplicate it, and possibly it now remains divine only in memory.

When growing up we made the mistake of believing that chop suey was an exotic Chinese dinner. Chinese cooking is not simple; but when the Chinese first came to this country they cooked peasant food–“chop-chop, eat it up.” Toss it around then became sweet and sour to give more flavor. Chinese restaurant cooking is quick, high heat cooking but not necessarily simple. Tiger shrimp braised in a clay pot, asparagus and taro, steamed Dover sole draped over cabbage, shreds of scallion and wisps of fried turnip or soft crumblings of pork, are the ingredients of fine Chinese cooking. Just to read the menu at a good Chinese restaurant makes one’s mouth water in anticipation.

My Tai Chi class used to meet each morning at Lake Elizabeth and I was the only Caucasian among people from both Taiwan and mainland China. Once a month we had a potluck luncheon under the trees where each of us brought a special dish. There I tasted chicken feet, many kinds of stuffed buns and jook, for which I inexplicably have the recipe someone kindly offered me. Tea was brought in huge containers with all the tea leaves floating in it. I usually took my famous chocolate cake back home with one piece missing—mine.

When we found our restaurant out of business, I came home and cooked an Anerican-Chinese style dinner. We drank cups of tea without leaves and wished each other Happy Chinese New Year.

Pineapple pork sweet and sour

PINEAPPLE PORK SWEET AND SOUR

1 pound raw lean pork cut into 3/4″ squares
1 egg, beaten
Coat pork by dipping in beaten egg.
In a pan or ziplock bag, place 1 cup flour. 1/2 tsp salt and the egg-coated pork. Toss it around.

In deep pan heat a couple cups of oil, not olive, to 350 degrees
Drop in pork a little at a time and fry 6-8 minutes or until browned and done.
Remove and keep warm.

Also have prepared 1 cup pineapple chunks, drained (reserve juice)
1 medium green pepper, cut in 1/2 inch pieces

In a wok or deep skillet place
1 tsp. soy sauce
1/c sugar
1/3 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup catsup
1/2 cup cider vinegar
Blend all the ingredients well and bring to a boil.
Make a paste of 2 Tbs corn starch and 2 Tbs water, add gradually until sauce thickens
Add Pork, green pepper and pineapple.
Turn and mix rapidly for abut 5 minutes or until very hot. Serve with steamed rice.

A nice dish of steamed stir-fried vegetables would make a good meal. Don’t serve chocolate cake for dessert!

HOW OLD IS OLD?


Navajo Grandmother “NAVAJO GRANDMOTHER” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

I was raised to believe that asking another person’s age was as bad as asking how much money they had in the bank. Kids did it. Polite grownups did not. It was one’s personal business, not to be shared. I don’t know what they believed anyone was going to do with this information if we somehow let it slip.

Some years ago I began practicing Tai Chi each morning at the crack of dawn in the park. My face was the only non-Asian, and was clearly the oldest face in the group, although there were plenty with more wrinkles.

From day one, as each came to meet me, their opening question was “How old are you”? At first I felt this to be an invasion of privacy, or at the very least, an indication of the category in which they placed me.

A young friend has been teaching English in Beijing for several years. During his first year he was taken aback as people stepped into his “privacy zone” and looked him up and then down. Another cultural difference. So this is the box where the asking of one’s age is placed.

These days I’m different. You can find out a lot about someone by knowing his age and where he grew up.

You can find out what kind of music he grew up with, what presidents shaped his political opinions, even what kind of clothes were in fashion. Did she wear poodle skirts or hot pants? Did he wear knickers or polyester leisure suits? A well known haberdasher and dear friend used to sport pale blue leisure suits open at the neck with a gold chain. You may say “How gauche”, but it actually WAS the fashion.

Where were you when certain life-changing events took place? I’ll bet you remember where you were when JFK was assassinated, don’t you? Or when John Glenn landed on the moon? I know where I watched all the newscasts. Glued to to TV set and as it happened, I was painting a watercolor each time.

Now that I am the one asking how old you are, it places you in a certain place in your life, and that’s what I really want to know. I want to know you, and I know that’s what you want to know too when you ask the question.

Whereas in most of my early life I was the youngest person in the group, now I reside in the other realm—to my great-grandchildren, I am probably the oldest person they have known. I hope I pass muster.