MMMM…. Dumplings!! The Smell of a Chinese tradition on this bleak February afternoon reminded me of the true meaning of Chinese New Year: family. This holiday was a well-deserved reprieve from the stress of school and work. With a mÃ©lange of international students gathered around a friend’s capacious kitchen, good smells were created, laughs were heard, and joy surged in everyone’s veins. As I physically forced the small amount of meat and cabbage filling into the lovingly hand made wrappers, a flood of memories about my most recent visit to China hit me. I was taken back….
“Ne-How!” As a munificent amount of relatives and friends greeted me and my twin, my mom was already making plans for that day, which included eating lunch at a revered “dumpling palace”, a trip to the barber shop, and shopping at the famous Wanfujing Street. When I finally got over the fact that my feet are finally touching solid ground, the shock of the ambiance hit me. Around my family were people; not a diverse mix like it is in Chicago, or a small group of excited family members; like it is in the airports of Rapid City, but a whole herd of crude, rude, Chinese people. Laughing, cursing, crying, no emotions were hidden as I looked around me. Strangely, I felt like I belonged.
The first day proved to be eventful. ON the unsteady car ride back to the hotel, I could not help but notice how many shopping opportunities Beijing provided! All kinds of traditional Chinese stores crowded both sides of the street; vendors selling any and all kinds of food imaginable advertised their scrumptious concoctions, and excited shoppers fought their way toward the best products. The scene reminded me of a scene off the TV show Ugly Betty, in which over 200 screaming girls crowd a Chanel markdown. Except, this was better. Arriving further into the heart of the city, places that were familiar started to emerge. Wal-Mart, KFC, California Pizza Kitchen, and McDonald were some of the few Western influences that were limpid in downtown Beijing. Stopping for lunch at “Dumpling Palace” gave me my first real taste of China. To me, the dumplings did not just represent tasty morsels of Chinese food, but rather the diversity of China, from its grass plains to the humid area down south. Also, the dumplings represented all the different types of people that took residence in one of the most populous countries in the world. From poor farmers to rich, multi-million typhoons, the tremendous population of China created both excitement and chaos. That is the true beauty of a large country. Not only did China provide me with a insight into the amazing range of differences in a supposedly “similar country”, but also taught me that large groups of people do not necessarily stand for chaos, but rather innumerable opportunities to people watch. I was on cloud nine!
After the delicious lunch we had, my relatives decided to show us the city. The august view of the mountains took my breath away, the historical significance of the Imperial Garden and Forbidden Palace provided me with an interest in knowledge of history. I even vaguely remember visiting those same places once! My relatives, as a surprise, even staged a tour of the house where my family grew up in. Tears of sadness mingled with feelings of relief and contentment, for our little “hero” is still taken very good care of by the new family that moved in. After all the serious stuff, my aunt took my mom and I shopping. You have never really shopped until you shop at Wanfujing Street! All kinds of apparels are available there, from fake designer rip-offs to traditional dresses; Wanfujing is truly a shopaholic’s dream! After much bartering and three hours of trying on one cute shirt after another, we girls were finally satisfied. We were about to retire to our hotel when we got a phone call from my aunt, saying that it’s time they take us to a dressy restaurant and let us order anything off the menu. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten that much as I did that night; it was like I was eating to make up for all the homeless people that do not get food on Thanksgiving. Even though I was only there for seven hours at that time, I truly felt like China was my home. I am proud to say that I can finally accept my culture without feeling ashamed.
That particular trip really changed me and my morality. Growing up in an all-American town, I was really shy and embarrassed to tell anyone about China. I was always trying to surreptitiously hide my culture by trying to dress and act like every other white girl. However, after revisiting my childhood home, I finally realized that every country is very special in its own way, and China was not an exception. I am proud to say that I am Chinese and proud of it!>
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