The Goddess Speaks
New Year's far from home lacks some sizzle
WHEN I called home to Beijing the other day, Mom told me that the municipal government has lifted its 12-year ban on fireworks, so the family will be able to usher in the Year of the Dog in our beloved fiery style.
I was homesick enough already, but that was big news to a pyrotechnic fan like me and just made me wish for home all the more. For the first time, I will greet the Lunar New Year thousands of miles from home, in Hawaii, where I am on a nine-month journalism study program.
The Lunar New Year (on Sunday this year) is more commonly referred to as Spring Festival in China, as it symbolizes the coming of spring. It is the most important and celebrated holiday in China. How I miss the excitement, the jubilation, the anticipation of Spring Festival.
The adults would begin to gather in the courtyard of the family compound a week before to make preparations. In my family the women outnumber the men by far, but the men have an upper hand when it comes to cooking. My father and uncles are talented cooks, and Spring Festival offers the perfect opportunity for them to show off their culinary skills. For this reason my cousins and I, nine girls and one boy in all, have played only the role of big eaters for the past many years.
On the eve the adults were always busy making "jiaozi," or dumplings, a boiled version of potstickers. There would be an array of fillings to satisfy every palate: beef with parsley, pork with cabbage, chicken and chives and vegetarian. The little pockets of meat and vegetables in soft dough wrappers would be released into boiling water at midnight and consumed minutes later with gusto.
Jiaozi are a must for Spring Festival celebrations. I always took it for granted that someone would make the dumplings and all I had to do was to show up with a big appetite. I had it made. My job was to eat, pop firecrackers and articulate proper New Year's greetings to my elders so they would give me cash in red envelopes.
As I count down the days of the Year of the Rooster, I realize I must embrace a new kind of Chinese New Year -- one that's celebrated far from home with newfound independence and newly honed wok skills.
I might not be the master chef that my father and uncles are, but I've had to learn to cook for myself since arriving in Hawaii in August. My nearly six-month experience in the kitchen leaves me confident that I can muster a decent Spring Festival dinner for my friends and myself.
But just to be safe, I am keeping my fingers crossed that my novice jiaozi don't explode in the boiling water like New Year's firecrackers.
Ma Xingfei is a sportswriter for Xinhua News Agency and is among six recipients of the Parvin Fellowship for Journalism Studies at the University of Hawaii.
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