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Exploring, creating, & reflecting one day at a time

New York.

To most, it’s a beautiful city of lights, a shopping mecca, a sightsee-er’s paradise.

To me, it’s a cultural battleground.

Pardon the dramatic preface, but that statement is nothing short of the truth.  I don’t speak Chinese, I barely understand it, and my grandparents are the exact same way, but with English.

So no, I have never had a legitimate conversation with my grandparents.  Many a family dinner have I sit alone at the table, reading a book or texting a friend in frustration that I can’t understand any of the conversations floating around the table (but sometimes KNOW that I’m being spoken about).  My interaction with my Chinese family members, especially my grandparents, is largely them telling me to eat whatever they’re holding at the moment (mew mm mew?, Do you want it?) and me painfully rejecting their offers (mm mew ahhh!! ho bao la!, I don’t want it! I’m REALLY full!).  You see, I’ve built up my Chinese language knowledge just enough to survive, because my grandparents would literally feed me to death if I didn’t know those few key words.

But anyway, I spent the last week in New York with my mom’s family yet again–this time though, I decided to try harder. I think it had something to do with the fact that after my first year at Berkeley with a decidedly disproportionate Chinese population, I began to grow weary that I knew more about a handful of other cultures than my own.

So thank you for allowing me to indulge myself in some cultural exploration.

This is a jong (its pronunciation lies somewhere between ‘jung’ and ‘jong’):

It’s a neat little package of sticky rice filled with meats, mushrooms, legumes, and sometimes a marinated egg, all wrapped up in a banana leaf and boiled.  It’s closely related to the sticky rice you might be familiar with if you’ve ever been to dim sum, but it’s a bit denser and more filling.  I usually enjoy a nice jong in the morning for a hearty breakfast.  The jong pictured is actually a miniature that my Po Po (grandmother) made with the last bit of rice in the batch, so I ate it as an afternoon snack.  So what’s so special about this parcel of rice? I can’t really explain why, but it’s one of the few things that make me wish I was, well, more Chinese.  I’ve watched my grandmother make large batches of these dozens of times, even trying my hand at it once or twice, only to find it’s a very, VERY difficult task.  It takes years of practice to shape it in its very particular tetrahedral shape and to know just how much rice to put, just how many fillings to add, and just how much pressure to use to get a final product that is recognizable. Sadly, even though my mom was born and raised in Hong Kong and therefore knows her culture infinitely more than I, she has yet to master this artform.  So I worry a little bit what will happen in future generations of my family–it seems it would be a tragedy for my own children to never feel the joy of waking up to a nice, hot jong in the morning.

But I also don’t think anything can really be done about that. I think I’ll make a resolution that the next time I go to New York, I’ll force myself to stand in my grandma’s tiny kitchen and make, or try at least, jong after jong until I get something that I can be proud of.

Unfortunately, all this cultural enlightenment has come at a cost.  Every time I visit the east coast, I gain at least 5 pounds due to the constant force feedings. But I guess it’s not so bad when I think about the jong and how I should enjoy them not because I might not have them forever.


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