Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Am I Using the Chopsticks Right?

Am I using the chopsticks right?

This is not exactly a no-no question, but meal time is definitely not the best timing. When people ask me this question while the food is an inch away from my mouth, I just wish they would know better than to ask me when my mouth is salivating for the deliciousness right in front.

Why Not?
First of all, I express my appreciation to those who try to use chopsticks, and “excellent job” to those of you who continue trying! I definitely recognize that there is a whole new world in those skinny chopsticks. Mysteries and secrets reside within those bamboo sticks to those of you who did not grow up using them (exaggeration).
However, note that the skill of using chopsticks elegantly and gracefully does not come right after any 5 minute tutorials. It takes practice. Even for Asians (surprise). We used chopsticks three times every day growing up just like you brushed your teeth every day and night since they started growing. The good news is there are many Asians who choose spoons or forks over chopsticks. There are many Asian children who are commanded by their parents to learn chopsticks despite their reluctance.

The Rightly Way
It's a myth. Okay. Fine. Maybe it's not a myth, but do feel better when I tell you that even a lot of Asians don't use chopsticks the “right” way. The image below is a beautiful Asian lady holding the chopsticks in perhaps “the right way”.

The truth is I have been using chopsticks for decades, and I do not use it the same way as she does. Notice how she is holding at  1/3 of the way from the top? I hold the chopsticks at 1/3 of the way from the bottom. There are various ways of holding chopsticks. Therefore, the key thing to take away is to use it comfortably. After all, chopstick is a mean to eat. You are not tasting the chopsticks, you are eating what is in between them.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Are You Chinese?

Are you Chinese?

Whenever asked if I am a Chinese or not, the first thought that comes into my mind is to reply with a stern face-- “No.”

Well, that would be a lie. I am Chinese. I was born in Taipei, and lived in Shanghai for ten years, and am currently studying in Philadelphia. So, yes, I am an international student, or, what some people may refer as, a fob.

It is similar to the reason why Amy calls herself “Fat Amy,” I sometimes put on the FOB tag only because I know that is how some Americans refer to foreigners from time to time.

Every now and then, I am offended by the question and desperate to answer, “No, I am from New Jersey.” One American-born Chinese high school classmate of mine shared that she once was asked this question and answered Texas, which is true. However, the person who raised this question refused to believe and responded, “Haha, funny! Now, really, where are you from? Taiwan?”

Some may think, “What’s the big deal? Are you ashamed of your ethnicity?” Well, here are some of my opinions on this question.

Why Not?
For at least two reasons, this question is not the greatest way of conversing with a foreigner who is not your BFF yet.
  1. You put yourself in danger of appearing as a racist.
    There is the possibility that the foreigner will end up asking why you asked despite right or wrong. Then how do you answer? Unless you assumed so only because you heard the foreigner speak Chinese and identified the language, or else you probably will end up in the discussion of "you look like a Chinese." That further leads you to explaining what Chinese people look like. Small eyes? Short height? Just save the awkwardness.

  2.  Let’s face it, only Asians can tell themselves apart.
    Don't ever assume an Asian you meet is Chinese, though you will most likely be right because of the overpopulation of Chinese. However, Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, Japanese, Filipino, and other Asians all have their complicated and hard to explain relationships with one another. So, even if you guess right, refer to #1, and if you don't, you may be in big trouble...
Alternative questions:
Well, not being able to ask this one specific question does not mean you will never be able to find out about an individual's ethnicity. You can always ask. Don't assume. Just Ask. You will never embarrass yourself by asking rather than assuming the wrong thing.
  • Where are you from?
  • Where are your parents from?

What I have been experimenting recently is let the other person finish my sentence. My question would be something like this:
  • "So you’re from--"
The awkward silence that follows my fragment signals the other person to fill in the blank. The truth is people's reflexes are not as fast as I expected them ought to be. So I would recommend you stick with the straightforward but polite question.

Preview for the next week: A new blog entry, "Am I Using the Chopsticks Right?," will be added to the category of Frequently Asked Questions next Tuesday around noon! =)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Does Hot Water Taste Better Than Cold Water?

Does hot water taste better than cold water?

What is Hot Water?
By hot water, Chinese people literally mean boiled still water. No lemon, no tea, absolutely nothing with it. Just plain, simple hot water. However, whenever I ask for hot water in restaurants, waitresses almost always feel bad serving it without anything.

I remember one time during my freshman year of college, I asked for hot water as usual when a server asked, "What can I get you for drink," at a restaurant. The server immediately repeated the two words, "Hot water," about twice, and it made me wonder whether there was something wrong with my mouth or my pronunciation. She then asked a couple more questions, but the one that surprised me the most was, "Does hot water taste better than cold water?"

After I assured her the taste is the same for both, my brain processed and my mind blew up.
"You got to be kidding me," I thought.
Water is not coke. The temperature casts no spell on the plain, simple water. Cold water tastes like water, and so does hot water.

But then, why do Chinese people drink hot water then?

Western Perspective of Hot Water?
Well, hot water does not have a market in the Western countries. Based on "Which Is Better, Drinking Ice Water or Warm Water?" there really is no major difference between the effects of ice water and warm water.

On the other hand, 8 Reasons to Drink Hot Water suggests that hot water:
  1. Cleanses the Digestive System
  2. Flushes Out Toxins
  3. Enhances Stamina and Performance
  4. Improves Emotional Responses and Thoughts
  5. Improves Blood Circulation
  6. Treats Constipation
  7. Helps Congestion
  8. Soothes Sore Throats
Chinese Perspective of Hot Water?
According to the Chinese medicine, it is better to drink hot water instead of cold water after meal, after workout, and during menstrual cycle. Some Chinese doctors believe that Chinese people's body type is not conditioned to eating overly cold or icy food. Chinese medicine explains that cold and icy food can damage the spleen, the stomach, and the lung, making it more probable to get sick.

Another theory of Chinese medicine suggests the protection of Ying-energy and Yang-energy.
That means one should eat hot food during the spring and the summer, while cold food during the fall and the winter.

My Opinions of Hot Water?
I know when digging into the Chinese medicine theories it seems all confusing and black magic-related. Some of these Chinese medicine knowledge are learnt throughout the childhood. When a Chinese kid kicks off the blanket, the mother would demand the child to at least cover up his belly button. When a young girl wants to eat ice on her period, the mother would seriously warn her about the severe pain that comes after. When I nom lychee like crazy, both my mom and my grandma rebuked me and explained that lychee is "hot" because of its Yang-energy and if I were to overeat my nose would start bleeding.

I remember thinking, "But I took these lychee out from the refrigerator, how can it be hot?!"

Most Chinese people probably drink hot water because their parents taught them so. However, it probably worked for some of them, whether psychologically or physically, so they would keep this habit.

Preview for the next week: I am still choosing between a number of options...

Sources: http://health.people.com.cn/GB/11761693.html

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Tips for International Students #1

Learn the Language

A frequent question I often hear when I travel back to Asia is “How can my son/daughter improve his/her English speaking skills?” Well, my answer is nothing creative but to--

Practice (teehee).

I speak and am continually learning at least two other languages. The two methods described below have significantly, I believe, contributed to the effectiveness when I practice foreign languages.

  1. Talk to Yourself with the Foreign Language
    It’s always nice to have opportunities to practice with your teachers, professors, teaching assistants, classmates, and/ or friends. Believe me, when you actually practice with intentions, the impact is great. When I first started learning Japanese, I only read the book, listened to the audio files a couple of hours right before class. However, when I started dedicating at least one hour per week to review and preview the course materials (because my examiner really scared me), my improvements were exponential. No exaggeration. I do not receive any benefits encouraging people to study. The craziest thing is you don't even need to spend extra $$$ on top of basic materials if you are self-disciplined.

    However, you may not always have that chances to practice with another human beings due to various reasons such as problems with time, locations, and or resources. Therefore, train yourself into a conversation partner. For examples, I would use the time when I travel from place to place to greet myself, ask myself if I ate already, if not for which was I craving , and/ or random topics like the weather. Conversations such as the following would take place regularly:

    Shirley A: Hi! Nice to meet you! My name is Shirley, and what is your name?
    Shirley B: Hi, my name is (still) Shirley, and where are you heading right now?
    Shirley A: I am going to a Communication class right now. Did you eat?
    Shirley B: I haven't, but I would like to eat cheesesteak later.

    I know it's silly, but, then again, it helps, tremendously!
  2. Think with the Foreign Language

    However, if it is too challenging to start randomly talking to yourself if you have never done such thing before, perhaps you can try thinking with the foreign language you are currently learning first. By thinking with the foreign language, you learn to adapt to it. It is sort of like practicing answering questions before job interviews. You sort of refresh the memory of using the language,so it will be easily accessible when you need it whether because the class is starting soon or you happen to run into a person who speaks that specific language and not any other.

    "How to think in a foreign language (it does NOT “just happen”)" is a guest post that I recently discovered written by Zane, the author of Life by Experimentation, who discusses the details about thinking in a foreign language. Hopefully, it offers you some insights.
Preview for the next week: A new blog entry, "Does Hot Water Taste Better Than Cold Water," will be added to the category of Frequently Asked Questions next Tuesday!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Did You Eat Moon Cake?

Did you eat moon cake?

I have been asked this question frequently and inevitably almost every time when I travel to and from America in September.

What is Moon Cake?
Moon cake is a traditional Chinese pastry that is eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival. Moon cake consists of a thin layer of pastry on the outside, and rich fillings of lotus seed paste or red bean paste on the inside. Some of the cakes may even contain a whole salted egg yolk in the center as the symbol of the full moon. Currently, this is a dessert Chinese people eat as a celebration during family gathering during Mid-Autumn Festival. The holiday is on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar.

Moon cake with lotus seed paste filling
Moon cake with red bean filling and a whole salty egg yolk

The History of Moon Cake:
However, moon cake was not initially a symbol of unity. Ancient emperors of China had the customs of worshiping the sun in the spring and the moon in the fall thousand years ago. At the beginning, moon cake was simply a sacrificial offering for the lunar deities. Eating moon cake did not become an annual tradition until Tang Dynasty (618-906 CE), and the meaning of unity was not recorded in books until Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). One of the most well-known myths related to moon cakes is the story of Chang'e and Houyi the Archer, of which there are many versions. Nonetheless, the common ending to all versions is that Chang'e, the wife of Houyi, ate the pill of immortality and flew to the moon.

Chang'e Flying to the Moon

My Personal Opinions of Moon Cakes:

Notice how I said my personal opinions of moon cakes? So the following statements represent no one but me:

The reason why the question, "did you eat moon cake?" bothers me is because I never really liked moon cakes. Surprise! They are almost always dry, dense, and huge. I am that delinquent Chinese child who is desperate to give the moon cake away when the school distributes it as holiday gifts for its students. Don't get me wrong, because I do like traditional Chinese desserts. It is just that moon cake is not one of them. The assumption people usually have in their mind when asking this question is that "since you are a Chinese, you got to love all sorts of Chinese cuisines". However, I bet there are many Americans who do not enjoy burgers and fries, Italians who dislike pasta, or Koreans who hates kimchi (traditional Korean side dish made from fermented vegetables), too.
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