By: Daniel Otero
What in heavens makes a person travel in China during the National Holiday? That messiest 1st week of October!
Holy crap, stuck in a bus and traffic for three and a half hours on my way from Ningbo to Taizhou, Zhejiang. Feelings and anger welling-up! I hollered words like ‘S**t, f**k’- damn it!’ Chinese looked at me in fear and shock, and these were words to forget in embarrassment for all ages.
A little history and background…
Chinese National Holiday is always celebrated during that significant week of October since 1949. It’s the time in which Chinese migrant workers go back home. Some do this journey twice a year, for National Holiday and Spring Festival (the latter, between January and February).
Imagine living in the United States and twice a year 300 million people shifted from east to west of the country in one week. Just like that! These are your holidays… Image the queues, traffic jams, congested airports and train stations for a week inside this ‘organized confusion’.
This is China and it admirably happens here, but the country is not 300 million like in the States. The population inside the ancient Middle Kingdom is right now peaking at 1.6 billion. Impressively enough, they make it work!
Back to my tantrum, I’m here to visit some friends. I would later feel embarrassed about my ill will and feelings.
Taizhou is a no big-deal city. One that is simplistic in spacious avenues, walkthroughs, a little grungy and dirty; full of Chinese gardens and a pagoda high above on a forested hill in the city to be viewed by all.
It’s more for industry, work and honestly, good food! With a small glass museum in the center of town, it sure doesn’t inspire much, and to walk through it shows marvelous scenes of memory that focus on bamboos settings, trees, flowers, the hedgerows; its main waterway and lovely Chinese architecture engulf each entrance with strong concrete-sculptured lions.
This is Taizhou and it was to be my stay [or ‘safety net’] for the next 9 days.
But as I wanted to say, what I recalled the most about [the experience] was the kindness of Yeye [our friend] letting us stay in her home, her brother cooking for us a sweet and intense seafood noodles in spicy-ginger.
The kitchen was full in the evenings with laughter and a comradeship of sorts.
You see, I love cooking and what inspired me to learn how to make jiaozi (dumplings) was the common experience of people coming together and uniting cultures.
We set out to make them, however, with my stubby-fat fingers, I was having an impossible time in sealing them. Without any egg-wash and using little water, mine were a disaster, with the filling coming out and too fat to be called anything but a mutated-dumpling!
And I sharply watched as Yeye’s brother made them, using the dexterity of his fingers with soft-sweet finesse. He rapidly filled them up with grounded pork or shrimp (using little filling) and then went on to seal the dumpling with his fine-elongated fingers! I for one was impressed and wanted to know more…
The best part was later the tasters test with soy-sauce and kauizi (chopsticks) after a nice steaming inside the cooking baskets. Magical, indeed! What memories a place and delicious smells can evoke!
For dinner, I made them my traditional Spaghetti in tomato sauce. Which foreigner while in China doesn’t like to make this recipe and as always, of course, using pasta! Easy enough…
And what can I say? There was an exchange of cultures and for that week they tolerated me.
Learning to never again ‘judge a book by its cover’!
Yes, Taizhou didn’t impress me and I’ll fondly recall the wonderful time we had making and enjoying in culinary greatness the best dumplings!
This is what friendship is all about.