Gong Rosemary - Good Luck Life

Author : Gong Rosemary
Title : Good Luck Life The Essential Guide to Chinese American Celebrations and Culture
Year : 2005

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I was five years old, maybe six. It had been raining all day, but the floor of our tiny kitchen felt familiar and warm. From my favorite spot under the kitchen table, I sat quietly watching my mother as she labored in front of our family’s ancient built-in cast iron wok. My mom’s kitchen was perhaps the root of the Yan Can Cook show, and I had the best seat in the house! My mother, a short, wiry woman, looked even smaller next to the huge wok. If you think that I am quick around the chopping block, you should see my mother at work. Mom had this unique talent of making simple, everyday dishes absolutely delicious, and she could do it in the blink of an eye. In no time at all, that wonderfully comforting aroma of our dinner would fill the air. Could mom be making my favorite salted fish with steamed pork patties? Or perhaps tofu soup with fresh watercress and sweet dates? And what about velvety smooth steamed eggs with dried shrimp? From my vantage point under the table, I noticed a small plaque at the corner of our kitchen. In front of it was a little urn of ashes with a few protruding joss sticks. From time to time, I noticed that my mother would place little cups of rice wine in front of it as an offering. “That’s for our Kitchen God,” she would say. “The Kitchen God protects us from all the bad things that can happen in the kitchen.” “Like swallowing my watermelon seeds?” I asked. In addition to being an excellent cook, my mother was also the best motivator. She knew just what to say to get me to do all my tasks around the house. And when I didn’t finish all the rice in my bowl, instead of scolding me, she would remind me that every single grain of rice left behind in my bowl would be a pock mark on the face of my future bride. Needless to say, I made sure that I finished every grain of rice from that time on. What can I say—my mom knew her rice as well as she knew her son! Yet, I never completely understood the explanation about our Kitchen God, or a few of the other odd things we did around the house such as making offerings to the hungry ghosts or never sticking my chopsticks straight into my bowl of rice. After a few more attempts to get to the bottom of the Kitchen God story, I gave up. I simply accepted him (or her) as a member of our family. So many of our Chinese traditions and rituals have become an integral part of our daily lives. So much so that we sometimes take them for granted, without questioning their reasons or their origins. Like our shadows, we accept them as a part of us, and like our shadows, they follow us no matter how far away we find ourselves from China. In my “Chinatowns” series, I had the privilege to visit many Chinese communities on different continents. I was amazed to find that despite the tremendous diversity in each of these overseas Chinese enclaves, the common bond of our Chinese heritage remains strong, and it is celebrated at every opportunity. Many Chinese immigrants arrived at their newly adopted countries with little more than the clothes on their backs, but they actually brought much more than that. They brought with them their history and culture, and lucky for us, they also brought with them all their great recipes! What I find heartwarming is that our Chinese heritage is not lost over time. Children and grandchildren of immigrants, second-and thirdgeneration Chinese Americans, Chinese Australians, and Chinese Canadians are showing a tremendous thirst to learn all they can about their Chinese heritage. The fact that they are more removed from their Chinese heritage only heightens their curiosity—they do not take any of these customs and rituals for granted. They dare to ask those questions that we, who have become accustomed to living with our shadows, have so often neglected. Rosemary Gong is one of those who dares to ask the all too familiar questions. Why do we like the numbers three and eight but avoid the number four? Why do traditional Chinese families serve only vegetarian meals on the first day of the Chinese New Year? Instead of living with vague notions and then passing them on, Rosemary sets out to seek answers. Thanks to her efforts, Good Luck Life is a cultural treasure chest. It’s a joy to reach in and come up with a nugget of history and folklore. What a great conversation starter it would make at any family dinner table! Going through these pages makes me realize just how much I thought I knew about my own culture, but really didn’t, or at least, not completely. Good Luck Life paints vivid details of all the shades and colors that make up that shadow which is our Chinese heritage. Enjoy it with your entire family—it’s a wonderful legacy to pass on to future generations. Martin Yan. Host, Yan Can Cook. ...

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