My strongest childhood memories are of my mother, cooking. Of deft hands folding pastry into half moons - then into crested boats - then into dumplings.
(Mine were always lumpy rounds, at best.)
Then, splash! Into salted water.
Waiting for the water to boil. Adding cold water. Reboiling.
Then scooping them out into bowls, and tenderly popping them into our hungry bellies.
But don’t forget the sauces — me with ketchup. Mum with soy sauce and vinegar.
Slurp slurp slurp!
I never realised how much food could connect me to my parents, to China, and to Australia, until I started studying and living in Shanghai this year. My cravings reflected my heritage, but also my upbringing in the multicultural melting-pot of Melbourne. The first day I stuffed myself with sheng jian bao. The next? I was craving avocado on toast so badly I probably looked at all the Instagram photos of it.
Which, just saying, is a lot.
(There were also the cases of paying excessive amounts for sashimi, rye sourdough, and half-decent coffee, but let’s not mention them to the bank account, shall we?)
Food aside, the past couple of weeks have been overwhelming.
It’s the first time that I can remember being so actively engaged and interested in learning about China.
For example, hearing about the policies that affected my parents when they were growing up, albeit from a more clinical and potentially censored/charged but at times neutral perspective, has made me realise how lucky I was to have my parents, at my current age (22), summon the courage to migrate and start afresh in Australia.
And it’s strange to feel like I’m inching towards understanding the way in which my parents have raised me — as an ever evolving consequence and product of their previous lives in China, and lives they sought to start for themselves in Australia, and the most generous, hardworking people they are today.
I’ve also never felt closer to better understanding how 1.64 billion people manage to co- exist. (But don’t ask me how much of that is being achieved through thorough testing of China’s mobile food apps, or through falling off Mobikes.)
So strangely enough, this straddling between cuisines, between cultures, makes me happy. Happy to be exploring and accepting both sides of my heritage and my upbringing, and happy to make this experience become something unique.
Almost like my badly shaped dumplings with ketchup.