As I am settling back into the rhythm of life in Wudangshan, I thought I would write down one of my biggest impressions from my winter at home.
There’s truly no place like home. As much fun and excitement as maneuvering intercultural waters can be, the smallest tasks become significant undertakings. Example: yesterday I made tacos for my brother, Gao, who likes my cooking and missed it while I was gone. At home, I could complete a taco dinner, from conceiving the idea to plates hitting the table, in a few hours. There are grocery stores, organized in a way I understand. Ingredients are fairly consistently available, and I can ask questions comfortably and trust that the context in which I mean them will be understood.The conveniences of modern kitchens are not to be underrated.
Here, I shop at an outdoor market 20 minutes walk from our school. Crowded stalls separate my shopping into dry goods, fresh vegetables, and meat, tripling the amount of haggling to be done while I dodge the piles of rotting refuse that the shopkeepers throw into the center aisle. Yesterday, I had to search high and low at three different markets to find cilantro, which normally would be easily available at any of the shops (I eventually found a rather wilted handful that worked well enough, though I think it was the last cilantro in all of Wudang). The meat is sold hanging on a hook in an outdoor stall. Logically, the seller does not take it out in the heat of the day, so if I want to buy meat I have to schedule my shopping for early morning or late afternoon. When I went to buy the bread I use to substitute for a tortilla, the vendor tried to tell me I couldn’t have the ones I wanted. I started to walk away, and his wife grabbed me and tried to direct my attention to some other, very nice, un-tortilla like bread. I said no thank you, and started to walk away again, and they thrust the tortilla bread at me, at which point I realized the price had gone up while I was away by 50%. Then I got home and realized why they had not wanted to sell it to me in the first place — stale, very stale. Then I had to use the kitchen. I tried to use one wok, and realized the wood fire beneath it from earlier had already died. I then switched to a coal brick burner, which cooked the food very nicely although I was choking on the coal fumes the whole while. Not bad tacos though, if I do say 🙂
I suspect that a Chinese person would feel as perplexed trying to prepare familiar foods in my local supermarket as I feel trying to cook here in China. It reminds me that no matter how widely I travel, no place will ever put me so at ease as the good old U.S.A.