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It's interesting to look at your life, past to present, and think: "It has all led up to this...." And then wonder where it will lead to next.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Cha Siu Bao

There is an hour and forty-five minutes left for my dough to rise completely, yet I find myself continuously peeking beneath the lime green dish towel where it rests to check its progress. I am not a patient person. For that reason I have not made bread dough from scratch in I don't know how many years. When we first moved to China there weren't any bakeries or stores that sold regular bread for things such as toast or sandwiches, so my mother used to make loaf after loaf of delicious home made bread from scratch each week. With eight children, 4 of which were ever-ravenous teenage boys, the loaves never lasted long. The symphony of mixing, kneading, rising, and baking seemed to be continuous in our home. She made it look so easy. I would help some, but mostly I just did the eating. Now as the mother of my own home I try to make many things from scratch, but this is the first time I have attempted to make bread dough without the help of a break maker. What has driven me to such madness? Homesickness. Or something to that effect.

I always miss China. Although technically not "home" it feels about as much as home as this will ever feel. For some reason when I'm pregnant this homesickness gets a whole lot worse. I crave the food, the smells, the crowds, the deafening summer rainstorms, and the feeling of catching the last bus of the night. Some days it's almost uncontrollable. This last weekend we took a trip to Charlotte to visit my family for superbowl weekend. Not that any of us actually watch football on a regular basis, but it was a good excuse to see family. While there my brother and his wife introduced us to the area's newest addition- a Chinese market! I prepared myself for minor disappointment, but as we entered the store I was greeted with an exact replica of the average modern Chinese grocery store. I had forgotten it was Chinese New Year, so I was pleasantly surprised to also find myself surrounded by Asian faces, the Chinese language effortlessly flowing from their mouths, filling my eyes and ears with familiar sights and sounds. I was even more excited to see that a local school of dance had put together a lion dance in celebration of the new year and the market's grand opening. They loudly beat their drums and danced to the center of the store while we all happily followed, soaking up the experience. Holding Aiden in my arms, I watched his face fill with awe, and I had to stop myself from crying. I hadn't realized how much I wanted for him to experience the culture of my childhood. Whether from the loud music or the sudden lack of space with the weight of Aiden resting on my womb, Gabriel kicked with extra force, flipping and rolling as though he were doing a dance of his own.

I paced the isles, pointing out all the food I hadn't seen in years. We bought sweet bread from the bakery, reminding me of the countless mornings while running late to school I'd stop by our neighborhood bakery and buy those same breads for breakfast. Then, the best surprise of all, we made our way to the cafeteria where I ate the most authentic Chinese food I have ever had in the States! I couldn't quite muster up the courage to speak in Chinese with the hustle and bustle of the lines and the cashiers didn't seem to notice that I understood when they slipped up and used Chinese to talk to me. I was just content to find I could still understand the majority of conversations going on around me. I ate there twice that weekend, hoping my cravings would be satisfied until I could make it back again. Unfortunately, it's been more of the opposite. I find myself craving Chinese food even more than usual, longing desperately to be enveloped in its beautiful culture, and reminiscing constantly about my friends who are so far from me now. This is what has led me to make dough from scratch. I am attempting to make "cha siu bao", a Chinese steamed pork bun that is usually eaten for breakfast. I crave them often and have not had one in about four years. I am a little nervous, as though the outcome of these buns will determine something important. As though each bite might allow me to experience a little of the China that will always remain in me. Or make the distance even more of a reality.


Sam said...

Your post evoked so much in me. strangely suprising memories. like a damp 'hole in the wall' cantena with a dirt floor where I would duck into every afternoon from the 2pm moonsoon shower. I'd watch the rain fall and sip milk tea. the pain of that memory is almost unbearable. or the smell of rice cooking in the mornings with mustard greens...barefeet on the concrete veranda and noisey buses winding around tiny crumbling roads..Faith, why do you do this to me?

Faith said...

It helps to know someone feels my pain! ;-)

Uniquely Normal Mom said...

I didn't live there, but I feel your emotion. There are nights when Dallas and I lay awake, unable to sleep thinking about some of the countries we've been to. China and Afghanistan, the ones that cumulatively we have spent years there, are always at the top of our list. Emotions run high for us too, and we feel like part of us is missing. Thanks for sharing, Faith!