I hated Dim Sum growing up. I wanted peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Ziploc baggies filled with random processed snacks. I hated the taste of Chinese herbal medicine. I wanted my ailments to be fixed with some magical western pill from the nearest CVS pharmacy. I hated using chopsticks and eating “family-style”. I wanted to use a fork and knife and I wanted a whole plate of steak and potatoes to myself.
But just this semester, I made the conscious decision to give the Chinese culture I formerly shamed, another chance.
When I was a child, my parents had to physically drag my stubborn butt to the table to eat the Asian food they’d prepared for dinner. It’s not whether or not I found Asian cuisine to be delicious to me; I just didn’t connect with it. By this, I mean that I had never really encompassed a convincing “Asian aesthetic”. I would think to myself: “If I don’t look entirely Asian on the outside, why should I be subjected to have any Asian on the inside?” – quite literally.
Recently, I’ve begun adventuring to family style restaurants- and I’m loving every moment of it. I remember the particular instance where my shift in perception was recognized by my parents.
The spinning glass at the center of the table was covered with dishes such as Hainan Chicken, Pecking Duck, and Preserved Duck Egg Porridge. But beyond the flavorful dishes, it was communal and a great conversation starter with my family. “Why the change in heart?” they asked. I explained most of my hesitation growing up came from the fear of having to converse with them in broken Cantonese, which was rather humiliating considering I was raised in a predominantly Chinese community. However, I now regret avoiding this style of dining; it meant missing out on so many potentially meaningful conversations with them. Typically, my family eats dinner while the TV distracts us from having meaningful conversations, but I wanted to make an effort to communicate with my parents about news, life updates, and their past experiences in China. The food we shared together with no technological distractions provided us with an opportunity to be an interactive family, and I feel such a deep shame for having voluntarily missed out that in the past.
Another integral part of Chinese culture is to seek out Eastern traditional medicine. When I was younger, my parents strongly preferred that I take Eastern medicine before seeking Western medical attention. What drove me away from this Eastern medicine was that it was nearly always bitter, a stark difference from fruit punch flavored cough syrup. My mother’s hours of preparing the bitter herbs were usually wasted down the drain.
However, wanting to understand more about my parents’ insistence on this form of remedy, I decided to look into research about how it can be beneficial to one’s health. It is believed that the human body functions by a cycle of earth, water, wood, metal, and fire. There is a delicate balance of these five elements, and certain herbs are infused to treat the respective imbalances in our bodies. If there are inflamed symptoms, the body is seen as ‘heated,’ and if there is a lack of essence in certain parts of the body, the body is seen as ‘cooled’. Without going too in-depth about my particular health diagnosis, my doctor explained that I have more ‘heated’ symptoms than those that are ‘cooled’. With the consent of my doctor, I have been taking herbal medication in lieu of my typical prescription. Not only do I feel better overall, but I also noticed that the herbs did a substantial job in remedying multiple symptoms in a more wholesome manner rather than targeting merely one.* Now, I can finally understand why Chinese traditional medicine has survived for nearly 3,000 years, and why it is still heavily sought after when in times of malady.
Growing up in the notoriously Asian 626 area of Southern California, I felt the effect of its bubble-like community. It was claustrophobic, and because I never truly identified as “Asian”, I wanted to diverge. I shamed Asian mannerisms and activities because I never felt like I truly belonged. This state of mind for so long pushed me away from the fundamentals of my Asian culture. But as a young woman who has had the opportunity to travel and attend a college with such a diverse pool of individuals, I’ve learned that difference can be a beautiful thing. I want to appreciate my ethnicity on a more comprehensive level; something I refused to do for most of my life.
Taking a step back from the bubble I grew up in and returning to my roots was an unexplainably profound experience for me, and only inspires me to want to further undo the disconnection I have with my Chinese heritage.
*This is from a purely subjective standpoint. Medications (Eastern or Western) should be seriously considered with a primary care doctor before any measures of replacing or integrating alternative forms of medication.