PERSONAL NOTE: I decided to share my book with my friends and students in mainland China because it costs a fortune to order a copy from Amazon.com. Enjoy it and share with with people you care and love. Peace, Steve, usa, feb 12, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
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Jady Zhou Xianfeng and I met when he was doing his post-graduate studies in microbiology at Xiamen University. Jady had an interesting childhood. He was raised by his third uncle when he was nine to twelve years old. Like many parents at the time, his parents had to find work in another city and he spent some time with his relatives. Jady shared with me one story when he was a teenager living with his uncle. It was snowing out there and his brother came with his bicycle to take him home for a holiday. So he could see his parents. It was the trip back to his uncle’s house that touched my heart. “My brother was carrying me on the back of the bicycle. I hugged him tightly and I was crying because I did not want to leave my parents. And snow was coming down on us on the bicycle.” Jady was determined to succeed in his studies. He was a smart student and eventually left his hometown and parents and entered Xiamen University to pursue his graduate studies in microbiology.
As a graduate student and a teaching assistant, his professor would send him to the Zhangzhou campus (from the main campus in Xiamen) to assist him with different classroom tasks with undergraduate students, like taking class attendance, supervising lab experiments, or collecting and correcting test papers. I saw him always with a smiling face. We met one day riding the same school bus from Xiamen campus to the ferry to take us to the new campus in Zhangzhou. I was visiting a professor friend at the main campus and also to do some business at the China Construction Bank there. Strange it may seem but there were times I had to return to the bank where I had opened an account (Xiamen campus) because a different branch told you so. They would not handle certain banking transactions for you. So I had to return to the Xiamen bank in XMU campus.
It was like love at first sight and Jady and I hit it off the first time we met as total strangers. It was the same with all students when they discovered I was a visiting professor from America. Their desire and determination to improve the mastery of the English language was the engine that drove them to me. These were students outside the department where I was teaching, first in the School of Journalism, XMU, 2008-2010 and later in the Department of English Language at XMU TKK College, 2010-2014.
Jady was smart to exploit every opportunity to improve his spoken English. And his spoken English was much superior to students who were studying English as their major in the campus. Students who studied science could speak English very fluently because they anticipate to do advanced research studies overseas. Jady studied
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microbiology at XMU and graduated in 2010. He responded to an American company operating on Hainan Island and went there for an interview. I remember saying this to him that if he did well with this company, this could be one way for him to work in the United States in the future. Little did I know he rejected an offer to work for the American company and opted to return to Nanchang to marry his girlfriend, Lin Juan, now a teacher of biology in a high school. He had other reasons for wanting to return home and I supported his decision. I did make the decision to give him a substantial gift to cover his expenses as a graduate student.
In 2011, I made the decision to visit Jady and Graham in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province in my continued search for a cool place in China. I was not contemplating of leaving my campus for another school but curious if there are places in China that are much cooler than the hot places in Fujian Province. The heat in Xiamen continued to bother me, someone born sensitive to heat. My students had mentioned about a famous mountain somewhere north of Nanchang. And that place is Lushan, or Lu Mountain.
Lushan, a renowned mountain in China and a prominent tourist attraction, was originally built up by British colonialists as a summer hill station. Their presence was reflected in the architecture of some buildings. For someone like me who had been searching for a refreshing escape from the summer heat in Fujian Province, Lushan would be the ideal and perfect place to visit and stay. It is known for its beauty, grandeur, and steepness, and is part of Lushan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. It offers many scenic hiking opportunities and some historic buildings that are of significance to people who are interested in the history of China. Chiang Kai-shek, who served as the leader of the Republic of China, between 1928-1975, would frequently spend his summers here. Zhou Enlai, a major leader in the Communist Party, met with Chiang here in Lushan to discuss a united front against the Japanese invasion in June, 1937. In July 1937 in Lushan, Chiang Kai-shek announced a full mobilization for war against Japan. Following the war in 1946, America sent a diplomatic mission under General George Marshall to meet Chiang Kai-Shek at Lushan, to discuss the role of post-WWII China. In 1959, 1961 and 1970, Chairman Mao Zedong staged three important conferences of senior party officials at Lushan. The Lushan Conference of 1959 saw the purge of General Peng Dehuai, who was critical of Mao’s Great Leap Forward policies. The Lushan Conference of 1970 took place during the Cultural Revolution, marking increasing antagonism between those loyal to Mao, and those loyal to his chosen successor Lin Biao. The picture of Chairman Mao in his cane chair was featured in front of many picturesque spots in Lushan today. Lushan also became a summer resort for Western missionaries in China.
Pearl Buck’s father was one of the five missionaries to own property in the Kuling
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Estate on Lushan. “As the daughter of missionaries,” according to Wikipedia, “Buck spent most of her life before 1934 in Zhejiang, China. Her novel The Good Earth was the best-selling fiction book in the United States in 1931 and 1932, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. In 1938, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces”. She was the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
I did not go up Lushan for political or religious reasons, I was simply hoping to find an escape from the scorching heat in Fujian Province in the south. It was another hot summer in Xiamen, and I decided to travel to Nanchang. Jady and Graham and Graham’s parents picked me up at the airport, and we had a great lunch at a fabulous restaurant in the city. Graham’s father worked for the supreme court in the city, and his mother was a top government official. In China that means you have a good connection with the government, and that could mean stability and longevity of one’s future and career, and a door of opportunity for anyone in the family or related to the family. My students often reminded me: In China, if you have the right connections, you have everything you could ever want in your life and career and future. This is China.
Graham’s father cared about table etiquette and he told his son to sit up straight and observe table manners in front of two guests—Jady and I. This, according to Jady, could only happen to children coming from elite families in China. These parents control every inch of your public behavior. His mom, because of her high position in the city government, was able to get a special discount by registering me at Hongdu Hotel. Seven years working in China taught me that if you are a high government official, you can essentially do what you want and get what you want because This is China, and ordinary citizens know who to go in their times of need. Hongdu is the name for Nanchang in ancient times. Jady and Graham and I decided to visit Lushan the next day as that was my purpose to visit Nanchang. I was hoping to spend a week or so up the mountains.
At breakfast at the hotel, I almost died of a heart attack—or simply overwhelmed by the unexpected good fortune—when I discovered this ordinary hotel served not just any hotel breakfast (the same cheap offerings one would find in every hotel) but something you could have only in the best restaurants in Guangzhou city, in Guangdong Province, or in Vancouver city in Canada, prepared by specialists or the best Chinese chefs in the world. And that was dim sum.
I first heard of and tasted so called dim sum when I lived in Washington State. I live
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outside south of Seattle, not far from the Canadian border, and I had visited my aunt’s daughters (children of my mother’s sister) who had immigrated to British Columbia, Canada, from England many years ago. They were both trained nurses who once worked with my sister and niece for years in England, all originally from Malaysia. All these countries belong to the British Commonwealth countries, including Hong Kong. Now you understand why we have many Indians living and working in Hong Kong and England. Just like the European Union, citizens within the British Commonwealth can move easily from one country to another. Now my cousins live in a beautiful city called Vancouver, right across the border from Washington State. My cousins had introduced me to something called yum cha (literally meaning drinking tea in Cantonese, a dialect spoken in Hong Kong and Guangdong Province, China). The story is that travelers on ancient Silk Road needed a place to rest. Thus teahouses appeared along this route. Travelers could enjoy tea with different kinds of snacks. And that was how yum cha started. Dim sum derives from two Cantonese characters, written in pinyin as dian xin and is translated to mean “touch the heart”. Dim sum, dian xin and yum cha are used interchangeably in China and in America, and in Canada. Sweet or savory, the small bite-sized foods can be fried, baked or steamed.
Over the centuries, the Cantonese people in southern China transformed the original yum cha into a sumptuous dining experience called dim sum. Now in Guangdong Province and in Hong Kong, yum cha is synonymous with dim sum.
When I was in Guangzhou, to visit the American Embassy, I discovered many restaurants would start serving dim sum as early as five in the morning. And inside these places, you would see many senior citizens (called “old people” in China) would gather to enjoy dim sum after their morning exercises. I also saw many young adults bringing their parents to have dim sum lunch on weekends. More recently they are now also serving dim sum other than the morning or noon hours but at dinner time.
So what is dim sum? It is essentially a Cantonese cuisine, prepared and served in small bite-sized portions. And there are different ways dim sum is served in different restaurants. I prefer the traditional way. That means dim sum is served in small bamboo or metal steamer baskets, and the waitresses would push the carts around the room for customers to choose what they want to eat, while seated at their tables. All the variety of foods are cooked and ready to serve to you. You see and pick what you want. When I was in Sydney once, my wealthy doctor friend and his wife took me to eat dim sum and there, they would cook a special dish right by your table as they moved from table to table. A rather unusual Australian experience that is edged deeply in my memory. Then there is one way when a waitress comes to you with a card with a long list of the small dishes, mostly in Chinese. Though some have pictures for
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those new to this Cantonese cuisine. Basically you ordered what you wanted through her.
I went to one in Xiamen, now closed because it was rumored the owner ran away without paying the workers, and it was a very popular restaurant by the ocean. There all the foods were served buffet style, and you could see the foods arranged along the walls from one corner to another corner of the big banquet hall, from Japanese, Korean-style order to cook, variety of dim sum steamer baskets, desserts, and to Chinese selections. There are a few very expensive seafood restaurants in Xiamen that have menus that would include some dim sum dishes, but they are costly because you have to order them like you would order any other Chinese dishes. The selections are limited in these restaurants. These are not full-time dim sum restaurants. The order-to-cook dishes are very expensive. The best dim sum restaurants now are still in Guangzhou and Shenzhen, both prosperous cities in southern China.
We have quite a few reputable and authentic dim sum restaurants near my hometown in Washington State, and no matter which dim sum restaurant I visited, these are some of my favorites:
• Gao zi or dumplings, made of ingredients inside skin wrappers of translucent rice flour or wheat starch. Har gow or shrimp dumplings have whole or chopped-up shrimp filling.
• Guotie or pot stickers have meat and cabbage filling.
• Shaomai are small steamed dumplings with either pork or prawns topped with crab roe and shiitake mushroom.
• Char siu bao or barbecued buns have Cantonese barbecued pork filling.
• Xiao long bao are dumplings filled with meat or seafood.
• Phoenix claws or chicken feet are marinated in black bean sauce and steamed.
• Spare ribs are steamed with fermented black beans and sliced chili.
• Gai Lan or Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce.
It is my habit to try to find some steamed rice to go with the rich delicacies, but most places would only serve congee rice porridge, not steamed rice to you. Though one can order fried rice if you prefer. Dim Sum is very rich food, and plain steamed rice goes well with them. But you cannot find plain steamed rice this time of the day in a Chinese restaurant. But you can order fried rice. To make fried rice, you need steamed rice. The waitress serving you is not about to listen to your simple logic!
“What kind of tea would you like?” is one of the first things a waiter would ask the guests. And there is a variety of tea to choose from: oolong, jasmine, red, green tea or
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Chrysanthemum. Usually I would choose green tea.
Depending on one’s attitude or spending habits, with the money you spend at a dim sum restaurant, you could have a feast of your favorite Chinese dishes at a regular Chinese restaurant. Enjoyment of dim sum dishes is definitely not for those who have a limited budget for leisure. I would say it is for the rich who have both time and money to spend with people you care and love. And many businessmen and women are seen conducting their businesses at the tables in these places.
The Nanchang Hongdu Hotel served a few of my favorite dim sum dishes to whet my appetite for a full dim sum meal. I had a memorable breakfast at this hotel. After breakfast, Jady and Graham and I went to the Nanchang bus station to catch a direct bus to Lushan. The trip is about two and a half hours. Others in the bus told us to quiet down our talking and laughing. One lady threw up all the way up the winding mountain road. She should have taken some motion-sickness pills before taking this bus ride. When I was a teenager back in Malaya, I would throw up if a vehicle went too fast along winding roads but as I grew older, that dizziness went away. I was spared this discomfort during this meandering bus ride up to Lushan.
The air became cooler as we ascended the mountain.
Nothing could stop or alter the surprises that were waiting for me…that would change completely my thoughts about Lushan and how I would spend the rest of my holidays in Nanchang. China is full of surprises. This is China.