PERSONAL NOTE: I decided to share my book with friends and students in mainland China because it is too expensive to order a copy from USA. Read it and share it with people you love and care. Peace, steve, usa May 5, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
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Of course, I invited them over to my house for a Christmas dinner and also a hotpot dinner, a meal that is very popular all over China, though most Chinese would associate the best hotpot with Sichuan Province in southwest China. I had invited an American friend and her son, who had returned from teaching in Japan for the Christmas holidays for the hotpot dinner with Marco and his colleagues. Dena, a very good cook herself, made a special rhubarb pie to charm my Chinese guests. Chinese do not make nor eat pies. So the home-made rhubarb pie was very special to them, but also to me. Because I have terrible weakness for pies. Few Chinese know how to cook or bake using an oven. Though many wealthy Chinese in China today do have kitchens as fancy and modern as the ones in the West; oven cooking is alien to the Chinese culture.
But the hotpot dinner would definitely remind them of home sweet home. The Chinese hotpot has a history of more than 1,000 years. Even the prime minister of UK tasted the original hotpot meal in Sichuan when he visited China in 2013. The ECNS.CN online news has this headline in its report on December 5, 2013: Cameron gets wish to eat hot pot in Chengdu. Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan Province in southwest China. According to waitress Cao Jing, who served the prime minister and his entourage, they ordered the two-flavored hot pot (half clear broth and half spicy broth with a divider between the two) and selected mostly vegetarian ingredients. “The Prime Minister was not afraid of spicy food. He said ‘very good’ many times,” said Cao Jing. Today in America and all over the world, if you want hot, spicy and oily foods, you go to a Sichuan restaurant.
I had been doing hot pot in America for years, way before I went to teach in China in 2008. Because it is the simplest meal to prepare. You do not have to be a gourmet cook to do it. Anyone who can follow a few simple instructions can do it. All you need is some broth at the center of the table. The old original hot pot uses real burning charcoal to keep the broth simmering. Most people now would use the electric model. At the center of the table is the hot pot with simmering stock or broth (a stock made from fish, crabs, chicken, vegetables or pork bones). The host or the individual guests, preferably sitting around a round table, can add any kind of ingredients—from meat, to different kinds of leaf vegetables, tofu, mushrooms, wontons, dumplings, seafood, noodles, eggs—into the pot and are cooked at the table. This reminds me of the French fondue. Hotpot is a style of meal that is very popular during the cold winter months in China where many homes do not have heaters, especially those who live in south China. It is too hot for the hot summers in China but still popularly served in
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air-conditioned fancy restaurants in many major cities in China. Twelve months a year.
With hot Chinese green tea and the rhubarb pie for dessert, and sitting around my small grand piano, I decided to play some of my favorite movie themes for my guests. I avoided playing the piano most times because I did not want any guest to think they had to listen to my music at my dinner table. But tonight was a special night, for my Chinese guests especially. I did the hotpot for Marco and his colleagues—Wang Ziying and Ni Jiangling—because I wanted them to know China is everywhere in the world. That they should not feel lonely or alone when so much of Chinese practices and traditions are exported to and adopted by people in many parts of the world. The best known, of course, is the Chinese Lion Dance and Dragon Dance at every Chinese New Year, now celebrated in every major city across the globe.
Now they are home in Shaoxing and they invited me to visit them from Hangzhou January 24, 2016.
I told Eason I had decided against it because it was too cold for me. There was still snow in many places on the ground, for me it was like living in an ice box. The reality was I had only two full days in Hangzhou before I had to move on to the next city. So I wanted to spend more time with Yang Kun and Eason and Terry. After all I had just entertained Marco and his colleagues in my residence in America, December 29, 2015. Yang Kun was very keen on the idea but she did not insist we should make the trip. That is not to say Shaoxing is not an important city in Zhejiang Province.
Shaoxing, located on the southern shore of Hangzhou Bay in eastern Zhejiang Province, is a short distance east from Hangzhou and a bus trip will take you there. According to the 2010 census, its population was about 4.9 million people. In 1996, Shaoxing University was established from the merger of several institutions of higher education. Shaoxing is known for a few things: home to Zhou Enlai and Lu Xun, known for stinky tofu, mei gan cai, and Shaoxing wine, its Shaoxing opera is second in popularity only to Peking opera, and recently featured in the famous TV show A Bite of China (about famous local cuisine in China). Shaoxing is also known for its textiles, electronics and energy efficient lighting. Zhejiang has the fifth highest per capital GDP in mainland China.
Zhou Enlai was the first Premier of the PRC, serving under Chairman Mao Zedong, from October 1949 until his death in January 1976, instrumental in the rise to power of the Communist Party, the country’s foreign policy and the economy.
Lu Xun, born in Shaoxing, 1881-1936, has been considered China’s greatest modern
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writer, using both traditional Chinese conventions and 19th century European literary forms. He also taught briefly at Xiamen University in Fujian Province. In the Lu Xun Memorial Hall at XMU, visitors can see an essay written by him: From Courtyard to Private Study. The essay is well known in China and was chosen for studies by Chinese middle school students. His most famous novella is The Real Story of Ah-Q, a story of a rural peasant who is a bully toward those he considers his inferiors and finds ways to convince himself that he is better than the wealthy villagers and prestigious families. It was Lu Xun’s way of jabbing at “China’s national attitude of self-deception and pride in spite of reality.”
Maybe I should have paid my respect to Lu Xun and visited his home in Shaoxing, but I did not. Another time. Another chance. The next day Yang Kun invited us to have some coffee at a local Starbucks some time in the early noon. In Xiamen, she would never take me to a simple Chinese coffee shop. That was not good enough for her, just like she would never invite me to eat in a small unknown Chinese restaurant in China, and we have plenty of those lining the streets in China. This time she was driving her car. This was outside the city of Hangzhou, an area she knew well. And she drove Eason and I from the hotel to a local Starbucks.
In America, the first Starbucks store is located in download Seattle, an hour or so away from my residence. So in America, who goes to Starbucks? Many young professionals would meet or go there for individual reasons: for some to talk about business deals over a cup of expensive coffee, for some to work on urgent matters on their computers, for some to relax and wait for a friend or date or to read a book, and for many a good place to hang out.
Those who have cash to burn will visit Starbucks in America. And now Starbucks is spreading like summer wild fires across China because for some going to Starbucks or any stores from the West is like rubbing shoulders with the elite or with Western culture, a much sought after association in modern China. Like you have gone to heaven or something, to be seen in Western establishments. And that worries the Chinese government, the increasing unstoppable influence of Western culture.
On January 12, 2016, USA Today, a national American daily newspaper, carries this headline: “Starbucks to open 500 shops in China in 2016”. In the words of Howard Schultz, President and CEO of Starbucks, a Seattle-based coffee company, talking to company employees and their families in Chengdu, he said, “As Starbucks’ second-largest and fastest-growing market globally, China represents the most important and exciting opportunity ahead of us. Over time, it’s conceivable that China could become our largest market.” By the end of 2015, the United States is number one with 12,531
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Starbucks stores. And China is right behind trailing like a shadow.
While Yang Kun ordered coffee and sandwiches for us in the first floor, Eason and I went to the second floor to find a table for us. I saw a young couple with a child sitting on a comfortable sofa. Next to our table, a young man caught my attention, like a college student enjoying a cup of fine coffee and reading his favorite novel or something.
Yang Kun had something to discuss with me, the reason why she invited me to visit Hangzhou in the first place. And this is her story.
She did her graduate studies in National University of Singapore, a distinguished school in Singapore and then she worked for five years on the island with a publishing company. She returned to China to become the Executive Dean of the Department of English at TKK College, sharing Xiamen University’s second campus. After ten years she decided to return to Hangzhou to work for another university. She wants more than just being a teacher now and so she is seriously planning a new venture: a place for kids to come and read books.
Her son David is about 10 years old and he loves to read books, not just any book. At the moment David carries a thick illustrated book everywhere he goes. It is about animals, land or sea, about all kinds of animals. It is possible his interest could lead him to study biology and botany in college one day. Yang Kun nodded and smiled when I told her about David’s future in college. He could be doing research in biology one day.
With the aroma of fresh Starbucks coffee and tasty American-style sandwiches, Yang Kun and I went through a whole litany of reasons why parents should read books to children and why children should read books from an early age. Many reasons overlapped. Why bother to read? Reading alone, or shared book reading:
• Expands your vocabulary
• Enhances your imagination
• Takes you to places you have never been before
• Increases your knowledge about places, science, discoveries, history and people, role models in life
• Makes you succeed in school and in later life
• Stimulates intellectual development
• Helps you to make sense of the world around you
• Opens up a whole new world of understanding and comprehension of the world
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• Helps to build independence and self-confidence
• Improves reading fluency and comprehension
• More you read the better you are at it
• Improves your writing skills
• Early success in reading leads to increased success later on
• Makes you smarter
• Improves safety because you understand warming signs: danger, no entry, beware of dogs, poisonous plants, no trespassing
• Helps you relax because it is fun and entertaining, using little energy
• Because shared book-reading is the most rewarding bonding time
Yang Kun and I have the same passion about the critical importance of reading, whether it is reading aloud to children, or encouraging children to read at an early age. And she is convinced she wants to open a center where interested parents will bring their children to read all kinds of books, where the parents themselves will also learn from speakers about how and why they should be involved in their children’s reading habits, and studies, and education. A place where parents can meet other parents who have the same interest in reading over a cup of tea or coffee. Her plan includes introducing all kinds of books to the young people, and eventually publishing books by local authors.
This is China.