Not for all the tea in China..

Cultural clashes are a daily norm for me. It doesn’t happen in a major way; it’s not like I whip out the chopsticks in preparation for a three course meal. It is the tiny trivial things which stands out the most to me, which causes my paranoia that others misinterpret my actions as rude or hostile.

Take the ol’ tea and biscuits scenario for example. No matter where I am, be it in a work place, family gathering or anywhere that involves a kettle, my auto response when offered a drink is “no I’m fine thank you”. I forget making tea is an ice breaker and a British norm, so I will nearly always decline out of politeness of not putting the other person out. This often results in an awkward situation where I have opted out, ignoring my dehydrated brain signalling that I am dying of thirst, to five minutes later decide to fetch myself the drink.

When I do get over myself and remember social etiquette, I allow others to make me a drink, or even food, to which I try my hardest to finish it all. To me, scoffing my food in no way resembles the class hierarchy that is very much alive today; we pass judgment on the poor who presumably lick their plate clean, but the very wealthy tend toy with their food, making sure a standard amount is left over on their plate. I do not clean the plate because I am starved and poor, I just simply disagree with trivially leaving waste. From my perspective, someone has taken the time and effort to make that food, so you better show gratitude by eating it.

I am not sure whether this is inherent from only my family or if there is a bigger cultural picture, whereby most Chinese people behave in this way. I do hope it is the latter.

A whole new ball game.

I decided to be adventurous yesterday and push myself to the limits. This resulted in prawn balls.

If you remember, not long ago I tried my hand at various Chinese/Thai/Vietnamese (or if you prefer, Asian) dishes, which were generally a success. This time, I attempted to make prawn and pork balls on skewers to be cooked on the barbecue. This was pretty adventurous because 1) I am quite nervous about cooking prawns because I never know if they are still raw, 2) I had only ever eaten these at my Aunt’s barbecues and had no idea how they were made. After a few phone calls to my Grandma (an expert in cooking) and my Aunt (who has previously made and cooked prawn balls) and a little research on the internet, I set forth for my big experiment.

Ingredients:

20 king prawns

400g pork mince (the small box)

1 clove of garlic

1 chilli

1 green pepper

1 tsp of cornflower

pinch of salt

pepper for seasoning

So what next?

First you need to prepare the prawns. This is long and tedious, but must be done to ensure they are thoroughly cleaned. Assuming you have bought prawns that are headless, to begin with you need to de-shell the them. The next stage is to slice them right in the middle – I find it easiest to go from the top to the tail downwards. Inside you will find a string, the intestines, which can easily be pulled out from one end of the prawn. It is not life threatening if you decide not to do this, but it will taste gritty otherwise.

Once you have done this, slice them into small pieces. I slice and de-poo each prawn as I go, but do whatever is easiest for you. You may want to wash them after, but to be honest, they have been in a shell and should be fine.

Place the mushed up prawns in the food processor with all of the pork mince, a generous pinch of salt, 1 tsp of cornflower (to make it stickier), pepper (add as much or as little as you feel necessary), chopped up garlic and chilli. I tend to remove the seeds from the chilli, but if you are feeling particularly daring leave them in.

Chop your green pepper into small chunks and get your skewers ready. Roll the prawn and pork concoction into a medium sized ball on a flat surface using the palm of your hand. Make sure the prawn balls are not too big, as this will take longer to barbecue and be at risk of being undercooked. Then slot the balls onto skewers, with peppers in between; this may get tricky as time goes on as the mixture becomes stickier. I also found that they would fall off the skewers, in which case I would re-roll the ball and delicately slot them back in between the peppers.

Lastly, place them on the barbecue to cook. It is not necessary to cook them on a barbecue, you can also grill or fry them (obviously without the skewers for the latter). If you do decide to cook them on a barbecue, be wary that the prawns will be cooked quicker than the pork; it is best to place them on before the barbecue gets too hot, or perhaps as the last thing you cook.

All in all, my experiment was a success! It took a while to cook on the barbecue, probably because of my constant paranoia that they were underdone, but it was definitely worth the wait. They were very tasty and DH loved it.

Cooking up a storm.

Over the weekend, I have become quite the cook. Over the years DH and I have mastered British and Italian dishes to perfection; our dinners varying from stews to roasts to lasagnes. This weekend however, I decided to take it one step further and try my hand at the Chinese dishes I find so daunting. I am so used to visiting my Grandma’s house for my weekly Chinese fix, but now I am a mother, I need to learn the tricks of the trade myself, if I am to have my son familiar with his Chinese heritage. Hopefully if I start now, he will never know how unskilled his mother once was.

We started off with prawn crackers, how very stereotypical. This was not very experimental at all really – It involved heating up oil in a pan and dropping small discs we bought from a packet in Tesco for 59p. They would expand and open up into an editable form. Simple, yet an effective start to what was to come.

Next I made an attempt with Thai green curry. Even though I followed a recipe, it went slightly wrong. I am one of these pedantic obsessives who insist on following instructions word by word, and because of this, I did not question ‘four tablespoons of curry paste’. If I had consulted DH, I would have discovered that in his previous attempt two tablespoons was too hot. Alas, I did not consult anyone but Felicity Cloake (founder of the Guardian recipe) and my curry went down in flames. All in all, with the consideration of it being excessively spicy put aside, it was very flavoursome and tasty. Luckily it was accompanied with fragrant jasmine rice to soften the blow. My second attempt will only have one tablespoon of curry paste and I imagine it will be superb.

I did not intend to make starters, main and dessert, this just happened by accident. My next experiment was Vietnamese Black Eyed Beans and Rice Pudding, with the recipe taken from this website. I wanted a way to include black eyed beans in DS’ diet for its nutritional value; it is very high in protein, carbs and fibre to build him up big and strong. Coconut is also very high in the good kind of fat, not saturates. I am obsessed with feeding him goodness, but I will save that for another blog.

As you can see my version does not look as appetising as the one pictured on the recipe, or maybe I am just not a photo genius. Either way, it was delicious. Almost as scrumptious as my Grandma’s, which is good enough for me.

If the shoe fits.

There is a simple rule which should be known by all, that is, to take your shoes off at the door. The host should not need to make this request explicit, but presume that all share the same etiquette. However, this is not custom in British culture; guests tend to leave their shoes on upon entering someones house, and so the awkwardness of asking the guests to remove their shoes arises.

I understand the reasons behind keeping shoes on; people feel exposed without them, they have verrucas, athlete’s foot or some other fungal disease they would rather not exhibit for all. Nevertheless, there should be an overriding factor of politeness to not tread dirt and bacteria from the outside all over someones house, for the sake of concealing their own insecurities. For instances where the guest does have infectious warts and whatnot, they should bring socks or ask for slippers; walking grubby shoes around the house is equally as damaging as spreading the infection.

There are of course always exceptions to the rule; pet owners are more likely to be accepting of shoe-wearing guests or if the host has shoes on, then you can probably assume it is acceptable for you to keep yours on. Besides this, guests should take the initiative to remove their shoes as soon as they enter. The home should be treated with respect and separate from the outside. I am quite certain that the majority do not wear shoes inside their own home, and if they do, I wonder whether it is included in their daily routine when getting dressed? I for one keep my shoes by the door and only tend to put them on when leaving the house.

I stumbled upon a blog which lists lots of reasons why the host may not want guests to keep their shoes on, in case you were wondering why I am particularly infuriated by this issue. I have been raised to practice the rule that shoes should be removed in the first instance, even before saying hello. The formality of shoes makes me uncomfortable and the thought of spreading dirt around for my son to play with sends my OCD into overdrive.

Wearing the trousers.

Suited and booted I ventured out to my first day at work yesterday. Filled with nausea/excitement I was catapulted into a grown-up’s world. Obviously being married and having a son does mean I have had a head start with this growing up business, but this was different. Somehow, going into work 9-5, stepping away from a life of education and earning big bucks (compared to minimum wage at a coffee shop anyway), has dramatically altered my lifestyle. Being a wife and a mother does not change how I live or my habits. I am having to adjust to a new environment, surrounded by normal working people, not family, or fellow students with their drunken tales.

I have already organised my desk, drawers and stacked up my collection of post-it notes. I was so excited to get my own desk; the novelty still has not worn off. I suppose it has only been two days.

Despite being eager to start something new, I find myself calling home on my breaks, using my hour lunch to see my boys; I practically run home after work. I miss them and have an overwhelming anxiety; how can the show go on without me?

No speak English.

‘…And then to break her heart forever, the baby boy who has begun to talk, starts to sing the Pepsi commercial he heard on T.V.

No speak English, she says to the child who is singing in the language that sounds like tin. No speak English, no speak English, and bubbles into tears. No, no, no as if she can’t believe her ears.’

– The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros.

Whilst we all try to embrace our own culture and heritage, it becomes lost in the society we live in. On the surface I appear to be Chinese, but the foundation of my ideals and norms are clearly Westernised. To recall a conversation I once had with my aunt:

Aunt: ‘You’re such a banana’

Me: ‘Excuse me?’

Aunt: ‘Yellow on the outside, but white on the inside.’

When I now reflect on my identity, I like how I am the product of two cultures. Throughout my childhood I was always trying to escape racism, denying my ethnicity and insisting on speaking English at home. In hindsight I wish I had embraced my differences, then maybe DS would have the opportunity to understand his Chinese heritage. My inability to converse in my mother tongue is an embarrassment to me. I want so much for DS to be able to speak two languages as eloquently as I once was.

Despite not being as Chinese as I would like to be, I am thankful for the small part of me that does remember my cultural differences. We do not choose where we are born or our ethnic origin; I feel lucky to be born in a country that provides so many opportunities and aspirations, whilst still clutching tightly onto the remains of a culture that originates in a part of a world less fortunate.

Chork (chopstick/fork) - If I was a piece of cutlery..