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Learning to Make Dumplings on New Year's Eve

Source: Science and Technology Daily | 2024-02-07 13:57:52 | Author:

By John Thomas Arants

John Thomas Arants. (COURTESY PHOTO)

As this year's Spring Festival approaches and my friends and colleagues head home to celebrate with their families, memories of holidays spent with my friend, Mu Laoshi come to my mind. Two years ago, he invited me to join his family celebrations on Chinese New Year's Eve. I gladly accepted.

When I arrived, three generations were bustling around the kitchen, preparing jiaozi (dumplings). They welcomed me and immediately put me to work. I was nervous, I'm not a great cook and I had never prepared jiaozi before, but Mu's mom was a great teacher. We rolled out the wrappers, filled them with pork and diced vegetables, then folded them and squeezed them shut.

Everyone in Mu's family was an expert at it, even his 10-year-old daughter. They took the ends of the wrapper between their thumbs and forefingers and pressed them together creating a tight seal. They even shaped the wrappers, creating a little wave pattern around the outside of the jiaozi. They looked great.

Mine did not look quite so beautiful. Some of the jiaozi were understuffed and therefore too small. Some were overstuffed and difficult to close. And all of them seemed ready to fall apart as soon as they hit the boiling water. I knew they looked bad, but Mu and his family had only kind words, encouraging me and occasionally helping. They were very kind and even though my jiaozi were not perfect, I enjoyed the process of making them.

Mu's mom boiled the jiaozi and the rest of us set the table, putting out bowls and chopsticks, preparing the vinegar and soy sauce dip, with just a dash of chilly pepper to give it a little extra kick. When the jiaozi were ready, they were put in the center of the table, on three large plates. I was welcomed and treated more like a friend than a guest, and it never felt like I was foreign at all.

The jiaozi were delicious, maybe the best I had ever had. We ate and talked and laughed. But I noticed Mu's daughter eyeing the jiaozi suspiciously. I knew that one of the jiaozi held a lucky coin inside, and I assumed she was looking for it, but then she started pointing at all the jiaozi that didn't look quite so perfect, saying, "That's one of John's. And that's one of John's. And that one." In the end, all of us laughed and everyone said that my jiaozi tasted just as good as the rest.

All in all, it was a great and fun evening. We ate, we watched the annual CCTV Spring Festival Gala, and the Mu family shared stories that spanned generations. The entire home was filled with laughter and joy. And as I took it all in, learning more about my friends and Chinese culture as a whole, I found that I missed my family more and less at the same time.

Because Christmas with my family is very much the same, our home is filled with laughter and joy and stories told from grandparents to grandchildren. It was a great way to end the year. And an even better way to start the next one.

This author is an American teacher at Xi'an International Studies University.

Editor: 龙云

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