I mentioned on Monday one of the benefits of returning to visit one’s old life/self is the opportunity to see things about yourself you might not other wise know.
Prior to the trip, if you asked me (and basically any foreigner who has lived or visited China) what their favorite Chinese food is they would probably say gan bian dou jiao (the green beans dish) or gung bao ji ding (Kung Pao Chicken).
A friend made banana bread for us to have. It was the most Chinese food I ate during the trip. It was also the most memorable.
Bet you didn’t see that coming.
Neither did I.
Every morning I’d heat water for tea on this two burner stove. I had one just like it in Chengdu (so does almost every apartment around the country, so no real news flash here.). It used to be the only way for me to get hot water in my apartment. We only had hot water one hour a day – oh the JOY at 9:00 p.m. when we’d hear it rattling in the walls! But the pipes were broken in my apartment so I went to my teammates apartment for about three years to bathe.
To have hot water in my apartment, I’d boil it and store it in thermos and then use it to wash dishes or cool down for drinkable water.
And then I ate some banana bread and felt connected with China. How was it banana bread, something I grew up eating in America, tied me so closely with China, but those delicious green beans didn’t?
After probably too much thought given to this question, I see though I love, love, love to eat the green beans and they ARE my all time favorite actual Chinese food they tied to too many places and therefore, anchored to none in me. I ate them here, I ate them there, I ate them with these people, and those people. I ate and ate and ate them.
But banana bread, she is tied to three special places in my heart.
1. We only had a small toaster oven, but it held a bread pan! So it was a taste of home when almost no western food was available. Banana bread evokes comfort.
2. Banana bread was a way I could offer myself and my culture. Many loaves have been baked with students and we played uno while it baked. Many loaves have been made as gifts for Chinese friends and colleagues. Banana bread evokes sharing.
3. My dad enjoyed banana bread and I haven’t eaten it since he died. Not intentionally, I hadn’t even realized this until I ate it and thought of my dad. It was strange to be in Beijing and have memories of my dad. Prior to this trip, if you asked me to list off foods and my dad, truly banana bread would not have been on the list. Banana Bread evokes memories.
I wonder what else I don’t know about myself :). It it’s as deep as these banana bread insights, I know I’m not missing much! Ha. But I’m glad to know this and to be reminded that maybe what “should” be obviously significant —the green beans of our lives— aren’t always and it’s OK. And that which may seem out of place — banana bread evoking memories of China— doesn’t have to be understood by others. We can be quirky without it making sense :).
This is day 4 of A Trip In Review Week: what it’s like to revisit your old life. You can read the full series here.