There is a golden pig dangling from a red string around my neck. Why? Well, because I am a pig. Feng is a tiger, so he wears a tiger jade pendant on a red string. Makes sense, right?
Just to be clear, I’m talking about our respective Chinese zodiac signs—I was born in 1983, the year of the pig, and I’m supposed to be “diligent, compassionate, and generous”—or at least, that’s what many fortune cookies told me over the years.
I’m not sure if these character traits are accurate considering that 1) I don’t believe in astrology 2) Fortune cookies are not a Chinese tradition.
Yet, I’m wearing this little gold piggy pendant Feng bought me in Shanghai’s first department store on Nanjing Road in 2014. I love it. It’s a small piece of Chinese culture I always have with me and a good luck charm.
Like many immigrant families all over the country, Feng and I blended our respective cultures at home—Chinese, French and Canadian in our case. I was introduced to China at age 12, when I started to learn Mandarin and I had been to China several times before becoming a “太太”(“taitai”, a married woman… or colloquially, a woman who is married to a wealthy man, loves to shop, and goes to spas), so adopting Feng’s Chinese side was relatively easy.
Do you want to see our Chinese side? Follow me!
I think my in-laws have a calendar in each room of their house, and so do many Chinese households. Early in our relationship, I asked Feng why. “They’re free,” he shrugged. Indeed they are, because in a community outreach effort, many big-name businesses hand out branded Chinese calendars around Chinese New Year or at the beginning of the regular Western year. I’ve seen shopper spending the exact amount required (like $88.88, because of course, “8” is an auspicious number) to get a free calendar at the Chinese supermarket. You can argue that it’s not exactly free then, but Chinese can’t pass on a free item and the perspective of free home decoration. Besides, these calendars are useful to remember Chinese holidays.
Although the leading brands are usually Korean or Japanese (and never Maggi or other Western brands, you fool), dry noodles are to Chinese household what mac & cheese is to Canadians or coquillettes au beurre is to French—a cheap, quick and delicious meal that can be customized to your needs. I make a mean noodle bowl, trust me—my favourite ingredients are broccoli, bamboo shoots, eggs, carrots and bok choy.
I love chopsticks. They are easy to wash, they force you to eat a bit slower and they are great cooking tools. I eat everything with chopsticks. My father-in-law even eats cake with chopsticks. I have no idea how Westerners, i.e. my own kind, cook without them. I use them to retrieve food from the oven, to scramble eggs, untangle noodles, stir rice… the possibilities are endless.
At home, Feng and I use chopsticks more often than knife and fork. Mark has still to master chopsticks, but he found another use for them…
— Juliette Giannesini (@Xiaozhuli) October 26, 2016
Because sometimes, you have to slurp your soup like a proper Chinese. Slurp away, my friend and use the spoon to eat your wontons!
Also, generally speaking, we also tend to eat out of bowls or various sizes rather than putting food on plates.
Chinese sauces, condiments and spices
Sesame oil, rice wine, soy sauce, Korean kimchi, bājiǎo (star anise), ginger, etc. are some of the condiments we use daily. I can’t say we eat typical Chinese food—Feng would get take out if he feels like having American-Chinese food, like General Tso’s chicken—but we use many Chinese ingredients. We enjoy Chinese flavours without following the traditional recipe book, basically.
Don’t bother knocking on our door to borrow a cup of milk or a coffee filter—these are not common pantry items for us (but I can tell you where the nearest Tim Hortons is…). However, if you ever have a sudden craving for rice, come over. We have the usual 20 lbs bag of rice most Asian households store at the bottom of the cupboard, plus various kinds of rice like basmati, wild, short grain, etc. And there is a 50% chance a pot of rice is ready on the table as well.
Red thread and knot bracelets
A red string, a charm, some jade or an auspicious Chinese character. This is the simple traditional jewelry most Chinese wear. I bought these ones over the years in China.
The character Fú means “fortune” or “good luck”. The one on our fridge is upside-down because the pronunciation of the words for “upside-down” and “to arrive” (in both cases, “dào”) are homophonous. So the phrase an “upside-down Fú” sounds nearly identical to the phrase “Good luck arrives”. It’s a Chinese pun, basically.
Many of my friends find it surprising because I’m not very girlie, but I love cartoonish and cute gizmos. I buy them in China or on AliExpress. Because why shouldn’t a USB plug be a panda? Why shouldn’t an alarm clock be a goofy Doraemon? Why should I settle for boring, regular reusable bags?
How about you? Do you have little pieces of your culture at home?