Sunday, September 25, 2011

Open Freezer, Insert Webcam

“I just want to see the whole big tub of it,” Emma said to me, via Skype, and who was I to deny her? I opened the freezer and showed her the to-the-brim result of the ice maker’s overnight work. I lifted up a few choice specimens for a close-up, and I swear I heard a little whimper from her end of the line.

Of course she loves ice. She’s been living in the U.S., originator of the sort of hyper-chilled excess that leads to the brain freeze, for sixteen years. Now, back home in China, my daughter is finding that people who do not balk at consuming double-boiled deer penises generally think that too much ice is disgusting. Why put two cubes in a drink when one will do? Or what about having that Coke at a yummy room temperature? It’s a pause that refreshes without creating any chilly yin/yang imbalance.

After a couple weeks in Beijing, Emma is getting enough distance to be able to miss things from home, and it’s fascinating (to me, anyway) to hear about her highly specific longings. Besides the ice demonstrations, she also wanted a view inside our refrigerator, where the cups of chocolate pudding made her dreamy. “Chocolate,” she sighed, and I reminded her that a country without a love of chocolate is a country without frightening obesity statistics. Then she demanded a walk outside to see the greenness that is the overgrown, sunflower-crazy front yard. The morning joggers might have wondered why I was walking around in my pjs, holding a laptop and narrating, “Here’s the cherry tree,” but they feigned indifference until they could get out of sight and call 911, I suppose.

After that phone call, I decided to see how things worked in the west-to-east homesickness department. I asked our friend Yue Wang, a Macalester college student from China, what thing from home she misses most. She said she missed something called tangyuan, but that she’d recently learned to cook it for her friends and offered to cook it for me sometime. First I accepted (I’ll try anything once, even Ecuadorian fried ants, but that’s another story). Then I did some research and discovered that tangyuan is … glutinous rice balls

Lest you feel unimpressed, there’s more. These glutinous balls are served in … a sweet broth, so that must make the difference. From what I saw on the web, it didn’t really look like a dish that had enough personality to cause anyone to lie awake at night, wishing she could see even a Skype transmission of them. 

When I thought about it, though, I realized that I’ve got a kid who’s homesick right now for frozen chunks of water. The heart wants what it wants, to quote Mr. W. Allen (by way of Pascal), and I suppose the tastebuds should have the same basic rights. 

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