The Meaning of Dumplings, Explosions, and Celebration

Bamboo shoots on newspaper.

These are bamboo shoots. At least that’s what the lady at the supermarket told me. So I bought two, along with many other ingredients, for the dumplings my roommates and I were planning to make. It’s Chinese New Years after all. We had no problem preparing the other ingredients; mincing cabbage, garlic, ginger, green onions, and cucumbers were a cinch. But THIS, these bamboo shoots, were blowing my mind. I began peeling off each layer, one by one, until I reached the core. There was a huge pile in the trash but nothing in my hands. Where the hell was the meat?

And then I realized something. This was my first time holding a bamboo shoot in its original dirty rooty glory, let alone peel one. The first time I’m hand-making dumplings from scratch. The first time I’m celebrating Chinese New Years wholeheartedly and not just half. I realized the America in me has overshadowed my ancestral heritage.

After all, I had already celebrated, you know, the regular New Years on December 31st. I had already stumbled from bar to club to bar in the company of my equally hammered friends. We drank to the dawning of a new three sixty five. And before that – for that warm, fuzzy feeling – there was Christmas. So like any American, I already had my fill of holiday.

But this time around, I saw CNY as a minor annoyance. I liked many parts of it: relatives gave me red envelopes stuffed with money, the delicious home-cooked meals, and the general liveliness. But this was my first time celebrating it in China, and Shanghai has been a ghost town. All the restaurants and stores are closed and no one is on the streets. The supermarket chains are open, but they are filled with a province’s worth of Chinese people. And they are damn aggressive with the shopping carts. Fireworks – while exciting at the first burst – explode incessantly at all hours of the day every day. Travel is difficult because ticket prices are expensive and scarce, tourist attractions become crowded, and I’d rather not occupy a train seat that a migrant worker might need. To be honest, it’s kind of a boring week.

Chinese shoppers at a supermarket in Shanghai, China.Firecrackers and fireworks on the streets of Shanghai during Chinese New Year 2012.

A few days before the official holiday, at 11pm, I was hungry but too lazy to make or pick up any food. So I called McDonald’s delivery (which has been an absolute godsend even though it contradicts the term “fast food” because delivery can take up to 90 fucking minutes and your fries get all soggy). I waited impatiently and finally, the delivery guy rang my doorbell. He took off his motorcycle helmet and as I handed him my money, I saw his face. The man was tired. Really tired. He had little fight in his eyes and he was drenched in ice-cold rain from delivering fast food to spoiled brats like me. I felt terrible. I was being a little shit, the People’s Republic’s Scrooge. The Chinese are hardworking people and all they ask is one week a year where they can spend time with family. And here I was grumbling.

At that moment, I conceded my grumpiness and dove headfirst into celebrating Chinese New Years. On the day of, I wore my brand new red pants (please, no judgements). My roommates, my sister, and I made dumplings from scratch. We prepared the pork and shrimp filling, kneaded the dough, and fried the suckers. And the best part of all – thanks to my industrious problem-solving German friends – there was a hint of bamboo shoot in every bite.

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