Archive for the ‘Hong Kong Life’ Category

Just in case you didn’t get the correction elsewhere, I’m sending it out again. The new blogsite is thefoodsmith.blogspot.com. Come on over and check it out!


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This blog is moving to thefoodsmith.blogspot.com. Yes, the address now sounds like a bad winter cold. Really, “blogspot” is about the least attractive word I can imagine. But I wanted to have a little more control over details like font and color, without having to know css or html and definitely without paying for the privilege of tweaking those things. So, to blogspot I go.

I know most of you read this on email or facebook and never see the blog’s design. But I see it everyday, so it matters to me!

What this means to you is that you need to change the address in your bookmarks or feedreader or whatever you use. If you get it as an email subscription, then no worries. I’m moving the feed for you and these little posts should keep on coming your way. But if that’s you, or if you’re a facebook reader, then come check out the blog itself … it’s nice. There’s a great Bonhoeffer quote on the sidebar, and to sweeten the deal, pictures of elephants! (oh wait, my readership isn’t made up of 22-month-old boys?) But really, the elephants are pretty darn cool. Come check it out!

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Part one: celebrate

So we spent Christmas in Hong Kong. And in spite of all my brave talk about how glad I was not to be stuck in an airport due to the inevitable weather delay–or once arrived, stuck inside due to that same weather–being far away from home at Christmas is just hard. Especially when you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how this place–the place you are–is just not your city, which is the conclusion we’ve come to.

And though we have decided to stay one more year in this not-our-city, it still somehow feels good to say out loud that we have sought out what is good, we have made friends, we have made it our home, but it has not been easy. I’m going to speak in broad, sweeping generalities here, but the folks who live in Hong Kong who share our culture–who are from the US or Canada or even western Europe or Australia–mostly don’t share our values. They are bankers. They spend more on afternoon tea than we do for our fanciest dates. They belong to not one, but two or more clubs, and the clubs are where they spend their time. They buy designer clothes and vacation at Club Med. And that’s just not who we are, both by circumstance and by choice. And the people in Hong Kong who do share our values, who care about the environment and about the poor, who like to make things–they don’t speak English. And while of course these statements are not universally true, they are true enough.

But here’s the thing we’ve also found … we don’t have to have kindred spirits in order to have friends. We can–and do–have meaningful friendships with people based on little more than, in some cases, a shared nationality, and in others, children the same age. My closest friends here couldn’t be more different from me or from each other. Some of them come from India and China, and we sometimes have difficulty understanding each other. Some of them come from unbelievable wealth, and we also have difficulty understanding each other.

And those people who vacation at Club Med and spend all their time in yacht clubs and cricket clubs? I don’t blame them anymore. I know the fatigue that comes with constantly navigating a new culture, and how good it feels to go someplace familiar. I know how quickly I can feel at ease with someone just because they are from America and also grew up with, say, Cabbage Patch Kids and The Cosby Show. I know that they are just doing the best they can with what they have.

So Christmas Eve was, for us, a little tiny experience in Incarnation, in God-with-us. Looking at those around us as if they were Jesus, and inviting them in to our little stable on the twentieth floor. There were friends who had never been to a Christmas Eve service before, and friends whose names I can’t ever pronounce correctly, and friends who I seriously hesitated before letting them see this humble apartment with its peeling paint and bare lightbulbs. It was lovely and chaotic and only a tiny bit awkward. And Jesus was there, in the wine and the meatballs and the crumbly cookies, reminding us that he too came into a strange new world and made it his home. And where he is, there is our home also. Then we all piled into taxis and went to church together, letting candles and carols fill our hearts, until we spilled back into the warm Hong Kong night, glad to be in exactly this place on exactly this day.

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D :: Dumplings

Mmmm… dumplings in steamer baskets, dumplings on pretty plates, dumplings in a bowl of noodles and broth, dumplings in my wok, even dumplings in styrofoam containers from the take-out shop. I love them all. Our go-to favorite are the pan-fried variety, usually with a filling of pork and cabbage. Any dumpling place worth its salt has a guy in the corner making dumplings, and these can be bought frozen to cook at home. It’s our Hong Kong version of the grilled-cheese-and-tomato-soup-night.

But the swoon-worthy, intellectually-satisfying variety are Shanghai-style xiao lang bao, commonly known as “soup dumplings.” The idea of a dumpling filed with soup–how preposterous! Absurd, even. A trembling, delicate skin holds a bite of minced pork and a mouthful of hot fragrant broth. Served with vinegar and shredded ginger, it is no easy feat to transfer the dumpling from the steamer basket to the mouth without losing the precious, steaming juice and without burning your mouth. But, oh–the bliss.

(How do they do it? It’s all due to the miraculous ability of good stock to gel. The dumplings are filled with meat filling and a cube of chilled stock, which becomes soup when the dumpling is steamed. Simple. Brilliant. )

(The top three pictures were all taken by my brother Chip. See more of his pics here. And sorry, no pictures of the soup dumplings. I always eat them way too fast to even think about a picture.)

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Today, while getting shoes on and balls gathered for our daily trip to the park, Finn suddenly yelled out “punkin!” He ran to get his hat–and by “hat” I mean the instrument of torture foisted upon him on a certain holiday known for cruel rituals associated with clothing. (This would also be the hat that I spent weeks knitting … not that a toddler-size hat should take weeks, mind you. The first time was too small so I ripped it out and started over, and I’m still such a beginner so I’m slow … it’s too big now, but not too too big.)

But oh! He wore it! Happily, and of his own volition. Nevermind that it wasn’t actually cold enough to need a hat. I’ll take what I can get. I suspect that his newfound love of pumpkin pie has something to do with this, and that’s just fine with this baker mama.

And then tonight at dinner, he cried earnest tears over the disappearance of the butter from his fresh-from-the-oven (read: hot) cranberry muffins. We kept trying to explain that the butter had just melted, but oh, he kept calling for “butt-er” though his tears, until a demonstration was necessary. (Twist my arm, son. We can double-butter everybody’s muffin, if that helps.) (How does he not know this? We eat so much butter … )

If what they say is true–that the difference between a good chef and a great one is a pound of butter–then we’re going places, folks.

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Watch for Light

First Sunday of Advent

  • Jeremiah 33:14-16
  • Psalm 25:1-10
  • 1 Thess 3:9-13
  • Luke 21: 25-36

This is a difficult set of readings for me. Not only do they initially seem irrelevant for Advent, but my eyes tend to glaze over when I read of signs and looming disaster in the Bible. Honestly, I’m looking for something about cozy smells and Christmas baking. I want to read about how Mary said Yes! to God — that’s the kind of advent story even “positive thinking” gurus can get on board with. I want to walk away uplifted and smiling.

And then I remember that this is Advent. Not Christmas. And even if the mall decorations went up weeks ago, advent isn’t really about ticking the days and tasks off until Christmas … it’s about learning to live with hope even in the midst of chaos. It’s about having confidence in what God is doing even when the economy is horrible and waters are rising. It’s about not giving into the temptation to either ignore the problems of the day or to be drowned by them.

Advent has historically been a solemn fast, a time of self-reflection in preparation for Christ’s coming, and a time that looked forward to God’s full redemption of the world more than it just retold the story of waiting for Jesus’ birth. And despite the way that today’s readings initially caused my eyes to glaze over, Jesus actually calls us to hope and action rather than fear when the “distress among nations” begins.

For the last few years I’ve tried to create a distinction in our home and family between Advent and Christmas, letting these dark times be dark and trying not to stuff the emptiness with rich foods or flood the darkness with lush decorations. It’s hard to put into practice though–I love Christmas planning and parties as much as anyone. I’ve already led one Christmas baking class this month and I’ve got more scheduled. My Christmas gifts and cards have to be mailed early, so I’ve been working on them for months now, and decorating the home early certainly helps me feel less homesick. So how to cultivate an Advent awareness of darkness and longing even while carols plays relentlessly?

It’s actually not hard to be reminded of the darkness–just open the paper and there it is. What is hard is continuing to face it, while at the same time always watching for light–watching for the ways that God’s love and presence breaks through, often in as unexpected a way as a poor baby’s birth.

What I’m going to do is this. We’re certainly not going to avoid decorations, parties or carols during these weeks leading up to Christmas–who among us is so rich in joy as to be able to afford that? We already do an Advent wreath and light candles each week, watching the light grow along with our anticipation. To expand on this, we’re going to be intentional about watching for light, speaking each night about the places we’ve seen God at work. I’m making a banner reminding us to “watch for light” and we’ll add stories, news items, images and incidents as we find them.

I invite you to think about ways to consecrate this Advent season, whether it’s intentionally “watching for light” as we’re doing, or something else. Christmas Change is one site with ways to make the Christmas season more meaningful, and I’m sure there are lots of other resources out there as well.

Blessed Advent, everyone!

*thanks to Liese Shewmaker, who graciously let me use the photo above. Taken December 13, 2005, at 10:35:05 am just as fog was lifting from Mink Brook.*

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Nothing says holidays like pie for breakfast (and a homemade roll with cranberry sauce.) Apparently Finn thinks so too.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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