Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Story of the Mantou

Today, I went to my host family's home to eat. My host dad is an amazing cook and my host mom is the most loving person I know in China. They have a daughter, but after studying like nothing I have ever seen for 4 years she was admitted to one of the best universities in China and is no studying in Hefei. So its just me and her parents. 

Before dinner, my host dad showed me a plate of oddly looking meat and he told me that its not normal meat. I asked him what it was and he replied it was pig head. This really did not surprise me after most Chinese I know love to eat dog (they say it is addictive and really delicious, better than any other meat) and I usually see women slapping severed pig heads on markets in the rural countryside.
My host dad was probably expecting me to be disgusted by it, but I have accepted that meat is meat. If you are starving you don't care on which part of the animal the meat grew. You just eat what you can. We just get spoiled by being able to choose and the thought that I disliked to eat meat on the bone before I first came to China really embarrasses me now. 
After I told my host dad this he just looked at me and told me THE best sentence you can be told : 你说得对 (ni shuo de dui). It means something like 'what you say is true', but it has something way more rewarding to it than just that. This short sentence basically says everything great. Something like: 'Theresa, what you said makes a lot of sense and not only was your grammar use correct, but you also used good words in order to express your feelings. I am proud of everything you are doing and I am sure you will go great places.' 
No joke- that's what the four characters mean to me. 

Anyway, after dinner my host dad usually drives me back to my dorm and they usually give me a ton of food, which always includes these amazing Mantous. Now, if you have been to China you know what I mean, but it is basically just the simplest form of bread. If you buy it on a street it will look something like a snowball: way too white and just not that appealing looking. 
BUT my host dad makes THE best Mantou. He gets the corn flour from my host mom's mother, who plants the corn herself and grinds it herself. With that come the freshest eggs (also from his home village) and what you get is this heavenly slice of yellowish goodness in my hands. 
While he drove me back to my dorm he initiated the conversation, which really does not happen often. I stop dreaming about eating the Mantou and listen to what he tells me: 

"You know when I was your age I went to a really poor village in Yunnan to volunteer as a teacher. They had no meat there and only rarely any other vegetables than potato. We would eat corn flour soup and potatoes everyday and I was constantly hungry for over half a year. Then one day I was able to go to the next restaurant and I ate everything I could, but I threw it all up again after dinner, because my stomach was not used to all the oil anymore." 

My Chinese teacher has told me a similar thing before, when he attended highschool in the 90s there was no meat and the only thing he could eat was rice with pig oil. 

My host dad continues: "I think what you said about the meat is true, because when I was a child I never had a lot to eat, but pig head was the one meat I was given and I loved every bit of it. So when I eat it now it makes me very happy. We got two changes of clothing per year and we never were allowed to waste anything. My clothes were so dirty sometimes, but there was nothing my mother could do, because we couldn't get new clothing." 

This is all late 80s and 90s. Development came late to Yunnan province, but hearing these stories always makes me think a lot. I obviously have no idea what it is like to never be able to eat meat and to only get one vegetable to eat. I was living like an emperor compared to that. 

But, as I looked out of the car window at all these huge construction sites where in 10 years there will be 20 new high risers, I just can't believe what this country has achieved in 20 years.  

When I eat my Mantou now I think of all that and it tastes even more amazing. 

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