Whenever my parents visit me, my siblings, our relatives, or any other Chinese family, they bring a packet of candies for us. I used to think it was just them trying to “sweeten” us up (pun intended, heh), but my mom told me once that it’s good luck to bring something sweet when visiting someone: it helps to bring good energy into the home.
My parents usually like to bring a bag of Werther’s Original candies especially because the candies are in gold wrappers–even more auspicious for the ritual! I love these candies, so I’m glad my parents bring these when they visit me.
I remembered up until a certain point when my older brother would give me rides on his shoulders, letting me climb aboard and see our house (and only our house) while he held my legs for support. I loved the feeling of being super tall and seeing all around me while atop his shoulders. We never ventured outside of the house with this though; I think I honestly would have been scared had we gone outside.
My dad and my uncle sometimes carried me around on their shoulders as well. However, after awhile I outgrew the shoulder perch and felt a bit of jealousy when I would see that my brother Adam still got the rides around on their shoulders. He was lucky though: up until a certain point, Adam was very scrawny and therefore light enough to carry upon shoulders for a longer period of time than I ever was.
I didn’t know the name of this Chinese holiday when I was a kid, but now as an adult (and thanks to technology!), I’ve learned that the summer holiday I celebrated as a kid is the Dragon Boat Festival. My parents and relatives did not talk much about the sort of holiday we were celebrating; I just knew that come summertime, we would have zongzi or, in our Taishanese dialect, doong, which is glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves.
It was a group effort to get the doong ready for consumption in our family: my grandparents and my mother would wash the bamboo leaves thoroughly at the restaurant kitchen, soaking the bamboo leaves for a period of time before they were ready for use. Meanwhile, my dad and uncles would get the glutinous rice and other ingredients ready.
When the bamboo leaves were ready for use, I would watch my mom, my grandmother, or whoever else was helping out, fold several bamboo leaves together to form a pocket and they would scoop in glutinous rice, a piece of cured meat (Chinese sausage, pork, duck, etc.), peanuts, and other ingredients. Then they would wrap the doong up tightly with the bamboo leaves and use twine to wrap around the packet and tie off for extra security.
Finally, the doong would be steamed for what seemed like a long period of time. When the doong was ready, though, so much deliciousness! At one sitting, I would eat 2-3 doong and be fully satisfied.
My family also made a sweet kind of doong that would be served with sugar for added sweetness. A few of my siblings did not like this type of doong, but I loved it a lot.
Sadly, these days I don’t get as much opportunity to have doong. When I lived in San Francisco, it was easier for me to find doong in Chinatown or any other part of the city that had a big Chinese population. However, I was also disappointed when I bought doong in a store; it was never as fresh and tasty as what my family made!
Every year around June I still ask my parents about doong; since they have retired from restaurant work, they feel they don’t have the capacity to make doong at home anymore. Since doong is normally made in the summertime, it is also tough for my aunts in California to send us any doong because of the high possibility of the food perishing in transit via snail mail.
Still, every year I am still hopeful I will have freshly made doong. Perhaps one day I will learn to make doong myself.
Once our older siblings went off to college and most of our relatives moved away to different cities, the 3 Little Kwongs (Lisa, me, and Adam) spent most of our time either at school or at home. During the summers, though, we spent time with our oldest sister in Williamsburg, Virginia, and also went to Busch Gardens a lot.
I remember my first time, I was so excited and intrigued by the idea of going to an actual theme park. Before then, I had only gone to the county fairs nearby and the rides there were usually unsafe; Busch Gardens seemed like heaven to second-grade me.
My sister Lisa was so scared for the both of us when we decided to ride the Loch Ness Monster roller coaster for the first time: I kept my eyes closed the whole time but I survived the ups-and-downs. Meanwhile, my sister Lisa also closed her eyes during most of the ride but was also frightened that I might have fallen out of the roller coaster. She was so relieved to see that I was still there next to her at the end of the ride! We bought a souvenir picture afterwards as proof to ourselves that we had conquered our fears.
We really enjoyed our time at Busch Gardens, though, enjoying the cultural themes around the park and riding all the different rides such as the Roman Rapids, Da Vinci’s Cradle, and Escape from Pompeii. We felt like we were actually traveling Europe going around to each part of the park.
Each summer we looked forward to going to Williamsburg and Busch Gardens until our older sister graduated college. Then, we didn’t go to Busch Gardens again until we were teenagers, and by that time, the magic had waned a bit: the rides were still fun but not as exhilarating as they were when we were kids. I wonder how I would feel nowadays if I went back to Busch Gardens as an adult.
Since we lived in rural southwestern Virginia, we kids (especially the American-born) weren’t exposed to many Chinese things outside of our home and family. I don’t remember when I first went to dim sum, but I know that once I experienced dim sum, I was hooked.
There’s something about the frenzy that occurs at dim sum that exhilarates me: the rushing around of the servers with the food carts in the dining hall, shouting out the different dishes they had in each cart; how my mom and dad would flag down each passing cart and inquire what was in each; the hustle bustle of the other patrons sipping tea and eating their dim sum with family and friends; and last but not least, the beautiful and delicious food! I have so many favorites from dim sum that it’s hard to list them all, but I can say that I love chicken feet, steamed buns with pork or sweet egg inside, and egg tarts.
In my twenties, I learned about the two-finger tap from my parents as I watched them and our relatives tap three times with their index and middle fingers on the table. My parents told me that it was a silent way of saying “Thank You” to the person serving the tea. This gesture originated from a time when one of China’s kings was traveling incognito with his men across the country; because the king was incognito, his men could not be too showy about their appreciation of him, so when they went out to dim sum and their king served each of them tea, they did the two-finger tap as an incognito way of bowing to him for his kindness.
Since learning about the two-finger tap, I’ve used the gesture many times while at dim sum; sometimes, not even at dim sum, but just because we’re at a Chinese restaurant and drinking tea! I have to stop myself when I do this, especially around non-Chinese who don’t know what the gesture means.
I don’t go to dim sum as much as I used to when I lived in San Francisco (there aren’t too many good Chinese restaurants around Denver), but my parents will visit me soon in Denver again. Can’t wait to get my hands on more dim sum when they visit!