Save a Set of Chopsticks for Me
If I had my choice, I would probably eat every meal with chopsticks. I kind of rock at chopsticks. Keep in mind, I am a fair-skinned Irish-blooded white girl. I have no rhythm, I have not traveled the world, and I love good ole American classics like mac and cheese, ramen noodles, and PB&J. But I am seriously proud of my chopsticking skills because it’s a frequent reminder of how far I’ve come in just a few years.
A decade ago, I turned my nose up at foods I couldn’t recognize. I grew up on the beach and still the thought of ocean fare made me cringe. Fish were much more enjoyable in a pretty aquarium. Shrimp were just a giant bug on a plate and I have a very tumultuous relationship with bugs. Any ethnic restaurant was written off because unfamiliar food was not going in my body. I had a ridiculous fear of flying because Alanis Morrisette’s “Isn’t it Ironic” resonated in my head every time I even thought of it. Somehow I still thought I was going to take on the world, but you know, from my little comfortable corner of the world.
In 2005, my Asia-bound husband begged me to come visit during his year tour in South Korea. I told him he was smoking some kind of mind-altering something if he thought I was flying 14 hours by myself over water without being put into a coma first. A couple of weeks later, I was on a plane.
When I got there, I stood out like the nose-pierced American I was, but it was awesome. I was head over heels in love with everything South Korea had to offer. I mean, the shopping alone had a way of sucking me in, but it was more about the people. Even when they commented on my extra curvy backside as if it were a science project gone wrong, I was inspired by their fearlessness, resilience, and ability to just be straightforward. Because truthfully, they’re right about my backside and I like that they weren’t afraid to just put that out there. I like that they weren’t afraid to tell me an outfit did not look good on me and I like that some people weren’t afraid to let me know they were less than thrilled about my cute little diamond stud nose ring. Noted.
On the flight home, I sat next to a 10-year-old Vietnamese boy who was raised in the U.S., but flew frequently to see his grandparents. The kid seriously almost talked me into a coma. For 14 hours, he gave me a dissertation on anything and everything he knew, his whole life story, the games he liked to play, how many times he had flown, blah, blah, blah. I think the flight attendant must’ve spiked his hot tea, but when we landed at the Atlanta gate, I realized how fast that flight went by, and how I never got a chance to think about how scared I was. He gave me a handful of Vietnamese money on his way out, which I still have today as a reminder of my Korean Air chatterbox.
Now I promise to try everything even if it tastes like a wet rag rolled in dirt. I pretend I know some Asian words. I surround myself with people who are 180 degrees different from me.
In the past 7 years, my most significant, life-changing relationships have been with my Asian friends. If my crazy husband hadn’t convinced me to take that never-ending flight, I wonder what I might have missed out on because I was stubborn and unchanging.
When I first started using chopsticks around my Asian friends, I felt like I was giving a ballet recital. I was so nervous, they were even trying to convince me that a fork was a perfectly acceptable dining tool.
Now, they just make sure there’s an extra set at the dinner table and laugh a little, as I try to pass on my skills to my fearless little girl.
Image from http://www.hiltonpond.org/images/JapanNoodlesChopsticks01.jpg