I watched Julie and Julia last night, a movie based on the book of the same name by Julie Powell who wrote about her year cooking her way through Julia Child’s entire Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and also based upon Julia Child’s memoirs My Life in France. For me, it was a fantastic movie because it was about me – a young, intelligent woman approaching 30, with a fantastically supportive husband, whose talents and dreams have gotten sidetracked just by the minutia of living, and by a lack of focus and discipline. The two marriages, both Julia and Julie’s, are so lovely and I feel like they kind of reflect my own. We love watching movies and reading about ourselves.
The next day, I had a cooking lesson planned. My colleague Tom’s wife, Debbie, had already come over once to show Matt and me how to cook Hong Chao Qiezi (Eggplant) and some other vegetable dishes. This time, Ellen and Meryl, two colleagues from the English department, also came over, and we had a girls’ day of cooking, focusing on Jiaozi, or boiled dumplings.
As the four of us stood and sat around the table, rolling out the flour-and-water dough into logs, pinching off little round balls, and banging them into circles to fill with the minced vegetable filling, making small talk, laughing at little jokes and stories, I felt like I was in one of those chic lit novels or movies – you know, like The Friday Night Knitting Club, where women of different generations come together around a craft they have been charged with for centuries, but now do as hobbies, and bond. I thought to myself, how is what I’m doing any different from Julie or Julia? Like Julia, I’m living in a foreign country, struggling with the language, occupying my new found free time with baking and cooking. Like Julie, I’m nearing thirty, unsure of the next step in my life, content in my home life but unsure of professional goals and trajectory – a writer, at the top of my class, another “Most likely to be a famous author” that never quite made it to the publishing stage. And like Julie, I have a blog.
The blog has been stagnant in the past few months, yes, because of the censorship in China, but in all honesty, also because of my uncertainty of what I’m doing here. I did my year of immersion in another culture. What now?
Perhaps this new focus around food, around cooking, will at least give the blog a new direction. My idea is, in addition to learning how to cook Chinese (that is, Nanjing cuisine, not American Chinese), I can share my challenges as I try to bake Western food in my little China apartment.
Talking with some of the other women teachers, there’s interest in learning how to bake and how to cook Chinese. I’m thinking about starting a kind of cooking club, maybe twice a month, switching from baking to Chinese lessons every other meeting, and inviting both foreign and Chinese staff. It will be a kind of cross cultural experience for all of us. Next meeting: Pumpkin Muffins.