Dumplings on the last day of the old year
We are making dumplings on the last day of the old year.
The flour for the dough, I explain to my son, comes from wheat grown on the prairies in America. They have huge fields there, and they harvest the grain with enormous machines just before the ground freezes. They ship it along a giant river to the sea, and it arrives here in Hong Kong on a container ship, after which it is eventually delivered to Mrs. Wong’s miscellaneous shop in 50 pound bags. Mrs. Wong dumps it into a barrel, and sells it to us by weight. We like buying it that way because we can bring in our own containers, and it’s more environmentally friendly.
No, I don’t know if we will be able to buy it that way in America, although I’ve heard that there are new, trendy, shops there for the hipsters, that sell things in bulk. It’s ironic; old Mrs. Wong’s mother started selling everything in bulk when she opened the shop in 1943, and the wheat and rice was still grown in the New Territories, back before it was covered in residential buildings. Now, things have come full circle.
The minced pork we’re using for the dumplings is actually a plant-based product. We like it because the carbon footprint is lower, even though it’s manufactured in Thailand, and because we feel sorry for the pigs. A Hong Kong entrepreneur saw the opportunity, and figured out how to produce the stuff using Canadian technology. It’s sold frozen, in packs that feed three people, like everything in Hong Kong - suitable for two parents and one child. In America, I think we will buy things in packs that feed four people, or more. They have enough space there for huge families.
I tell my son that he’ll be able to go ice skating on the pond every day during the winter, although I’m not quite certain this is true. My brother in Buffalo sent me a picture of someone playing ice hockey on Lake Ontario. The weather will be much colder in America, but I think we’ll be warmer there. Here, nobody has a heater, because the chilly weather only lasts for a few weeks and it’s not really worth the expense.
The onions for our dumplings were grown in the New Territories, on one of the last farms that still survives; for now, they have found a niche in organic produce, although I worry they will not last long. I remember going to see such a farm once, when I was in school, and my son went on a similar trip a few years ago. I wonder if the schoolchildren in America will even think a farm is enough of a curiosity to visit, or whether they find it too commonplace.
My son asks if we’ll have dumplings in America. I tell him that if he studies hard he will be able to earn a good salary, when he grows up, and everything will be available to him.
He asks if we will ride the ferry in America, as we do to get to the other side of the harbor here. I am stumped, and I tell him we’ll find out when we arrive. But he knows the answer already; he has seen a video on YouTube, about a ferry that takes you across Niagara Falls to Canada.
I try to show him how to crimp the edges of the dumplings, but my own dumplings are messy; I wish for the thousandth time that I had asked my mother or my grandmother to teach me.
My son, as if reading my mind, asks me if his grandmother is in America. I remind him, gently, that she will remain in the Tsang Tsui columbarium. I think old Mrs. Wong will soon be there too.
He does not ask about his father, whose trial is next month.
He asks me if they have McDonald’s in America. He is comforted by my answer; I am troubled by his question.
But we have spent too long constructing the dumplings, and it is already his bedtime. To help him sleep, I will tell him a story about what he will see in the coming year, the year of the rabbit: snow that will bury an entire house, moose that walk into your living room, geese that fly through the skies in the shape of a V.
He asks me if he can stay up to watch me steam the dumplings, to learn how it is done in Hong Kong.
But it is already too late.
Jan Chu is a digital native whose work first appeared on Telnet in the 1990s. Jan writes mainly science fiction, political allegory, and memoir.