March 8 & 9. It was especially difficult to wake up this morning due to the past 2 days of sleeping in. Erik needed to yell at us before we awoke and, with a start, we realized we had slept through part of our class. We hastily threw on our clothes, packed our bags, and grabbed a handful of dumplings. My body denied the prospect of eating more pork, so I decided on eating the vegetarian dumplings. They weren’t the same, but they had a certain tang to them that I could now taste with the absence of meat.
In class, I suggested that we focus more on conversation than writing Mandarin. It’s not as if I wasn’t eager to be able to write the Chinese characters, quite the contrary. I did however, know that we only had 3 weeks to study the language and if it was a choice between speaking and writing, I was inclined to choose the former. The teacher agreed with her normal, patient attitude and began to write all our Mandarin out into Pinion. It made the class much easier and I was able to pick up words from last class that I had forgotten. We learned to ask for directions and keep small talk with locals. We still stutter with the pronunciation and the tones force you to move painfully slow, but it was necessary. I couldn’t afford to confuse one tone with another and accidentally say something rude.
After our classes, Erik excitedly told us that he had signed us up for dumpling making classes at the Sunny Lodge. We were all for it, especially if it meant staying close to home. We arrived at the Sunny Lodge to find 2 tables set with all the materials needed for dumplings. They had flour, pork, carrots, salads, sauces, water, and plenty other ingredients I couldn’t recognize. The hotel owner, who speaks very good English, showed us how to knead the dough to the perfect consistency. My hands slipped up and she needed to correct my form several times, but in the end I had created a decent lump of dough. From there, we cut the vegetables and mixed half with the chopped pork, and the other half into a vegetarian filling. Soy sauce was mixed into the filling to make the ingredients stick to one another. We then took the dough and ripped off small sections, which we rolled with pins to make perfectly circular and thin discs. Cupping one hand gently, with the circlets inside, we put our desired filling in the center of the dough. Then, ever so slightly, I folded one corner to the other and then pressed the two opposite ends against the filling. Afterwards, I pinched each fold until it resembled a local Dali dumpling. I say “resembled” for lack of a better word, because my first dumplings didn’t come close to the masterpieces that the hotel owner was churning out, but after 2 dozen or so I was deemed passable.
The elderly and the young, the fat and the skinny, and the tall and the short all turned up to make dumplings with “the foreigners.” There were several variations of shapes and sizes, that all looked extravagant compared to our creations. We soon had at least 300 dumplings, enough to feed the entire hotel, and then some. I felt slightly queasy when I saw them all in a row, but kept my poise as we steamed the numerous racks. An hour later, they called us back into the kitchen. All 300+ dumplings had been cooked and were steaming softly on their racks. It was an intoxicating smell that brought back memories of the multiple native meals I have eaten here. I had to fi1ght yet again to keep from getting sick.
We all crowded around the trays, ready to eat. I, however, wasn’t particularly hungry, but I was willing to try at least one. The hotel owner yelled “Kanpai!” which suited the occasion, for we all shoved an entire dumpling into our mouths. Almost immediately after I had swallowed the dumpling, I felt it rising in my throat again. I excused myself from the circle and went back to the room, where I vomited. It wasn’t that the dumplings tasted horrible. I just felt sick to my stomach. The prospect of eating anything revolted me at that point, and my body craved for a soft bed. I ended up sleeping out in the courtyard, where there is a comfortable sofa that met my desires.
The next day proved to be a dreadful one. I couldn’t even force myself to get to class. I was violently sick half the day and in pain for the rest. My joints ached and I felt exhausted beyond reason. During lunch time, my mind dictated my body and blocked out the pain momentarily so I could get a small amount of food. If I ate more local food, or even thought about it, I would become sick again. I ended up buying bananas and apples from a street vendor and washed them with my water bottle. I had a craving for nutrition, but it was in vain. The fruit came up just as it hit my stomach.
Erik deduced that it was a stomach bug, something that had not been caused by the local food. The local food is much healthier than any of the preserved meals you would buy in the United States. I was grateful for his reasoning because I didn’t want the diet of my cultural experience to consist of only western food. I am still reluctant to eat the food here, only because my mind tells me that I will become sick again if I eat it. I’m taking it slow and hopefully soon, I will be able to stomach the local food long enough to enjoy it again.