For this edition of #ImmigrantsEat we wanted to explore both the current political situation in hong kong and, well, also we wanted to eat dumplings. So we paired up with Ex Hong Konger Charmiane and went on a #dumpling-venture.
In preparation for this shoot, we needed said dumplings. So on the day the shoot I head over 15 minute before to Shan dong restaurant- a sort of Oakland institution infamous for their pulled noodles, family style seating and yes dumplings. I figured, eh its a tuesday at lunch time - I can just run in, find parking in chinatown and run out right?
30 minutes trying to maneuver those chinatown streets, a ding in my corolla and soy sauce on my overalls later, we arrive at the studio for some dumpling action!
So the dumplings brought us to the studio of photogenius Scott Hoag, aka #rockwellcreative. Our subject is Charmiane, who was born here but spent her formative years in Hong Kong. She still considers Hong Kong home- thats where her parents are, it’s her happy place.
“Home is when I am in the city and I melt right into that pace. Theres a certain rhythm and it feels insinctual- I know all the hidden hallways, alleyways, hidden nice bathrooms! In this giant city where everything is skyscrapers I feel at home because I know all those nooks and crannys. Google maps doesnt work in hong kong because everything is vertical!”
I ask Char what food reminds her most of home- her response:
“Dumplings are about family- its a love food- all the preparation that goes into it. It’s a lot of dicing and chopping and washing and the end product looks very plain and simple but then you bite into it and its a burst of flavors and colors.”
“When we were growing up we would help grandma make dumplings and it was a huge production. Everyone would sit down and start wrapping dumplings: 8-10 people- all my aunts and cousins and we would just sit at the table and make dumplings. I think there was a scene like that in crazy rich asians where you would sit down and make dumplings- its a thing you do with your family”
“My grandmas dumplings have seven ingredients- ground pork, chives, ginger, shrimp, carrots, cilantro and cabbage. sesame oii, white pepper, soy sauce. have to chop it really fine so that when you eat it tastes really delicate”
“To a westerner dumplings can look ugly- people are used to gyoza or potstickers which are neat and tightly folded- they’re like origami.”
“Compare that with a soup dumpling that is this amorphous blob-but then you bite into it and there are all these really complex flavors, you can taste all of the really hard work and preparation that went into it. There’s something to be said about ugly food that has so much work behind it and actually tastes amazing”.
As we are eating I ask char about the protests, and her mood visibly dips and becomes more solemn. First let me give you a little primer about the protests.
Basically the British ruled over Hong Kong for 99 years until 1997 when they gave Hong Kong back to china under a special agreement called: one country, two systems. Under this agreement Hong Kong is able to retain its democratic rules and norms which include freedom of speech, making it very different from mainland china. The special agreement is due to expire in 2047, but China does not want to wait.
Cue a murder. No really. A Hong Kong man and his pregnant girlfriend went to Taiwan on vacation where he later admitted to killing her upon his return to Hong Kong. The problem is that there is no extradition bill to bring someone from Taiwan to Hong Kong to be charged. This has given the China the excuse to push for a n extradition agreement that would not allow extradition between Taiwan and Hong Kong, but also TO mainland China.
If the bill goes to be voted on it will likely pass. That’s because of the way HK is governed- - they don’t elect their leader who is called the CHIEF EXECUTIVE. Not kidding, its not the prime minister, or the president, its the CEO- so high tech, I digress. The Chief Executive is selected by China and then the legislative branch or Legco is elected by the people- kind of. The business community which is pro-china by design selects 30% of Legco. Cue: the protests which have brought out 1.7 million people to the streets.
“The coolest things about these protests- even if youre not protesting- people are giving out food to the protesters- its a way to show solidarity. Even the people who have to go to work and cant protest- they’ll go buy food like dumplings and distribute them to the protesters”.
“My parents are super optimistic and they are very pro china, they just want china to do well. But China isnt going to be like ‘Ok you win, because they don’t want to show that they’re weak. They’re sending in the army, and my dad said the other day that there could be another Tianeman square. That scares me”.
“Dumplings are home, they are a comfort food. When I think about the protests I just turn to dumplings, they are a comfort food, and it helps with the stress and uncertainty of what is going to happen next”.
Who knows what will happen next, one can only hope that Char’s dad is right and that this does not turn into another Tianeman square; but there is a lot of uncertainty and fear. Perhaps dumplings, and other foods of resistence like the wife cake can serve as a temporary balm to the anxiety of the current situation. The world is watching.