Turnip Cake and Orchids

I love being Chinese especially when it’s Chinese New Year. There seems to be a reason for us to gather and feast throughout the year. We gather to celebrate with mooncakes under the full moon. We gather to eat rice dumplings because a patriot sacrificed himself for his country. We gather when the harvest finishes at the end of the year and call it “do winter” and eat, on the first day of CNY when we do nothing but eat, on the second day of CNY when we “open the year” and eat, on a baby’s 100th day birthday and eat…you get the idea. We gather together to eat. All. The. Time. But more importantly, we gather to be together. 

I’ve always struggled with my identity as a Chinese growing up. Being the odd one out in the family who reads better English than Cantonese. I sometimes use words out of context and have no idea what my cousins are saying. But I love my family and I love being Chinese. I grew up seeing my extended family every single evening for some time when I was young. I lived with two brothers who really are my cousins. I grew up with a por por who single-handedly raised 7 children and a gong gong who I wish I got to know.

Yesterday I woke up missing my por por and thought about the turnip cake she used to make every year. Grating turnip is hard work and I have no idea how she used to mass produce on her own. This year I asked my mom to teach me how to make it. She said my grandmother’s recipe is “No Recipe.” So we went along with “Go-With-Your-Guts” and it worked out just fine. We of course exponentially increased the ratio of turnip to flour to our liking and dad said they were amazing. Dads always tell the truth.

Another tradition I decided to pick up this year was having CNY flowers at home. I had always been more comfortable with leafy plants than flowers and it has to do with not wanting to watch them whither and die – I’m happy to find that this year I am okay with that. I was originally planning on having something small and easy to plant. The crazy thing is the flowers I would normally avoid because they are short-lived and high-maintenance were both given to me as gifts on separate occasion. I couldn’t avoid them. Truth is, I’m glad they are now both sitting beautifully at home.

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One of them is the orchid. I was told orchids are very difficult to raise and I never considered tackling the challenge. I frankly don’t know how to handle what I considered to be frailty and weakness. Anyway, after a little research I learned that orchids need to grow in an environment as closest to its origin as possible.

Are orchids weak? Hmmmm….Probably compared to a succulent plant. But what is being weak if not being completely, utterly dependent?

If orchids could talk, I don’t think it grows up thinking, “Man, I’m so weak and needy.” It has needs that others don’t. It cannot thrive just about anywhere and needs a very specific growth environment. It needs a little extra care than my leafy friends. It is wholly dependent and yet actively partakes in the process of maturity. But an orchid doesn’t grow up rejecting its needs to grow, it (in my imagination) fully accepts its personality and preferences.

Preference and personality – two crucial ingredients to knowing our heart and guarding it to its emotional wellness. Somehow knowing what we like and dislike, what our values are and what our personality is are all important in the heart of our Father in a time when denying all of those things falsely scream “glorious martyrdom.” Somehow owning up to my preference for family gatherings gave me peace in choosing to say no to other things in order to make time for them. It helped to know what values are important and then evaluating whether my decisions will move me closer to those values. Somehow the extraordinary moments I spent a long time searching for are in these ordinary, obsolete family traditions and day-to-day gardening.

I’m sitting here looking at my orchid with bulbs still waiting to blossom. Whether we are a sturdy succulent plant or a fragile orchid, aren’t we all on the receiving end of a tender-hearted, tender-handed gardener? Can we rest in the moment knowing the next will come with all that is needed?

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