Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Food for Thought

I have been leading an English club for over a year now, one which was started many years ago by a good friend as an outreach ministry. The women who attend are from slightly different social and economic backgrounds, but most fall into the stay-at-home-mom or work-to-keep-busy-wife categories; many of their husbands run businesses in China or Vietnam, and their children are not babies anymore. The women are happy to have something to do on Tuesday mornings that is both social and edifying. We spend the bulk of our time studying English ("Chat Room" is our current textbook), then move on to a shorter study of something Christian in nature, and finally end with prayer. This was the format when I took over, and while I am not a "preach it and teach it" evangelist by nature (preferring the "preach the Gospel; use words when necessary" approach), I was happy enough to keep the discussion going on spiritual matters. I enjoy their questions about my faith and culture as well as the chance to ask about theirs.

Today's lesson was about food, and went particularly well. First, we ran through a list of about forty vocabulary words and then took turns answering questions from the book: What is the most disgusting thing you have ever eaten? When you are nervous or angry does it affect your appetite? Do you have an oven? (Not everyone does here, although toaster ovens are common.) My favorite was, What should a foreigner know about food customs in Taiwan? This opened up quite a conversation on cultural differences related to food. I noted that westerners linger over a meal much longer than locals; when we go out to eat the table next to us might go through several different parties who come in, order, eat, and leave, while we eat and talk and talk and talk. (And maybe ask for the menu again to check out dessert.) I was instructed on how to avoid second helpings of foods I don't care for (don't finish the first helping), how to avoid offense with my chopsticks (don't stick them upright in my rice; don't point with my index finger while holding them, lest I point at the gods or ancestors; and don't bang out a rhythm on the table with them), and how to hold my rice bowl properly (do bring it nearer your face, but not in your open palm, which looks like a beggar holding a bowl; rather, secure it with your thumb, which not only looks less beggarly but also prevents spills).

We talked about congealed blood as an ingredient, about the hidden message in the English phrase, "That's different," and about why foreigners say "congee," a Japanese word, rather than "rice porridge" when speaking about that traditional breakfast food of the Taiwanese. Our time sped by as we compared two cultures and their food beliefs and traditions. Next week we will use our class time to cook -- scones, cheddar crackers, and rice pudding are all on the menu. They are curious to try nutmeg, which was a new word to them (the fact that I happened to have an actual nutmeg in my pocket didn't help, sadly, since a whole nutmeg doesn't have any aroma). I am looking forward to seeing what foods they'll bring to the cooking party. Winter is just around the corner; I'm sure I'll get a lesson on which foods to avoid and why I shouldn't have iced drinks despite the temperatures still being in the low 80s. If they don't volunteer it, I'll ask.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, am quite impressed with all the knowledge you are gaining on customs plus how we are looked at as well. How great-wish I could be at the next class-I love scones! And cheddar crackers, and...Love, Arleen