By Ivan Roman
Traveling to China during spring break wasn’t just to see what a communist country looks like, but rather to immerse myself in a life-changing experience.
“How does an American do that?” Many will ask? I set out on this adventure by leaving important utensils-a fork, spoon and knife-behind in the United States and trading it all and trying to master using “chopsticks.”
My first trial began at Shandong Normal University in Jinan, China.
After exploring the campus, my classmates and I headed to the campus cafeteria for lunch. What I would soon find out is whether or not this first meal could even be properly consumed. Looking for an instrument to eat with, I came across what looked like a standing cooler, revealed inside were numerous thin wooden sticks.
I quickly grabbed a pair and took my tray to the nearest table. Instantly I vividly remembered what was seen in the movies back home about chopstick masters: one stick is firmly tucked underneath the thumb and the other is placed between the middle finger and thumb, acting as a writing tool.
Reaching for my bowl of rice the anxiousness filled my body with the thought that every grain would fall out the dish. Suddenly, I grasped the rice, already mission failed and with that the meat is quickly seized next.
Being able to have something at least clasped between both sticks was incredible. Slowly but surely I decided to try the rice again, even if it meant eating three grains at a time.
On my left side, I saw through the corner of my eye my classmate struggling much more and giving in by stabbing each piece of meat.
As breakfast, lunch and dinner came around for the next ten days I was educated on the variation of chopsticks. Each new location exposed me to different lengths and materials of chopsticks. I found that the longer the chopstick and heavier material creates better movement.
Chopsticks were first around in Ancient China during the Shang Dynasty.
There are a variety of chopsticks that can be seen when eating: jade, bamboo, plastic, porcelain, ivory and wood. My two favorites happened to be the porcelain and bamboo, for each material had great grip when I ate a meal. On another note, plastic was the worst! Even the lightest thing that could be picked up with a chopstick became a tedious task with anything plastic.
Chopsticks made from bamboo and wood happen to be inexpensive, as well as disposable.
According to an article written in the Huffington Post, China has bigger demand for disposable chopsticks. So big that the number amounts in the billions, which kills off millions of trees.
My last dinner in Jinan, China left me inquisitive about the mastering of chopsticks. Sitting next to a linguistic volunteer student from Shandong University, who’s English name was Po, I asked if she has ever picked up American’s easiest utensil ever: a fork. Her response was calm and quick: “of course,” she said.
This took me by storm, if she has no problem eating with a barbarian tool (in which we stab every thing, or shovel big amounts of food in our mouth with such speed), then why is it so hard for others and myself to try and eat delicately like the Chinese do?
Po offered me advice as to how to best properly eat with the chopsticks, and I believe this was the moment I was waiting for: a true Asian giving me the proper 101 lesson on how to use a pair of skinny sticks.
She explained to me that when trying to eat, I must make sure that the sticks are held from the top and not at the bottom, which I believed all along was the right way.
As I carefully listened and took notes, eagerness came over me and there was no hesitation in trying out this technique. When the dumplings were spun around the table, quickly and swiftly I grabbed a slippery dumpling with no errors and quickly applauded myself in my thoughts.
I may have advanced myself further in the art of “chopstick usage,” but practice always makes perfect.
My experience with chopsticks has left me distant for a week from my best friend, the fork-easy to pick up a bountiful amount of food with no difficulties-for a pair of two very thin sticks. I arrived to the United States with my newly purchased chopsticks, used them for about a day and reverted to the speedy process of eating with a fork.
For me, the fork represents who I am: an American. As for the chopsticks, they will always serve as beautiful souvenir and the experience of a lifetime, but also a reminder of how much more I appreciate my country.