Monday, October 13, 2008

A Lasting Influence

I've moved a lot in the adult-portion of my life.

View of the Puli valley.

In the 14 1/2 years since I graduated from high school, I've lived in the following places:
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Valencia, California
  • Farmington, Maine
  • Taiwan: Puli, Caotun, Taichung
  • Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Shanghai, China
  • Washington, DC area: Vienna and Arlington, Virginia
The list itself really isn't too long. But it becomes significantly longer if you add in the number of times I've moved between those place... Currently the count stands at 15 moves in those 14 1/2 years. Because of all those moves, I've come to know, quite well, the many different challenges inherent in settling into a new place.

Regardless of how many times I go through that process it never gets any easier. The only advantage I have found is that at least now I know better what to expect. It takes time to find your niche in a new place - to feel like you have found the people and the space where you fit. It is often hard and emotionally draining to work your way through that process with enough patience to avoid becoming depressed and frustrated on a regular basis.

With Pele, my missionary trainer and one of my all-time favorite people.

One of the lessons I've learned repeatedly, as I've weathered this process so many times over the years, is that people play an instrumental role in easing your way down the road. Never was this more true than on my mission. Any move is going to have its own unique difficulties, but few, in my experience, compare to the challenge of moving to a foreign country, with a foreign language and foreign customs. Add to that, a complete and total loss of independence and you are in for a sometimes difficult transitionary period.

With my fellow missionaries, on the roof of our apartment building, celebrating my birthday.

When I look back on my first few months in Taiwan, there are a few people who come to mind as playing a major role in helping me to adjust and acclimate to my new life there. Within that group, my thoughts always return with particular fondness to Huang Laoshi (Teacher Huang).

Pele and Huang Laoshi

During my first few months in Taiwan, Huang Laoshi's home felt like a refuge to me. Huang Laoshi had an illness that made it difficult for her to leave her home. For that reason, she could no longer work or attend church meetings. My companion and I tried to visit her about once every week or two in order to make sure that she was doing OK and to provide some companionship. Two things made Huang Laoshi's home such a haven for me: she spoke very good English, and she was a very nurturing individual. Also, she expressed her love, care and concern for others the same way I tend to - with food.

Huang Laoshi was an amazing cook and she loved having the missionaries over for dinner. She was the first person I met on my mission who invited me into her kitchen and taught me to make a dish or two. My notes on how to make soy milk came from her. She also taught me how to make passion fruit juice, sweet and sour pork, as well as my favorite Taiwanese dish: stir-fired chicken with soybeans and carrots. I've been making this dish since I returned from Taiwan. I love it. It is so simple, healthy and tasty. Every time I make it I remember visiting Huang Laoshi: making sweet and sour sauce, flipping pieces of fried pork out of the oil onto a waiting plate, sitting and talking in her cozy living room, slicing carrots, and maybe best of all, drinking tall, refreshing glasses of her homemake passion fruit juice. I haven't seen her since I left Puli in December of 1998, but I still miss her.

With Huang Laoshi

Stir-Fried Chicken with Soy Beans and Carrots

1.5 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 large carrots
3 c. frozen, shelled edamame
4 green onions

1.5 T. corn or potato starch
4 T. sesame oil
1 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
2 T. soy sauce

Cut the green onion into 1" long sections. Then cut the sections into quarters so you have long slivers of green onion.

Cut the carrots into chunks about 1" long. Cut these chunks in half. Then very thinly slice the chunks so that you are left with large, thin slices of carrots (see final photo below for a visual). Put the carrots into a Ziploc bag, sprinkle in a little bit of water, seal, and then microwave for 2 minutes.

Cut the chicken breast into small cubes. Mix with corn starch, sesame oil, salt, pepper, and soy sauce. Let sit for approximately 15 minutes.

Heat a splash of sesame oil in a wok or saute pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add chicken and stir-fry until cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a bowl, and then return pan to heat. Add the edamame and carrots and stir-fry until cooked to your taste (for me this is about 5 minutes, but check the carrots to make sure they are cooked the way you like). Add the chicken back to the pan along with the green onions. Stir-fry briefly, approximately 1-2 minutes. Serve.

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