Cultural Perspectives Through Soup

As I sit down in my usual seat at the round dinner table, I look at the different dishes of food that my father has prepared. Looking at his cooking, my father speaks with pride in Mandarin Chinese, “I spent two hours boiling the soup to let the flavor seep in. It’s not as good as the one people make in Taiwan, but it’s the best here.” The contagious smile on my dad’s face spreads to my mother. She nods in agreement, “I brought this soup to my co-worker’s house yesterday and she said her dreams came true.” My dad adds, “ I added some red peppers and green onions for aesthetics.” I look blankly at the soup as my parents banter back and forth about the flavor and presentation of the soup. I am clearly indifferent about the subject of soup and mumble to myself, “It’s only soup. Who cares?”Hearing my dissatisfaction about their beloved soup, my parents glare at me in disapproval and shake their heads, “You never appreciate what you have.”  With a grimace of pain, I roll my eyes and sigh at my parents’ relentless lecturing. As a Chinese-American living under the roof of traditionally minded Asian parents, I tend to express my thoughts and opinions more openly than people from my parents’ generation. Instead of encouraging me to express my individuality, they view this freedom of expression as a form of disobedience to Chinese cultural norms where children unquestioningly obey and respect their elders. For instance, instead of encouraging me to pursue my passion in psychology, they desire me to pursue a “safe” career in medicine, pharmacy or accounting.

Seeing that I have yet to drink the soup, my mom raises her eyebrows and angrily shoves the bowl of soup to my face, “It’s healthy for your body and good for the digestive system.” I look closely at the variety of ingredients in the bowl. There are fresh ingredients of brown almonds, ginger, winter melons, and ginseng. “Each element of the soup must be included in the soup or else it wouldn’t be complete. Just like you need health, love, and happiness to live a good life,” my father explains in satisfaction. As I ponder in silence about what my father has said, I recall all the moments in my life that show my cravings for a well-rounded life. I often stay up all night to achieve the grade, yet I have forgotten the rest that my body needs. I spend much time on school, yet I have forgotten the quality time that I need to spend with my family.  It is on that kitchen table that I realize the harmonious blend of the different ingredients in the soup represents the balance that is essential in my life. As I finish the soup self-indulgently, I answer my own question in my head, “This soup does make dreams come.”

Through the upbringing of my Asian parents, I understand the importance of honoring and valuing my family. At dinner time every night, the fact that we sit at a round table and share plates of food “family-style” reinforce the unbreakable bond that exists between my family members. Even the almost single-minded focus that my parents place on my upbringing and education is one that I appreciate. When I have my own family, I will likely fret over my children’s education just as my parents are concerned about mine.

These cultural influences—the Chinese culture of my heritage and the American culture that I was born into, the yin and yang—are both undeniably a part of who I am. Learning to proactively combine these different “ingredients” in my life, which is a learning attitude that I continue to pursue today, will allow me to develop the best qualities within myself.

-written by Tiffany Chiu 

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