I was stuck in the mire of insecurity and loneliness for many years. In my adolescence, either at home or at school, I was always the quirky girl; astonishingly insensitive and clumsy. I could not easily spot the details in daily life; I carelessly destroyed anything I touched, unintentionally. I grew up with my parents’ constant nagging, “You can do nothing well!” or “You are sure to be bullied by others!” and worse “How did I give birth to such a stupid girl?” I was well acknowledged by school mates as clumsy and destructive. I was not ladylike at all and I could not take care of myself.
Fortunately since university, I have been blessed with meeting wise and kind mentors, who keep inspiring me to reinvent myself and acquire confidence. Zhu Dandan is one of those special people, also an enthusiastic and open-minded participant with the ShowShanti project.
As a 39-year-old mother of two kids, she enjoys a rich life, blessed with a happy family, meaningful friendships, love, and work-life balance; which I have dreamed of for a long time, as many native Chinese women struggle between work and the family. Compared to a lot of girls who consider owning a home, having a lot of money and highly-paid careers for husband criteria, Zhu Dandan and her husband started from scratch in Beijing. She is passionate about life so she embraces every day energetically and spiritedly, which is rare in a country where most of the people live with complaint and curses.
The ShowShanti project brought me to her urban home four months ago, where she stated “Cooking is a passion rather than tiring labor” then demonstrated such by cooking her typical feast. I am really happy that this time my husband can experience what Zhu Dandan has inspired me toward life. On August 27th, we were honored with an invitation to her country home.
On that early sunny morning, we were on an express train, leaving the noisy, congested and polluted city behind and throwing ourselves into serene and secluded mother nature with fresh air. After we got off the train, Zhu Dandan and her husband Mr. Xu picked us up in their car. She drove and wore a cool pair of sunglasses. I could not help thinking of her nick name ‘iron woman’, coined by Mr Xu. Agreeable conversations passed in the car which passed bushes, trees, and nearby mountains. We could not help laughing when they shared a story about Zhu Dandan breaking the parking brake with careless strength as she learned to drive in a drivers’ training school years ago. I could not refrain from remembering my own experience when I was in university; I mysteriously broke my dear roommate’s laptop USB port as I inserted a USB key! My inner world was stirring as unprecedented sense of self-identity grew from my psychological trauma after years of frequent berating from family and peers! I fell great bliss that Zhu Dandan is of my kind! I have always believed like attracts like. It seems there are some indications that I will be destined to live a quality and joyful life, instead of the messy and disastrous one my parents anticipated.
When we arrived, the first thing of course was to visit their organic vegetable garden.
Bathed in the fragrance of the soil and fresh air, I had a warm picture flash in my mind — the couple driving the kids here on weekends and holidays, sowing seeds and harvesting fruits with the kids in the garden, teaching them botany, the relationship between humans and nature, the delight of work, etc. This picture is actually this family’s life!
As Dandan and I chatted like long-time friends, Mr. Xu patiently fixed his wife’s mistake: he was repairing the underground sluice destroyed by Dandan’s clumsy, strong hands. This is very similar to what happens to me and Zuofei: I am the careless destroyer of a laptop, water tap, a lock and something of the likes, and he is all-time patient repair man. I have a bad habit of discarding paper into the trash thoughtlessly at home, but he without fail picks the paper out, without saying a word. We are both blessed wives for we both have a husband who spoils our faults, tolerantly.
In Chinese culture, it’s usually the wife who steers a sense of happiness in the family. Dandan’s family is no exception. She told me Mr. Xu possessed a melancholic temperament before, which had been driven away by her gaiety and wisdom.
Lunch time was approaching. They had scheduled dumplings and barbecue for us. Dandan and I went to make dumplings; Zuofei was invited by the cute little farmer to play, and they got along well with each other. After finishing with the repairs, Mr. Xu went on to barbecue.
Dumplings are the family’s favorite food. Zuofei and I love dumplings, too, but I feel I can never make delicious meat fillings. That day I knew one important tip from Dandan: the minced pork must be mixed with cold water little by little until it appears sticky and mushy, so the pork will have a tender texture.
Early that morning, Dandan prepared a lot of dough, enough to make about 150 dumplings for he mistook Zuofei for “a big eater” based on the following picture she had once seen.
Dandan told me he always busies himself after getting off work, either with kids or housework. Industriousness and patience are ingrained in his personality.
Sincere friendship, inspiring conversation, a lot of food… What a big day! But for this family, it is a normal day. They are busy on workdays, but they always have get-togethers on weekends and holidays with good friends, relatives, or even with mothers of kids’ friends. Their life is a palette of love!
Zhu Dandan and Mr. Xu, thank you for your hospitality! Zuofei and I have gained so much from our friendship!