Secret Societies and Qingming celebration

First off, I did indeed go see Jiro Dreams of Sushi last week. Though there is an uneasiness with Jiro’s harsh schooling (even bordering abuse)  of his apprentices, he truly is respected for his masterful sushi skills. You begin to realize why as the documentary progresses, from his delicate palate and knowledge of fish and rice to his perfection in timing and menu planning. The documentary also moves smoothly from scenes of tuna auctions to a food critic describing the intricacies of taste in Jiro’s menu planning. A must see! But be warned, watching this documentary may cause salivating and hunger!

Jiro's egg sushi.

Next, I want to introduce another documentary. A local film to be aired June 3rd at 10pm on OMNI called Secret Societies of Vancouver’s Chinatown (don’t worry, I’ll remind you again closer to the date). Have you ever been to the Chinatown Parade and wondered who the heck all those people in the parade are? Have you ever wandered the streets of Chinatown and heard shuffling mah jong tiles or a band of èrhú’s playing behind closed doors? They are the secret societies that helped build Vancouver’s Chinatown to what it is today. The Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver formed over 100 years ago in 1906, helping to find equality for Chinese Canadians from fighting for political rights such as the right to vote and recognition of the role Chinese Canadians played in Canadian history, to providing a space for social activities such as playing mahjong, chess and dragon dance. My family have been members of the Hoy Ping Benevolent Association for a long time, yet this year was the first time I participated in the Chinatown parade!

One of the dragons from our association dancing close to the crowd at the 2012 Chinatown Parade.

Since I started the new year participating in the parade for the first time and I’m trying to learn more about Chinatown and our traditions, this weekend, my sister and I will be joining the other members to celebrate Qingming. Qingming is a big holiday in Chinese tradition showing our filial piety, dating back more than 2500 years ago in ancient China. Sometimes also called Ancestor’s Day or Tomb Sweeping Day, family members head to the cemetery to bring offerings to the dead such as food, tea and wine and dust the tombs.

A family making offerings for Qingming.

Qingming is celebrated on the 104th day after winter solstice or on the 15th day after the spring equinox, thus following both the lunar and solar cycles. But, the holiday technically lasts 21 days as the dead are said to arrive 10 days before Qingming and return back to the afterlife 10 days after Qingming.

On Sunday my sister and I will be following the Hoy Ping Benevolent Association to the Mountain View Cemetery on Fraser Street (between 31st and 43rd avenue). If you get a chance, in the next couple weeks (March 25 – April 14), I highly recommend visiting a cemetery to see what the celebration looks like. I promise it will be nothing like the cold and creepy gray cemeteries you see in pictures.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Last week, my farmer friend Rob told me about a movie that started this week at Cineplex Odeon in International Village, called Jiro Dreams of Sushi.  The film’s website states,

JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI is the story of 85 year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble appearances, it is the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious 3 star Michelin review, and sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimage, calling months in advance and shelling out top dollar for a coveted seat at Jiro’s sushi bar [….] At the heart of this story is Jiro’s relationship with his eldest son Yoshikazu, the worthy heir to Jiro’s legacy, who is unable to live up to his full potential in his father’s shadow.

In Vancouver, eating sushi has become a part of our identity. Even the vegetarians eat sushi! But there’s so much more art to sushi than we think. We see sushi and we see it as food that’s been rolled all together, but there’s a fine art and great skill to producing real masterpieces. I’m excited to see all the beautiful pieces of edible art and how food can strengthen and serve as a source of tension in a relationship.

Hopefully we’ll be seeing this film this weekend. When we do, Rob has offered to help write a review of it. 😉  If you have or are going to see the movie, what do you think of it? Does it make you think of sushi differently? Do you know how to make sushi?

Mah Jong Lesson 1

Mah Jong is a dying game. Most CBCs (Chinese Born Canadians) don’t know how to play, including myself. But I’ve been hearing more and more that playing Mah Jong is good for your memory and for preventing dementia. This weekend, my sister and I took our yenyen to our friends Jenny and Johnathan’s house to play, though I was just watching. In recent years, there have been signs of dementia showing in my grandma, but she was sharp as a tack once they started the game, at times even correcting everyone else! Mah Jong also always goes hand in hand with food. Anytime there is a game, there is a meal. And thanks to Jenny, we were all well fed too. 🙂

Here’s a few pictures of yenyen in action…

Yenyen stacking her wall

Thinking about her strategy

Waiting for others to make their make their move.

I know most of the tiles…

Circles suit

Bamboo suit

Thousands suit


Dragons - Red, Green and White



…and the concept of pong, seung and kong.

Pong = 3 identical tiles

Top row-pong of 8 thousand
Middle row-pong of 5 bamboo
Bottom row-pong of 2 circles.
Seung = a run of 3
Top row-456 seung of circles
Middle row-456 seung of thousands
Bottom row-345 seung of bamboo
Kong = 4 identical tiles.

Kong of red dragon

But beyond that, I’m generally lost, especially on how to win. So Johnathan, the Brit who learned how to play in the past few years, made me a copy of his cheat sheet for calculating points for winning combos. Feel free to use it and let me know if you have any questions. Also, just note that this is only ONE of many ways to determine points.

Mah Jong Scoring (pdf)

Next lesson, we’ll go over some of the rules of the game with some action shots and some food shots too!

Do you know how to play Mah Jong? Who do you play with? Are you interested in learning and/or playing with others? How did you learn how to play?

Ancient Acupressure

Yesterday, I helped out with the seniors luncheon at the Strathcona Community Centre again and I even dragged my sister and Victor too! But, I was wrapped up in so many of the stories and helping serve the lunch, that I forgot to take out my camera 😦   But I did get a chance to have one of the seniors practice the ancient art of acupressure on me. He has recently been trying to relearn the tradition and help other seniors at the centre with their different ailments. Acupressure is similar to acupuncture but using pressure on points of the body. Points on the hand and foot correspond to different parts of the body.

I have had problems with my neck ever since I could remember, so he found the pressure point on the back of my hand that corresponded to my neck. As he searched for the pressure point, he explained that if there is something wrong, the point would hurt when pressure is applied. At first, I thought it was a placebo or whatever, how much could it hurt? It was fine at first, but let me tell you, when he found the point to my neck it hurt!! And afterwards, my neck really did feel looser and more agile!

He does it every week for one of the other seniors who has trouble hearing. This is what it looks like.

Acupressure has been around for the last 5,000 years, how long has Advil been around?  Don’t knock it till you try it!

Everyone’s Kitchen

This post is to mark the beginning of a never-ending journey through kitchens. Everyone’s kitchen. But mostly the kitchens that never get seen in magazines or in the Home & Style section of the newspaper, and kitchens that rarely present dishes that look like those in Martha Stewart Living. This is a journey to document traditions, culinary techniques and cuisine that is passed through generations by oral history and that is fast becoming extinct. As wonderful as they are, I’m not interested in the Bobby Flay’s or Gordon Ramsey’s, I’m interested in learning how to cook the dishes I ate while growing up in my Chinese home. How to wrap zongzi, concoct mysterious medicinal soups and use a wok. What do we eat during summer and winter solstice and how to make these dishes? I’m interested in the original teachers of our lives. Our parents and grandparents. My current goal is to develop an intergenerational community kitchen program, and from the people I’ve spoken to, there’s definitely interest.

Lately, in my efforts of getting connected to Chinese seniors, I came across a biweekly luncheon program at the Strathcona Community Centre where a group of Chinese senior women cook for 80-100 other seniors. I’ve been going to help, chat and learn from them. Here’s what the kitchen looked like in it’s frenzy and  some of the delicious food that was made.

Over 100 chicken legs!

Vegetarian Buddha's Feast

New Year's sweet rice cake with red dates