I’ve written a couple of posts about my friend G’s short but bittersweet visit, during which our cultural clashes made me feel so very American.


My friend G was like a mouse in our apartment. She was always timid and seemingly unsure of herself, and I don’t know if that’s because these characteristics are encouraged in Chinese girls or that’s seen as politeness in China or something else entirely. She would knock before entering any room – not just the bathroom or our bedroom, but even the kitchen if I was making coffee. She seemed to need incessant guidance and responded to many things that I considered normal with complete disbelief, such as when I told her that childbirth classes were considered the norm in many countries. She couldn’t understand why anyone would need to learn how to give birth – even though I had done it and she hadn’t. Her naiveté was sometimes striking.

Among the many “huh?” moments of G’s visit were several where she was suddenly sure of herself regarding a topic, but one which usually baffled me & Matt. One evening we got onto the topic of health and longevity, and she started talking about the place in the world where people live the longest. “Oh yeah,” we responded, “It’s in Japan, right?” She looked shocked. “No,” she responded, “It’s in China!”

M looked unsure. He glanced at me. We weren’t longevity experts for sure, but pretty much everything we’d heard of or read pointed to Japan as the place people live the longest. All the fish, soybeans, and rice, or something. But G kept going, totally sure of her topic now. “It’s because of a rock that fell from the sky,” she insisted. “What!?!??!” M exclaimed, “A meteorite???” I kicked him under the table. Whatever was going on, I was sure, was probably a product of some sort of Chinese propaganda, and M’s very American insistence on research and facts was going to get him nowhere.

Apparently, according to G, a meteorite that landed somewhere in China gave off some sort of vibes that were making everyone who lived there live longer than anywhere else in the world. She insisted that a study had been done, and M, ever the tactful skeptic, asked if it was done by Western scientists. At this point, I gave him a good thump on the ankle and his questioning ceased. I began to clear the table and that ended the discussion.

After a bit of internet research, I found this report on a village in China called Gulong, where the villagers “rarely get sick so it is known as a longevity village.” It was the site of a meteor impact about 50,000 years ago which, apparently, causes the water and earth to be oily and flammable. A Chinese scientist confirmed the existence of the meteor, though there’s nothing about the meteor causing the villagers to live longer. To Western ears, the claim sounds completely outlandish and irrational, but it was one that G was willing to accept without question and defend with complete sureness. The mind boggles.

One of the things that irks me the most about Western vs. Eastern culture is this:

In the East, it’s perfectly acceptable if not downright expected to base decisions and beliefs on spirituality and tradition. For instance, my uncle always consults the tao before making a business decision. Questioning something based on spirituality is unheard of, especially looking for a basis in science.

In the West, we rely more on science and logic, but there’s this curious fascination with Eastern spirituality. If something comes from China, especially if it’s herbal, it must work! The Eastern world has a magic link to nature, and going there will make you some kind of zen warrior.

Neither belief is totally wrong or right. There must be a balance between the two – a healthy dose of spirituality grounded by a basis in science and fact.

Here’s the balanced, tasty, and healthy meal that I served that evening:

Fish tacos with Pico de Gallo, Mexican rice, and sour cream sauce

Make Pico de Gallo. I really have nothing to add to this recipe – it’s the best, and a crowd pleaser. Everyone loves it, except weirdos those who don’t like raw tomatoes. Just kidding, I love you guys!

Start your Mexican rice. Sauté half an onion, chopped, in some olive oil. Add a quarter cup of tomato sauce or a couple spoons of tomato paste.  Add 4 cups of broth of your choice and 2 cups of uncooked long grain rice. Bring it all to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and cover the pot. You may have to crack the cover if the rice starts steaming too vigorously. Cook for 15 minutes, then remove from the heat and let sit for another 5 minutes. Don’t touch it while it’s sitting! After 5 minutes, give the rice a stir and add salt to taste and lots of cumin. You can also stir in corn, chopped tomatoes, or peas at this point.

While the rice is cooking, take a few boneless, skinless, fillets of white fish – one per person is a good number, with an extra thrown in for good measure. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cumin. Broil in the tray or pan of your choice until done – usually 5 minutes or so. Set aside.

Stir together a can of tomatillo sauce with sour cream for the sour cream sauce.

Flake up the fish with a pair of tongs or a couple of forks. Serve with warm tortillas, sour cream sauce, rice, pico de gallo, jalapenos and hot sauce for self assembly at the table. Enjoy!

Photo credit: SuperFantastic, Flickr