I’ve spent the past five years in China, first as an English teacher and then doing business. Although I still do believe that America is best, I came to oftentimes feel that we Americans could learn a lot from the wisdom that’s accumulated and is reflected in China’s four thousand year old civilization. Chinese culture has ways about it that are difficult not to admire.
One thing that’s always a little embarrassing to Americans living in China is to view scenes from American life that are displayed on Chinese TV. It’s because Americans always appear so fat. Not just overweight, but ridiculously fat-obese. I sometimes suspected that the Chinese propaganda machine was purposely depicting Americans in a negative light, and of course before I left for China I never really noticed-if most of those one sees around him day after day are fat it doesn’t seem so unusual. However, when I recently returned from China and stepped into the airport terminal at Los Angeles, what a shock! It’s true-Americans are mostly all fat, and even those one wouldn’t really call fat still seem to have a weight problem. Another impression upon returning came from seeing all the diet books being advertised and talked about in the stream of American media-saturated consciousness. The Atkinson Diet, The South Beach Diet, The Low-Carb Diet, The This Diet, The That Diet. Diet pills, diet clinics, weight loss remedies, “I lost 40 lbs. in 40 days” commercials. Gosh.
Well, I’m not fat. I was a little pudgy before I left for China five years ago, but not now. The idea of dieting never crossed my mind while I was there, in fact I ate more, a lot more, because the food is so good. The food in China is really, really good. In China food is art and it’s delicious, and it’s much better, more varied and different than the Chinese food here. There were also many opportunities for me to hang out with whomever and drink beer, and so I did a lot of that too, more than I should have, but I didn’t gain weight, I lost weight. Something else I should mention here is that few Chinese people are fat. They generally seem very fit and healthy, and extremely energetic.
A few days after arriving at LAX I drove down to San Ysidro on the US/Mexico border to see my old friend Wade. I was saddened when he told me that his fourteen year old daughter had been diagnosed with lymphatic cancer nine months earlier, but was quickly relieved when he added that the doctor treating her told him her cancer had apparently gone into remission as a result of chemotherapy treatments, and the prognosis for her was extremely optimistic. Wade also mentioned that this doctor definitely felt there was a link between his daughter’s cancer and all the fast food she and her friends were always consuming. Coincidentally, the next day I read a report on an internet website that claimed Americans suffer from cancer at twice the rate of the English, and that we experience heart disease and stroke at several times the rate of the French! It couldn’t be just the food though, I mean as in too much meat and fat or too much sugar, though it seems likely that that’s part of the problem. Reading the labels on cans and packages reveals long lists of esoteric chemical cocktails that we’re putting into our systems along with aerated potatoes and hydrogenated oils, in addition to the cows, pigs and chickens that have undergone treatments with hormones and antibiotics.
So it doesn’t take much to put things together. You can’t blame everything on tobacco since the English smoke more than we do, the French smoke more than the English, and the Japanese, who have the highest life expectancy in the world and suffer from cancer, heart disease and stroke at a fraction of our rate, smoke most of all, and they smoke everywhere. Although the hordes of class-action attorneys that converged on the tobacco companies (and everyone close to them with deep pockets), may be right now mapping out their next project, we don’t have to wait to be among those that will be suing the fast food restaurants, grocery stores and food processing companies that are making us look and feel awful, and killing us with disease. All we have to do is eat like the Chinese. Speaking personally, I’d rather eat like the Chinese even if it did make me fat, but it won’t, and it won’t make anyone else fat either.
As was mentioned, in China food is more than just food, it’s one of the great joys of life and it’s production is regarded as aesthetic expression. One problem is that I don’t think good Chinese food is that simple to make, preparing it right seems to be a pretty involved process. I’m resolved to make available a nice list of favorite recipes gleaned from my contacts in China and put them on my friend’s website who is also in China. It will be free, and I’ll try to focus on dishes that are not only very delicious and healthy, but easy enough that even I could do them (if I could make them anyone could). The list will include not so well known Chinese fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Until then, I’m hungry, I need to find where I can go for one of my favorites: Yunnan stir-fry wild mushrooms with onions and Cod, and seasoned to-fu along with a plate of fresh mixed young Chinese vegetables in spicy coconut sauce…
Rockland Zeiler, writing as Lai-En Xyler, earned his BA degree in anthropology from UW in 1981. Over the past five years he’s lived and worked in China where he’s started two small businesses and learned Chinese. He feels we Americans could learn from the accumulated wisdom reflected in China’s four thousand year old civilization. He asks that a link to his friend’s website, [http://www.dreamsofchina.com], be included in reprints, and welcomes comments or questions at email@example.com.