Sticky situation: The ins & outs of culture clash

By Shannon Eileen Wu

So I’ve been married into Taiwan for almost three years now, and there are still a lot of things that I’m learning and experiencing. The highly anticipated Chinese New Year is very much like Christmas in the States, where everyone travels in for a family gathering; and then soon enough — Lantern Festival.

I can’t help but notice that the lights adorning the Taipei City streets remind me a lot of the Christmas lights decorating the shops in the States. It brings back good memories. Similar as the decorations are, I must point out that the food immediately reminds me that I am, in fact, in Taiwan.

As some people might know, the famous glutinous rice balls, aka tangyuan, are the signature festive food of the Lantern Festival. I just want to say, I did not like it. The first time I bit into the soft, sticky starch, I thought it was never going to break off. Black fluid leaking out of the rice ball was no help. As I forced myself to chew on the gummy texture, the bland taste tinged with only a bit of sesame was not enough to excite my taste buds and I could only choose to spit the entire thing out.

My husband’s laughing was of course, not very comforting. I vowed it would never enter my mouth again even when I was on the verge of starving. My husband then tried to introduce me with another flavor of peanut fillings, which I politely refused.

It’s amazing how this weird, sticky rice ball could be a famous dish in any culture. But I guess that’s where I need to “free my mind.” Sometimes I wonder, when people start putting the sticky rice balls into fermented rice soup or some sweet-scented sauce: how do these dishes develop into what they are today? I look, fascinated, at my family circling around the table eating these soupy deserts on a cold night, and just can’t understand.

I guess it still brings joy to a lot of people even when I can’t understand it. I guess that’s where culture clash comes in and that’s when respect comes in. I would always remember not to show any offensive facial expression when I see people drinking the soup or eating the rice balls. I did not want my husband or my family to think that I did not like his culture or thought it was disgusting. Same as I would not want my husband to complain when I come home with some American food such as meaty, cheese-filled hamburgers from In and Out.

This is where we learn to accept and respect each other’s culture, as we so often forget when it comes to eating something from another place.