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WuKong Education “Tell Us You’re ABC Story” Award-Winning Story: Dumplings: My Love and Hate

Welcome to Our ABC Stories! In 2023, WuKong Education’s “Tell Us Your ABC Story” Global Story Contest invited Chinese families worldwide to share their tales. Actor Daniel Wu and author Vincent Yee, and the WuKong Judge Team, collectively selected 21 finalists from touching submissions. “Dumplings: My Love and Hate” by 14-year-old Dora Zhao won the “Cultural Heritage Award”. Dora’s narrative beautifully captures life’s intricacies. Take a moment to be inspired by her incredible story, offering a glimpse into global Chinese experiences.

WuKong Education “Tell Us You’re ABC Story” Award-Winning Story: Dumplings: My Love and Hate - WuKong Blog

“Ewww, guys what’s that smell,” a kid snickered behind me before snorting at his own comment. That “joke” was almost like flint to a chain of explosives, the way it ignited fits of grating giggles down the table as all the other kids also seemed to find it equally hilarious.

I didn’t even have to look around to realize who they were mocking. I’d already heard the same line being used  a  sickening  number  of times before. Instead, I peered  into my worn-out Thermos that used to be bright pink. Inside, I counted a total of six dumplings. Running my plastic fork over the golden brown dough, I closed my eyes and focused on the sound of the crust. Before I knew it, the golden brown patterns began to turn gray as the jumbled noise faded back in. Knitting my eyebrows together, I forced myself to swallow the mere saliva that had been attracted by the scent of pork and fresh chives. I closed the container back up, thinking to myself “I guess I’m eating lunch after school again …”

Free Food Produce photo and picture

After we moved, there wasn’t much I looked forward to at school anymore. Although we had only moved from Brooklyn to Staten Island, the difference between the two neighborhoods was so significant that it felt as if we had moved to a whole new country. Back in Brooklyn, I was surrounded by family, friends, and most importantly, people who look like me. Since we moved, I soon realized that it was no longer the case. Instead of the traditional hand games that we all knew—passed down from our parents—I had to get used to a set of lyrics for a new game called “Patty Cake.” The period I spent eating lunch in the cafeteria was the time I cherished the most back in my old school. However, it quickly evolved into my demise. Almost every day, I would be reminded of how much I didn’t belong here once I opened up my lunchbox. Lunch was the period of time when I was most vulnerable: I couldn’thelp but notice the judgmental looks and comments about the foreign smell that the other kids threw my way. I tried to shake itoff at first, but having to endure the rude reactions to food that I have been eating for my whole life proved impossible. I began eating in a strategic manner, doing whatever I could to contain the smell–I would take a bite, and then instantly re-close the container before I had even finished chewing. I knew that I didn’t fit in. It wasn’t like ahidden secret. After the first week at my new school, I realized that I didn’t live lives like the people who surrounded me now. I couldn’t relate to anyone anymore. I was alone for the first time ever at school. From that point onwards, I began to dread going to school.

It was the end of June, when temperatures began fighting with the AC’s to take over the classroom’s atmosphere. I had been attending this school for almost 4 months already. Unfortunately, being a small school on a suburban island, the AC’s proved too weak and eventually succumbed to the blazing heat. The day was abnormally hot, even teachers were unable to ignore the temperatures in the classroom. The class was wild–kids shrieking across the room over whatever nonsense. Staying sane in such an environment was an impressive feat. Having had enough, Mrs. Graziano, our 5th grade ELA teacher, raised her voice, and began the class, “If you hearme, clap once. If you hearme, clap twice.” Despite cringing the whole time, I clapped once and clapped twice.

Free Teacher Learning photo and picture

I ironically appreciated English class more than ever. Back in my Brooklyn, it was like learning a whole new language beacause everyone would mostly speak in Mandarin to each other. It was a class that I just had to sit through and bear. However, in Staten Island, I realized that it was my lifeline, my only solution to fitting in. Thus,I embraced the class. Having a teacher as kind as Mrs. Graziano also helped immensely, so I always gave her my respect.

After finally receiving everyone’s attention, especially mine, she was able to show a grin before announcing that we were having an end-of-the-year party. Cheers instantly erupted from the class. The ridiculous heat had the kids on the tips of their seats, and an announcement as grand as this one was sure to drive them nuts. Of course, I was happy, too! I could already envision all the yummy snacks that we were about to get: the non-Asian, American snacks that everyone loved.

“Settle down, guys,” Mrs. Graziano chuckled as she summoned the focus of the room back  on her, “I have another special announcement! This year’s party is certainly not going to be  like the others you guys have had before!” The classroom went wild! In fact, “wild” was an  understatement. Before Mrs. Graziano even shared the key aspect, the keyboard “special” had already have everyone cheering!

“Hold on, guys. I’m not done yet! The theme of the end-of-the-year party will be … culture! Essentially, I would like for you all to bring foods from your family’s culture to share with the class at the party.” I didn’t know what to say. I looked at my friends and they had already started sharing about what amazing and delicious foods that they would bring. When I saw the boys that would make fun of me and my lunch bragging about all the foods that were apart of their culture, I just fell quiet. This classroom that had been my sanctuary, just turned into my worst nightmare.

That night I thought about mentioning the party during dinner. As I opened my mouth to ask a simple question, I was reminded of how much I was ready, and the thought was promptly dismissed to the back of my mind. The next few weeks were the same. Lunchtime was the same. But something had begun to irk me, and once it was planted in my mind, there was no getting rid of it.

“Why do they get to celebrate their culture so proudly? Why is it that I have to eat my lunch  crouching  over in  such  a bustling room, where  everyone’s laughing and  conversing?  What’s wrong with my Chinese food?” I knew it was petty to bring others down to make  yourself feel better. However, my tolerance grew lower and lower and before I knew it, I  turned back to my sanctuary. In Mrs. In Graziano’s room, I talked to her about all the books  that I had read over the weekend. I told her about how much I loved the ending of a book  where the dad wrote a letter to his children and how he promised to get better. And then,  next week, she would relate tome after reading the novels I’d recommended—and vice versa. I loved how we talked about books and it felt like that we both used the stories as a way to escape from our world. But one day, a week away from the annual party, she asked me what I was going to bring. Perhaps she thought I was going to be just as excited as all the other kids in the class, but I just stayed silent.

Regardless, I knew I had to confront the matter sooner or later. “ … Mrs. Graziano, is it alright if Ijust bring some snacks for the cultural party?”, I hesitantly asked.

Tilting her head, “Why wouldn’t you like to bring your cultural foods? I would love to try traditional Chinese cuisine.” I could tell this conversation was not going to end well. “Did I ever mention how much I love dumplings?I practically ordered them everywhere I go.”, she joked, lightening the mood with a smirk.

Free Dimsum Chinese Cuisine photo and picture

“No, I-I mean yes. Um, I love Chinese cuisine,too” I stuttered, and my eyes began to wander down to the sight of myself picking at my hangnails. “But I, um, here’sthe thing— ”

“Oh sweetie, if it’s a financial issue, I completely understand. Don’t worry, I would love to help you out.” Mrs. Graziano interrupted, obviously trying her best to not overwhelm me.

“No!” I cried out defensively. Realizing what I’d just done, I rushed with a follow-up to smooth my outburst over. “Sorry, I meant, no it’snot.” The thought of belittling the extent my parents work to care forme and my brother, my reaction was as predicted. “My parents take great care of me, and I’m so fortunate to have no financial issues,” I added, clearing up any misunderstandings.

I looked up at Mrs. Graziano’s face. Her eyebrows were knitted together and her mouth curved down. If it was anyone else, I would be 100% sure that he or she was upset. However, Mrs. Grazinao’s eyes were as gentle as ever. In front of her soft gaze, I could feel myself relaxed.

“ … It’s just that I don’t want to trouble everyone else with the food I bring. I’m afraid they won’tlike the flavors,”  I admitted.

“Dora-honey, listen tome when I say this: It’s not about the food … I’m sorry I didn’tnotice how you felt about this earlier … The annual party is about celebrating your culture and your family. No one should ever feel ashamed about their family.” Her gaze lingered on me, reassuring myself of any insecurities I had felt.

WuKong Education “Tell Us You’re ABC Story” Award-Winning Story: Dumplings: My Love and Hate - WuKong Blog

My mouth gaped and closed like a fish. I was speechless for a few moments. For some reason, everything clicked. I had been so focused on what other people would say about my food, that I was unable to celebrate my background. My cheeks felt flushed, reddening as I became aware of my behavior. By letting what other kids said affect me, I was diminishing the hard work my working parents put into making my lunch every day despite working long hours. I was dismissing the thousands of centuries of hard work that poured into creating the traditions I celebrated every year as a Chinese American. The tears that rolled down my face were a great relief.

From a young age, I was able to recognize how hard my parents pushed themselves to be able to provide for my brother and me. They would come home at midnight after a 12-hour shift at the restaurant. No matter how tired they were, every day, in the morning following, they would gently wake us up and get us ready for school. I could always notice their dark eye-bags, representing their lack of sleep. I would never tell them but sometimes I would stay up just to wait to hear them get home. The next morning I would be bombarded with questions for my eye-bags, but I knew they were out of love. Those nights were the ones where I got the best sleep.

That evening, I spoke to my parents during dinner. At dinner time, everyone had their designated roles: I got the rice and set the place, my brother brought the side dishes over, and my parents were the main cooks. When the decades-old rice cooker beeped, I gently scooped the white rice into everyone’s bowls before bringing them to the dining table. On my way back to the kitchen, I passed my brother who handled a plate of “番茄炒蛋” with both hands, carefully carrying the dish onto the dining table. Stepping back into the kitchen to get all 5 pairs of chopsticks, I threw a quick glance at my mom who was hovering over the cutting board,skillfully dicing some cucumbers for a favorite dish atour house, and my dad who wiped his forehead with this forearm while continuing to cook the water spinach in the wok with his other hand. Dinner was like this everyday, yet today felt different. After my realization earlier that day, I took a step back to appreciate how we came together as a family every night for dinner. It was a tradition that I took for granted, but I was always grateful.

I was especially grateful tonight for our faily dinner that gave mean opportunity to share the news.

Free Fried Egg Breakfast photo and picture

“Mom, Dad. We should make some dumplings. I misseating them,”  I began, poking at my rice with the chopsticks in hand.

Looking over as her chopsticks reached for the sweet eggs, “Sure! But didn’t you say that you didn’t want to eat them anymore,”  my mom replied reminding me of last month’s dinner and the reaction I had after a group of classmates looked over at me and my food during lunch that day.

Embarrassed about bringing up my meltdown, I shyly diverted my eyes. “Yeah, but I changed my mind. Our English class is having an end-of-the-year party, we’re all bringing our cultural foods,”  I softly explained.

“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” my grandpa said with the corners of his eyes wrinkling as he smiled.

“I agree. We should be proud of our culture. I bet your classmates would love our special recipe dumplings.” Dad nodded.

I smiled, “Couldn’t agree more, Dad.”

Free Dumplings Raw photo and picture

Finally, the day arrived. Sure, I had learned to appreciate and celebrate my culture, but as a young kid, the reactions of my peers still left a deep impression on me. With my dad’shelp, the pan of dumplings was dropped off at the main office and I had to pick it up.

“Okay, so if he dropped itoff during the 7th period, and the party is happening during the   8th period, the dumplings should still be warm in the aluminum pan.” I thought to myself   as I calculated everything. There weren’t going to be any issues. I was sure of it. Yet, throughout   the 7th period, I couldn’t stop my legs from shaking. The quick taps on the floor were quiet, but noticeable if you paid enough attention. Bringing my hands to my thigh, I tried to push my legs still—the movement became annoying even to myself. The fidgeting stopped, but my anxiety was at its peak. After barely being able to sit still for the past 35 minutes, the dismissal bell rang and all my classmates began running out the door to get ready to set up their food stations. Following behind,I was still fighting with my nerves, fumbling with my fingers while waiting for the main office ladies to handover the dumplings. Finally, I was able to get my hands on them and brought them down to the cafeteria where all the other foods sat. “I spent all of my time leading up to the party reassuring myself, so why am I so nervous?” Resting my hand on my heart,I gave myself sometime to take some deep breaths with the effort to settle my nerves. I had to put an end to my dwelling for a moment as someone walked up to my station with a plate in hand.

“Hey, Dora! These smell amazing—what are they?” I looked at her blonde hair. It was Rebecca—I recalled bumping into her on my first week here. She was a nice person. Realizing I left her hanging for too long, I quickly filled the silence.

“They do? Oh, well they’re my family’s traditional dumplings. Dumplings area food that has been a part of Chinese cuisine for hundreds of decades. I personally love to have them during the Lunar Year,” I blurted out,laughing awkwardly, as I fumbled with placing a few on her plate. “Try them!”

Glancing at me before she took a bite, she began chewing. I couldn’t help but inspect her expression, trying to figure out whether she was enjoying them or not. After swallowing, she looked up at me, “Wow. What does that mean? Were them shockingly bad? Were them good?”

“Wow,” she repeated. “These are so so yummy!”, she exclaimed as her mouth morphed into a giant grin. Exhale. I didn’t even realize I had been holding my breath until I felt my shoulders drop after what felt like an eternity with how nervous I was.

Before I could even thank her for the compliment, she looked over her shoulder for her friends. “Guys! You guys seriously have to try these …”, pausing to stuff another one in her mouth. “Oh my gosh, literally to die for!”, she expressed as she rolled her eyes with satisfac- tion. Before I knew it, six other girls had instantly run over to my station.

“What are these?” They asked, already absorbed by the crescent shape of the dumplings. I quickly responded with the same explanation that I had given to Rebecca, as I placed a few on their plates—this time with a little more confidence in my chopsticks. Watching their reactions again, I couldn’thelp but let out a little giggle from under my breath as I saw how their faces lit up while they chewed. As I looked up, I noticed the line of people behind them, peeking at the delicious food and expecting a bite for themselves. Before I could stop myself, I felt my cheeks flushand the corners of my mouth lifted up.

Free Dumpling Steamer photo and picture

With 15 minutes left until dismissal, my entire tray that had to be full of at least 100   dumplings   had   been   completely cleared. Having the rest of the time to myself, I  allowed  my  eyes  to  wander around the cafeteria before spotting Mrs. Graziano. All of a sudden, I felt this great sense of accomplishment that made me want  to  share  my  joy  with  the  entire world.  I  had  felt  this  feeling  a  scarce number of times in the past when people had complimented my writing, but I had never imagined being able to associate the same  sensation  with  my  food.  Prancing over, I could barely hold myself together before pouring all the details about what had just happened. All she did was to smile at me and whisper, “I knew you could do it”

Looking up at her, I could tell she meant exactly what she said—however, I disagreed. I was  able to overcome what was once an overwhelming issue forme, but I certainly did not do  it alone. What happened that day was with the help of all of those who supported me: my  parents who immigrated from China in their 20s with debt to pay off and nothing to their  name, yet were able to afford to give my brother and me the life they could never have, my  grandparents who raised me when my parents didn’t have enough time to look after me every second and worked at the sametime; my aunts and uncles back in China who only knew me as a baby, yet won’t hesitate for a second when it comes tooffering me their support whenever I need it.

I had taken so much of what I had for granted, and now I truly under- stand. I aman American-born Chinese, and it is my responsibility as the first generation to represent my community. It is my duty to stand up for my people when they need help. It is my duty to pass on our beloved traditions to the next generation so they will continue to beloved. It is owing to Wukong that I can communicate in Chinese and not be afraid of showing my heritage. This is my ABC story.

WuKong Education “Tell Us You’re ABC Story” Award-Winning Story: Dumplings: My Love and Hate - WuKong Blog


Thank you for reading “Dumplings: My Love and Hate,” a story rich in the power of cultural heritage. Dora Zhao, at the age of 14, uses dumplings as a thread to weave a sincere narrative, depicting her deep understanding of Chinese culture and her journey to finding personal belonging in a multicultural society through the experience of taste.

Through the sensory experience of taste, Dora shows us how she connects and inherits Chinese culture in her growth journey in the United States. This is not just a story about dumplings; it is a young person’s soulful journey to cultural identity on the global stage.

Thank you, Dora, for sharing your story and adding a unique color to this global collection of Chinese stories. May we continue to meet on this journey of cultural heritage, co-writing the stories that belong to us.




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