My aunt and uncle were in town a few weeks ago and we hosted them for dinner at ours. I threw together a few simple dishes — fresh steamed seafood from the market, a spicy wok-fried eggplant dish, obligatory leafy greens — and plopped them on the dinner table. They were in disbelief.
“You cook now?” My uncle asked.
His comment brought me back to my adolescent days in Canada — when I actually had a regular relationship with the extended family there — and the person I was back then. (Hint: not a particularly enlightened foodie.)
In that brief moment, it occurred to me that my aunt and uncle had a completely different image of me than my actual current self — it was an image that was frozen in time and had not managed to evolve since I moved back to Hong Kong and out of their lives. We had simply lost touch over the years: they did not keep up with my adult life, and I did not keep up with theirs.
Even with my own parents, whom I see roughly twice a year, I sometimes sense a chasm between their version of me — the version they had known best when they brought me up as a child and rebellious teen — and the person I had actually become since I left their home, ages and ages ago.
“I thought you hated onions,” my father might randomly say when we sit down for a meal these days. And this would have been a true statement for a good two-thirds of my life — between the ages of 3 and 18, when I couldn’t stand the pungent fumes. But I have grown to love onions in my adult life, and still, this not-so-new-anymore piece of information has somehow refused to register with dad. For all he knows, I’m probably still picking out the icky pieces when I encounter an onion-laced dish on my own.
I’m guilty too of being stuck in the past. My little sister used to hate anything spicy. She couldn’t stand the taste of Sichuan chilies. That was the last impressionable food memory I had of her before I moved to Hong Kong. I know that she’s a spice fiend these days, and mala hot pot is one of her favorite dishes.
And yet, despite fully understanding this new development, my stubborn brain just can’t process how this could’ve happened without my taking part. So at the end of the day, it’s strangely comforting to forget that baby sis can in fact handle those peppery red monsters, thank you very much. Because it hurts too much otherwise.