When I learned our family would be moving to China, I took it upon myself to prepare for the move by reading many books about China. I knew there would be culture shock. Even though I didn’t understand what that meant, I wanted to prepare as best I could. Books by all the experts talked about how different Chinese culture is from American culture, suggesting various strategies for business executives to cope with these differences. Then, when I arrived in China, I learned something very interesting about myself. For the first time, I realized how very different I was from other Americans! Because, the fact is, I’m a Southerner.
I’m from the REAL SOUTH, otherwise known as the "DEEP SOUTH" (not just the South that has now been overrun by people who will tolerate the heat only until the air cond runs out). The Deep South could truly be a different nation from the rest of the United States. In fact, we lost a war trying to make it so. As I have learned through experience, Chinese culture is remarkably similar to American Southern culture. In fact, the two cultures are almost identical in their most important two characteristics. In both cultures we worship our ancestors, and in both cultures we never say what we really think. There are two additional aspects of Chinese culture we Southerners implicitly understand: Guanxi (connections) and Mianzi (saving and giving "face"). Although these cultural traits were invented in China (everything was invented in China, if you didn’t already know), in the Deep South we have perfected them.
Living in Southern China, I find I have even more reason to feel right at home, as Southern and Northern culture seem to have the same defining differences wherever one is located. Just as in the American South, Southerners here take afternoon siestas and understand the value of staying out of the sun. They wake early and work in the "cool of the morning," rest during the "heat of the afternoon," and resume work again after the worst of the blazing sun has passed. Southerners here speak with a dialect that is alien to and poorly understood by Northerners, and they recognize their kinship by their dialect. Northerners talk faster, act rudely, and place more emphasis on dress. They also overran the South! At one time, this was the Nan Yue Kingdom, or the Southern Kingdom. Have you noticed how far north the Capital of China is located, geographically? Do you think if things had been more evenly balanced, the capital would have been located more centrally? No wonder that what we call "Mandarin" is really the dialect of the North. The dialect of the South is what we call Cantonese, even though Mandarin is taught as the standard dialect in school. You know how it goes, the victors get to write the history!
Well, along with intimate knowledge of how to harbor cultural grudges, I feel right at home in a city that defines its culture by food, as well. Northerners like to say that Guangzhou has no culture. In fact, Cantonese culture is a living culture where food plays a very large role. Guangzhou has more restaurants per capita than any other Chinese city, and people spend a greater percentage of their income on food than in other cities. For instance, it it is commonly said that Shanghai people spend all their income on clothing and skimp on food, whereas Guangzhou people spend all their income on food and skimp on clothing; in other words, Shanghai people eat to live, and Guangzhou people live to eat. Is this an insult, or a compliment? I guess it’s a matter of a point of view. For example, if you know Dim Sum, you will know that Canton — Guangzhou — is king. (Some people claim that Hong Kong is the capital of Dim Sum, but where do you think they get it?) Noodles and dumplings here reach a stage of culinary perfection. The food in the markets is so fresh and good here, it’s a cook’s paradise!
But there’s one thing the Chinese can’t do with their dough, because they don’t have ovens (for the most part). There is, truly, one Southern thing that you surely can’t get in China, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Good, old Southern Biscuits. Some Europeans I’ve met here in China have even had the nerve to bestow the name "biscuit" upon something that resembles a cracker. Sacrilege! A good biscuit is so light and fluffy you feel like you are biting into a cloud. And once you bite it, it tastes so good you feel you have been transported to heaven. Actually, most Southern cooks have several different biscuit recipes in their repertoire, as I do. Some recipes are, in fact, a bit crisper or more flavorful than others, especially those of the whole wheat variety. I collect and analyze biscuit recipes with the same gusto that rich gamblers use to collect their prize race horses.
I will include only my easiest biscuit recipe in this Blog entry. This recipe has several major advantages: It is simple and small enough that it’s easy to justify cooking it even for one person, cleanup is easy, the biscuits are light and fluffy, and it’s impossible to mess it up (unless you burn them)! It was given to me by my grandmother, Mary Emma, while I was living in my first apartment, on my own for the first time. As she told me about her secret recipe, she giggled with a kind of joy reserved for sharing happy family secrets, as if she had been waiting for twenty years to finally disclose the family secret to me, that we were related to royalty. "You’ll never believe how simple and easy this is." Painless biscuits for beginners! She said they were called
Mayonnaise Drop Biscuits