Monday, 28 January 2013
Gathering round a traditional Chinese hotpot
I've just returned from a lovely evening with two Chinese students with names which English people find unpronounceable and so whom I know as Leo and Kevin. It was an unusual scene: we sat in the conservatory at the back of their student digs in Headingley with their two housemates Ben and Kelly and ate from a traditional "hot pot." I had never seen one before. Basically it's a large round container with an element within and throughout the meal a very spicy stock bubbled away within it. My hosts would occasionally pop pieces of fish, pork or beef or tofu or lettuce into it, later noodles, and we would all draw items out with chopsticks (Kevin helped me here) once they were cooked. It was truly delicious. I was very impressed by them all, not least by their English. We talked about their homes, their parents' careers and their hopes for the future. They also asked me questions about my faith, for example, "What is Mass?"; "Why are you a Catholic?" It's great to be asked to describe the reasons for one's hope in a short time at a dinner table. In the Chinese educational system religious education does not figure.
I do not know how much they learnt from me but I have been left with some very positive impressions of them. My companions have a strong sense of belonging to their families; they are keen to explore the world and they are conscious of the privilege of being able to travel, something that by and large their parents have not been able to do; and they are well brought up: Leo and Kevin escorted me to my car at the end of the evening even though it was bitingly cold.
One of the best stories of the evening was told by Ben. Having recently arrived in England he went into a restaurant and ordered "hot pot" - hoping to be reminded of home-cooking - only to be served with a steaming dish of lamb chunks and potatoes originating from Lancashire! Such students greatly enrich our city. It's humbling that young people from a secularised society like modern China should be such models of gentle attentiveness. The New Evangelisation is a curious phenomenon: we find ourselves in the first instance wanting to emulate those whom in the second instance we want to convert!