My Second Chinese New Year @ Illinois
This is the fifth year that I could not go back home to spend Chinese New Year with my family, and it’s also my second year at Illinois. I do miss my parents and friends a lot; however, I don’t really feel lonely because I can celebrate this most important holiday with my close friends right here.
I had hot pot accompanied with CCTV New Year’s Gala 2 years in a row. Even though I was with different groups of people in these years, the togetherness was the same. The preparation for a hot pot dinner serving 6 to 8 people usually takes a whole afternoon because we need to buy broth, enough food, and dipping sauce. Thank to the large population of Asian students and faculties, we have at least 3 Asian grocery stores on campus. I usually go to the 2 bigger ones. One is called Am-Ko, which is owned by a Korean couple, and I can always find the most popular Asian snacks and soft drinks there. The other one is called Far East, and we can get almost all different kinds of fresh food we can see in China, such as sliced beef, sliced lamb, Chinese cabbage, and tofu.
After visiting these 2 stores, we got everything we wanted and were ready to wash and organize ingredients. Some ingredients such as sliced beef only take seconds to be done, so they were placed around the hot pot and cooked by ourselves later. Some other ingredients such as mushrooms and potatoes may take much longer, so they were put in the broth and cooked first. The broth has 2 flavors—one was spicy and the other was not in order to meet different preferences.
Photo taken by Paige Lu
The dinner was a lot of fun. We ate a lot while watching TV, chatting, and serving each other. One of the advantages of hot pot was the feeling of consideration. We would always ask others if they would like to eat anything and serve for them just like family. We might even “fight” for meat and let others eat vegetables as punishment for losing.
After the dinner, we had traditional Chinese desserts. Last year, I dined with people from the Southern part of China, so we had homemade dumplings. This year, all of us are from the northern part of China, so we had Tangyuan, which is also known as sweet soup balls. With so many international students from different areas of China, we have various rituals but pursue the same feeling of togetherness over 7,000 miles away from home. By gathering together, we share similar love toward our family and friends, and hold great hope for the next year.
It’s 19 degrees outside, but my heart is full of gratefulness and warmth. I love it here, and it feels exactly like home.