For Shanti, love always.
This blog started because of her. I started to write again because of her. I cooked and baked and threw dinner parties again because of her. She was one of the few who stood behind me in those trying times, who made me laugh and giggle again, urged me to pursue my dreams, and taught me how to use social media.
Most of all, she taught me the meaning of resilience and told me to dare to dream.
She is Shanti, author of this amazing cookbook. You might look at it and wonder, what is the big deal? I will tell you.
7 years ago we met in Beijing, she had a blog about family cooking all around China. She would travel at her own expense to unridden places, stay with Chinese families even though she might not be able to communicate with them in their dialects, and learn how they cooked the simple yet delectable dishes, village by village, city by city, province by province, region by region. Her dream, she told me, was to collate all those recipes and photographs, combine them with the stories of these people, and publish a cookbook.
I met her during some of my darkness days. I probably cancelled on so many coffee appointments but she did not give up making sure I was alive. One evening I was so sick and probably by then, had not eaten for a few days. She showed up at the door with chicken soup and macaroni and made me eat. I told her my childhood dream was to be an author. She prompted gently, “Why don’t you start a blog? I can show you how…”
And so, I started a blog – one of those free ones on WordPress with free templates, and I typed with fury all my anger, disappointments, agony, hopes, tears. We continued to chat, to muse, to hope, to imagine as the few years went by. She went through her ups and downs, had major life changes, and eventually left Beijing three years ago. I went my way; she went her’s. Occasionally we would write each other, but mostly we kept abreast of each other’s thereabouts via Facebook.
From time to time, I wondered what happened to her blog as I continued to develop mine over the years. I thought she had given up on the cookbook idea. During that time, I had found an agent for my book proposal and then severed my contract with him, then shelved my book idea for other projects, like becoming a mother, my studies, and my consulting business. But I saw on her Instagram food photos every now and then. And I continued to wonder how she was doing and what she was doing. Ashamedly I stopped short at wondering and failed to drop her that quick note to ask and check-in.
Then one day, I decided to go past the Great Firewall with my VPN and get on Facebook. I scoffed back tears as I saw the update from Shanti, announcing she had published a cookbook and it was ready for pre-ordering. Beyond my envy and thoughts of “Shit! Why have I not written my book yet?”, it was an overwhelming sense of respect and relief that I felt for her. She had not given up, and for that, I was touched with admiration.
I did not need her to tell me the emotional journey she must have gone through the last few years before approaching this pinnacle. I know the book represents blood and sweat, and probably lots of rejections and hurdles before it became print. I know how hard it was for her to go through loneliness and life changes. I know the tears she wept and the wounds she had to dress.
Yet, she did not give up. She soldiered on. She kept up her smile. She continued to have the courage to dream.
And I look at myself – where has my ambition gone? Where have my dreams gone? Where are my hopes? What keeps me from my writing now, and trying again? We all have our dark days, be it depression and anxiety, or family issues, or career identity crises, or every other imaginable crazy form of shit life throws at us. There are times we feel like we are stuck under 50 feet of snow, that our world has no meaning, and we might as well shrivel away.
But can we maintain that one ounce of hope, if not in the world, but in ourselves? Can we have the courage to hold on to that dream we once had, and try to edge one inch closer to bringing it into reality? Can we face up to ourselves, be blatant and honest to ourselves, and admit that our procrastination and the excuses we have for not trying are but irrational fears?
Can we, like Shanti, fight until we churn goals into reality?
Maybe you do not cook. Maybe you do not need another recipe book. Maybe the mixtures and measurements printed on the pages are but alphabets and numbers. Altogether however, they become a representation of one woman’s aspiration, courage, love, adaptability, and resilience.
To me, buying this book is not so much for the pretty photographs or impressing your friends at the next dinner (though it does not preclude you from doing so), but a reminder of how life takes us meandering through unexpected pathways, and a symbol of “Dreams do come true – as long as you do not give up.”
Do not give up – a prod for you, and for me.