A Taste of China
State visit involves kids and culture
Steam arose from the hot stove and filled the room, baking the kitchen with the wonderful aroma of the amazing Chinese food. Some 44 kids from China and the U.S. participated in making spring rolls and dumplings in the kitchen of Blair House, the President's official guesthouse in Washington, D.C.
Called "A Taste of China," this kid-friendly exchange of cultures was part of China's state visit to the U.S. this week. On Wednesday evening, President and Mrs. Obama will welcome China's President Hu Jintao to the White House for an official State Dinner. The dinner is the first in 13 years that will honor China and its leaders.
To prepare for the three-day state visit, the U.S. Chief of Protocol Ambassador Capricia Marshall invited kids from the Chinese Embassy and kids from a local public school, the Emery Education Center, to Blair House. The event also included Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg.
"Seeing these kids together makes me very hopeful for the future of China and American relations," Steinberg told the Scholastic Kids Press Corps at the event. "We need to build good ties between our people—especially our young people—to have good relations in the long future."
In the mixture of different cultures came a lot of chatting. Kids were striking up conversations (in English!) despite their different ages, which ranged from 6 to 12.
As the afternoon activities began, kids were sorted into different groups and led downstairs to the kitchen. There, they learned how to make spring rolls, dumplings, and egg custard. They watched as chefs from a local Chinese restaurant made General Tso's chicken and pan-fried the children's dumplings.
"Surprisingly I discovered that the kids from China aren't very different from us," said Tamia, a 6th-grader from Emery. "Sometimes we play the same and know the same language [English]."
Chinese kids saw something different.
"The most interesting thing about the United States was when we saw the landscape," said one young man from the Chinese embassy as he kneaded a dumpling into shape. "I got really good pictures!"
Participants eventually had to leave the warm, sweet-smelling basement. They were led upstairs into the Garden Room, a huge dining room where six tables were set up with red velvet tablecloths. On the placemat for each seat was a red envelope, a thin piece of paper, and a brush, ready for a lesson in Chinese writing.
Chen Hai, a calligrapher, stood in front of a banner with the Chinese words Da Ai Wu Jiang (Love without Boundary) and Shi Jie He Pin (World Peace). He demonstrated how to paint the characters with the brush, called Mao Bi, an ancient and traditional writing instrument.
Many struggled! It was hard to control the movement of the soft brush. Nevertheless, by their faces, anyone could tell that all the kids were having fun. All managed to write Shi Jie He Pin (World Peace) in Chinese characters.
Just as the kids began declaring their hunger after all that work, a show began. A Chinese boy named Yoyo took the stage and announced the first act, a kung fu demonstration by two boys. A girl then played a song on a Gu Zheng, a traditional Chinese musical instrument. Finally it was a chorus starring all the Chinese kids in attendance.
Of course, the last thing on the schedule was to eat! The Blair House wait staff, the same people who serve kings, queens, presidents, and prime ministers, raised plates of food high above their heads. Steam surrounded them like halos.
Chinese food never tasted better, but dinner was not just about gulping down great food. Conversations buzzed around the room as kids from halfway around the world interacted with one another. Each red envelope on the tables had a slip of paper with a question about China in it. Marshall walked from table to table asking kids to read the questions aloud. Everyone got involved in figuring out the right answer.
"I think it's wonderful that the Chinese and American kids are sitting at the same table, learning more about one another, engaging in conversations, and eating foods that they don't normally eat," Marshall told this reporter.
Alas, it was time to say Zai Jian, or goodbye, but no one left empty-handed. Everyone received a rabbit stuffed animal (the year of the rabbit begins February 3, Chinese New Years), and a better understanding of China and the U.S.
"From your face I see hope for a great future for the China/U.S. relationship," said Yesui Zhang, Ambassador from China to U.S.
Steinberg added that President Obama soon plans to send 100,000 American students to China to further boost communication between the cultures.
"I think we can learn [from other cultures] that there are lots of different ways to think about problems and learn about different ways to work together," he said. "We can learn that even though we have different histories, we all share the same values and the same hopes and dreams."
For more about A Taste of China, check out Kid Reporter Alexandra Zhang's post on the Scholastic Kids Press Corps Blog.
Also, Kid Reporter Andrew Liang just returned from China, where he visited a typical grammar school. Check out his story about how schools in China are different from the U.S. and how they are the same.
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