Candied Memories

Beijing’s gourmet food attracts Malaysian adoration

Recently, a Malaysian poem has hovered in the depths of my heart: “Like fish swimming in the pond and flowers germinating in the garden, if you love deeply enough, you will feel at ease, irrespective of distance.” This verse deftly captures my affection for Beijing. I feel like if love is profound enough, flowers will flourish everywhere, each representing a reason to love you.

Beijing holds a special position in my heart. At first it seemed extremely strange, so the first approachable thing to quickly shorten the spiritual distance between us will always hold a special place in my heart: bingtanghulu (candied haws on a stick, a traditional Chinese snack), the princess’ favorite food outside the Forbidden City in the Chinese period drama My Fair Princess. Now please listen!

Human Feelings Dripping Like Syrup

The first spark of my love toward Beijing was like stewing the syrup, the most crucial step in making bingtanghulu. It requires patiently boiling the sharp and hard crystal sugar with a gentle fire until it gives off a mellow caramel aroma. This is similar to the process of brewing my love for Beijing, a strange place at first.

Beijing people quickly warmed my heart, from acquaintances including a close friend studying at the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, to my new teachers and classmates, even cleaning ladies and street vendors. Everyone showed me Beijing’s humanity by making me feel incomparably warm.

Even now, I often giggle while just wandering the street. Watching the hustle and bustle of Beijingers around me kindles inexplicable warmth in my heart, maybe because it naturally causes recall of all my memories of human feelings and care I have acquired in Beijing! Whenever I crept into the study room late at night because I could not sleep, some other students were always around to silently watch over me. When I lugged a large bottle of drinking water from the supermarket to my fifth-floor dormitory, some students always managed to help me without asking. When I visited the fruit and vegetable market, merchants would even deliver my purchase to my school if it’s too much to carry! When someone is caring about you, you feel at home wherever you are! Human feelings warm my heart, which is the core reason I love Beijing.

Delicious Red Fruit

Love is not only about romance. It can’t be maintained with only vague whispers.

The first step of making bingtanghulu is threading plump and thick hawthorns one-by-one onto bamboo sticks. The sweet and sour fruits properly represent the reason why I love Beijing: the city’s delicacies.

The numerous delectable offerings in the university cafeteria make eating a joyful experience every time. If each kind of food is a reason for love, I love Beijing 100 times over. Clay oven rolls with pepper, salt, sesame paste or Laoganma (spicy paste) flavor are a delight for breakfast, as are steamed buns with vegetable stuffing, pies, rolls, pancakes, porridge, or vegetable cakes. As for lunch and dinner, you can try cold dishes, noodles, dumplings, or fried rice. You can eat something different every day of the month!

I also enjoy the variety of fruits and vegetables in the market. Beijing’s seasonal fruits are very fresh to me because they are quite different from the local fruits in my tropical home country! Strawberries in spring, grapes and red bayberries in summer, persimmons in autumn, and tangerines and pomegranates in winter all make me wish each day had four seasons! Capturing the heart requires conquering the stomach first. Delicacies in Beijing have claimed victory over my heart!

A young couple buys bingtanghulu outside the east wall of the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, a popular tourist attraction known for ginkgo trees. (ZHAN CHAOYUE)

Warm Memories Coated in Sugar

Finally, each stick of hawthorns is immersed in a crystal syrup flowing over a gentle fire until they are wrapped in a bright coat. The gleam of the finished product makes my heart tremble. And like this last step, my time and memory in Beijing are about the convergence of the two and result in difficulties extricating myself from the place.

My daily life in Beijing fuses simplicity and amazement. Every moment leaves a unique mark on my memory. Everywhere a memory lies, longing follows; when longing is relieved, love blooms. Every stone and shingle gradually enhance my love for Beijing as do ordinary classes, evening musical training in rehearsal studios, relaxation in my dormitory at the end of the day, weekend strolls around the school, chats with merchants, student group activities, live performances, and the time spent with my roommates to study before exams.

These seemingly plain memories all capture my affection for Beijing. Every time I think of you, a smile subconsciously spreads across my face, symbolizing my love for you!

Bingtanghulu drips like my love for Beijing. Although its ingredients are simply haws and sugar, the taste varies with each stick and each bite. Similarly, even the same people I meet doing the same things in Beijing can ignite different feelings every time.

Beijing has nurtured my growth and progress. My love for Beijing grows with each passing day as I continue appreciating my daily life with you. My experience riding the winds and breaking the waves on campus constantly created more reasons to love Beijing!

By Lee Chung Hua

Editor’s note: When attending school in a foreign country, students not only acquire classroom knowledge, but also personally experience the charm of the country while sharing their own culture with more individuals as messengers of people-to- people exchange. Among the essays on “Beijing and I” collected by Beijing People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, we selected several stories about Beijing written by students from ASEAN countries.

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