For four weeks, I have been living in a village in southwest China called Xizhou. Prior to arrival, we had to choose a topic that we were greatly interested in. This became our inquiry project. From a wide variety of topics provided by Mr. Tafel, our teacher/supervisor, I chose to do food and cuisine in Xizhou. My plan was to learn how to cook dishes served in restaurants here in Xizhou, so I could recreate them back in Shanghai. I choose this topic because of many reasons. First, I love food, and am extremely interested in different culture's foods. Second, my Mother is an excellent chef and I want to follow in those footsteps. Third, when I go to college and enter into the adult world, I will need to be able to make my own food so I can remain healthy, and not starve.
In general, my sources were chefs at restaurants here in Xizhou. Specific names are, Mrs. Yang and Mrs. Zhong who sell clay pot rice noodles (ShaGuoMiXian), Mr. Kang and Mrs. Zhao who own a well known restaurant called Old Town Snacks, as well as Mrs. Dong who is the head chef at another restaurant called the Golden Flower Restaurant. Other key sources are Mr. Yang and Mrs. Li, Mr. Wang and Mrs. Yang, Mrs. Lia, as well as another Mr. Yang. All of these sell Xizhou Ba Ba, a dish that is kind of like the pizza of this area.
I chose these sources for many reasons. Each of these own a well known restaurant in this area that vends great food. I chose these people because at lunch time over the span of many days, I would eat a really good dish at any of the restaurants owned by the people mentioned above, and would want to know how to make it after I leave Xizhou so I can share it with my family, and also eat it myself. During inquiry project time, I would then ask them how to make the dish.
Mostly, my project was trying to answer the questions of what ingredients are used in Xizhou cuisine, as well as how I can prepare the ingredients and then cook them. I also had some questions on the topic of the people who make the dishes, such as where they learned, and what memories does cooking bring out for them.
In my project, I will share how to make five dishes and my personal journey while learning how to make those dishes. These dishes are, ShaGuoMiXian, Xizhou Ba Ba (savory), Xizhou Ba Ba (sweet), Tafel fried ErSi, and fried rice. ShaGuoMiXian is a Yunnan specialty, Xizhou Ba Ba is native to, of course, Xizhou, Tafel Fried ErSi is a recent creation, inspired by my teacher, Mr. Tafel. Fried rice is a dish eaten all around China.
In order to understand my journey and what I learned while learning about Xizhou cuisine, one must consider the ingredients used by local chefs, and the methods of preparation for the dishes.
Sharing My Learning
For my final product, I made a personal journey and product combination. I made a cookbook including stories about what happened as I learned to make the foods, and an overall journey page where I explained what I learned from the entire experience. I started by using iBooks Author, and app I have on my computer, and planned to publish that. Instead, I exported it as a PDF and it is shared above. I hope you enjoy reading it.
From the inquiry project, I took away many things. First, I discovered that I should not be shy, and should not be afraid of people because in the end, almost all of them are kind human beings. At the beginning, I would not want to make the first contact with locals in a conversation because I was afraid I might mess up. Of those mistakes, locals were generally very welcoming, and they would answer all questions to the best of their abilities. I also learned that I should keep persevering at communication and never give up when someone does not understand me. As well as this, I learned to ask questions whenever I do not understand a word or need to know more on a topic in order to maximize my learning.
My topic did not change over the course of this trip. However, I made a few slight modifications. Firstly, I had just planned on making a cookbook without the personal journey part. However, after talking to Mr. Tafel about it I decided to add in the personal journey part to bring it closer to me, as well as make my work more interesting. I felt that my project needed a more human side to it, a side that people could connect with, one that would make my topic more interesting to not just people interested in food, but also more interesting to people who are interested in people. The main reason that my topic did not change because I was happy with it from the beginning and I like the topic of food. It is quite an interesting topic because in one dish, there can be so many variations of the methods. Take, for example, ShaGuoMiXian. Mrs. Yang and Mrs. Zhao use different soups, one boils meat, and one boils a bone.
The most difficult part of my research was probably making first contact with the people. On occasion, Mrs. Mai or Mr. Tafel would walk up to their good friends and start talking as well as lead in to me asking a question, but I would always get nervous whenever I made first contact. I would think to myself, What if I mess up, or, What happens if I they send me away? However, these fears were all unfounded, because even if the people I approached did not understand the first question, they were warm and welcoming, and would never turn down my questions. Every single person who I talked to in Xizhou was open and accepting. Whenever I messed up, they would not say anything or make a big deal out of it.
During the course of my project, I did not have any epiphanies. There was one moment where I realized that the same meat and soup is used in all the cooking at the Old Town Snacks restaurant, but I hardly count that as an epiphany. So overall, there were no "a-ha" moments or epiphanies while I was learning to make foods and learning about Xizhou cuisine. I felt that at Microcampus, I would learn so much in one day, but would never have an epiphany as a result of the information.
Before leaving Shanghai, I knew next to nothing about my topic, Xizhou cuisine. I knew a bit about Yunnan cuisine, and knew the names of some foods served in Xizhou. I also knew how to cook some foods from other places in the world, but I knew nothing of Xizhou cuisine. Overall my project helped me immensely in understanding Xizhou cuisine. I not only learned about how to make the foods, I also learned a bit about the origins of the food and when they came into Xizhou. Also, I learned a bit about the chefs, and a lot about the ingredients. I learned that all ingredients are made fresh, made the night before the dishes are served. I learned that chefs of Xizhou are open, and they learn their trade from all over Yunnan and even Sichuan province. Overall, my project created almost all my understanding of my topic.
Without my inquiry project, I am not sure that I would have had the courage to approach random people and form connections. With my interest in foods, I was able to form connections with chefs at restaurants all around Xizhou. I was able to learn from locals and interact with them, and try to integrate myself into their society. A person who I felt I particularly bonded with would be Mrs. Zhao. She would always be so kind and helpful, willing to answer any question and talk about her foods. Whenever I would enter her restaurant for lunch, she would give recommendations for foods to eat. She would ask what my opinions were on her food, and of course, it was all good food. Again, without my inquiry project, I do not think I would have formed connections with locals.
This project helped me to understand myself as a person greatly. I learned that I am shy, and can get nervous, but in the end can persevere past these problems. My inquiry project showed me that when I want to get work done and be efficient in gathering as much information as possible I can gather as much information as I want. It taught me not to be afraid of messing up, and to keep asking questions even if the people do not understand me. It taught me that I should not be shy, and should not be afraid to talk to the locals of Xizhou. It taught me to never give up in my search for more information even if there are hardships or challenges.
Besides helping me understand myself as a person, my inquiry project also helped me understand myself as a learner. It showed me that I am better than I thought at asking questions, and taking initiative for my own learning. It taught me that I could manage my own learning and still get as much, if not more, work done in the time I have than if I had teacher guidance for the entire time. The inquiry process taught me that as a learner I can ask questions and manage my learning well by myself. It taught me that as a learner I could persevere in order to learn more than and would do so in order to maximize my learning.
If I could go back to the beginning of my project and change something in order for me to learn more, I would decide on what dishes I wanted to learn beforehand, and not get just a broad variety of dishes to chose from. I would also want to change my project to also learn more about the actual chefs, their experiences, and their memories about learning to cook. Overall, the advice that would have helped me beforehand would be to learn more about the chefs and focus on specific dishes. Another piece of advice would be to not be afraid to ask questions.
If future Microcampus students want to continue my work, I would say go for it. Continue learning about different dishes, and then maybe, in many years, we could have a Xizhou cookbook, encompassing almost all Xizhou foods, However, I would say to focus specifically on one type of dish, such as how to make Muslim cuisine, or, how to make Bai cuisine. Also, I say to also bring a more human side to the project and talk to chefs about their life while learning to cook. Overall, if you do want to continue with my topic, chose one specific dish, and make cooking a side topic. Focus on the chef's lives and learn their interesting life stories, tell those stories, and intertwine them with the food they make.
I would like to thank Mr. Tafel and Mrs. Mai, for giving suggestions, guidance, and supporting my learning. I would like to thank all my sources, Mrs. Zhao, Mr. Kang, Mrs. Dong, Mrs. Lia, Mrs. Yang, Mrs. Zhong, Mrs. Li, Mr. Wang, Mr. Yang, and Mr. Yang. They have given me all the information I needed for my project and were very warm and welcoming, as well as kind whenever I talked to them. They enlightened me on the topic of Xizhou cuisine. I also would like to thank my Mum, because she supported me throughout this project and gave me suggestions when we talked on Skype at night. I would also like to thank Mr. Linden and his family for hosting us at the Linden Center, and being kind and generous with their hospitality. My teachers, in my opinion, also deserve a big "thank you" because they supported me in order to keep up with my SAS essentials school work, and they allowed me to leave their classes for one month in order to learn in a different way.
Overall, my inquiry project, and Microcampus in general, was extremely fun. My inquiry project was enlightening, it taught me so much, in the terms of food and of life lessons. Microcampus is a great experience, it helped me get used to being away from my family, it helped me learn a lot, and experience many new, interesting things. In summary, Microcampus is a life changing experience, from which, you learn a lot, have fun, and also grow extremely as a person.