Monday, December 17, 2007

Choppin It Up (two sticks)

By Ki Han

The history of chopsticks, and how they unite Asians together

Using II stix (two sticks) to transport food from your plate or bowl to your mouth… what a concept! What I’m talking about here are chopsticks. A much more civilized and versatile eating utensil then plain old fork, many people use chopsticks all over the world. Instead of just stabbing at your food, you simply pick it up by manipulating the two sticks between your fingers. Not everyone knows how to use chopsticks the correct way, but after just a few tries it is very easy to get the hang of eating with them.

These simple yet useful utensils have been around for a very long time, originating from China around 400 B.C. and then spreading to other Asian countries by 500 A.D. Chopsticks vary from country to country, but the basic concept and function remains the same… to eat! Chopsticks in China are called “Kuai Zi”, in Japan they are called “Hashi”, and in Korea they are called “Jhuk Kha Rak.” So how do these eating sticks differ from country to country? Chinese chopsticks are generally a bit longer than its Japanese or Korean counterparts, usually measuring somewhere between 8 to 10 inches in length. Japanese chopsticks tend to be a bit pointier at the ends and Korean chopsticks are often made out of stainless steel, which makes them quite heavier than Kuai Zi’s or Hashi’s. You can get a pretty good workout on your hand from using Korean chopsticks… I should know, I use them everyday…

At first glance, these II stix might not seem like very much at all. We eat with them, we wash them, we put them away until the next meal, and that’s about it. We often do not put too much thought into any significance this simple utensil may hold. But when you think about it, they are quite symbolic in their own little way.

Chopsticks are one way we can identify ourselves as being Asian. When was the last time an establishment offered you chopsticks at a non-Asian restaurant? These sticks that we use at mealtime tell a lot about our culture and our heritage. Many of our native foods are meant to be consumed using them… the way Chinese people shovel their rice from their bowls, the way Korean people pick up or split Kimchi, and the way Japanese people eat Udon using their “Waribashi.” The way we eat and what we eat with helps us to identify with our Asian backgrounds and cultures. Just imagine doing the same thing with your fork that you do with your chopsticks, it just wouldn’t have the same effect.

Each and every time I eat using chopsticks, it never fails to remind me of my heritage and how proud I am to be Asian. I always think back to when my mother would put extra food on my plate using her chopsticks. Or how many times I have set the table with chopsticks at dinnertime. Sometimes I wonder about how many meals the chopsticks I hold in my hands have gone through, and how many more they will see. They have been with my family through the good times, the bad times, and most importantly, all the time. They have always been a constant in my life.

These chopsticks that I hold in my hand, they are very powerful indeed. So if these II stix can be a common thread that can unite and bond my family, then I also wonder if it can help to unify and strengthen all Asian people. If anything, it is something that we can all relate to and understand. So perhaps one day we can put aside all our petty differences, sit down together in peace and brotherhood, and have a good meal using our chopsticks.

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