Long’s Drug, Hilo, Hawaii | Photograph by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, contributor
After a long trip away from home, one of the first things I always do upon our return is take all the kids to buy groceries at our favorite Chinese grocery store. I love watching them zip around, squealing as they load up our basket, “Ooooh! It’s been so long since we’ve had cong you bing!” “Xiao long bao! I want xiao long bao!” and “I haven’t seen this kind of zhu rou gan in soooooo long!”
At Tsai Grocery, the kids and I all know what and where everything is. There is none of the uncertainty that comes with travel and being in new and unfamiliar environs. Our tested and favorite brands are there where they always are. We recall our favorite dishes that we have missed all summer. We find comfort and grounding here among the steamed buns. We have not really come home until we replenish our pantry and cook our first meal together.
This day, we also go to the Wednesday farmers’ market. We marvel at the end-of-summer abundance of produce, such a contrast to the vegetables we found the last time, in the middle of winter. We know what to expect — tomatoes, sweet corn, peaches — and we marvel at the surprises — collard greens, blueberries, bitter melon. We are caught up in the rhythms of the season as the seasons shift, pushing us forward into autumn. The children sample the free tries. I say hi to old friends. We walk leisurely back and forth through the whole farmers’ market, comparing prices, relishing the sunshine. We fill our Hawaiian print cloth bags with produce and buy Little Brother his requisite farmer’s market cookie.
We take a peek at Monahan’s Fish Market and Sparrow Meats with the thought of trying something new, but I am vegetarian and all the different types of fish and different cuts of meat are too much for me, I cannot decipher what they all mean.
Almost as a salve, we stop at the Foods of India grocery store to buy channa and naan, and then we go to Jerusalem Market grocery store to buy tahini and olive oil. We are craving hummus after being away from the Midwest all summer.
In the windows of both the Indian and the Middle Eastern grocery stores are big signs, “Fresh dates—the best of the season,” and I suddenly think of Ramadan. I remember conversations with friends who were only recently fasting. Friends who broke their fasts every night with dates, tabbouli, and yogurt. Their children who were proudly trying to fast for the first time. Together we enjoyed the last of these long summer days, savoring each other’s company until the last rays of sunlight leave the park, eating dinner only after dark. Soon it will be Oktoberfest and Moon Festival.
Now As we prepare for a new season, a new school year, we let ourselves be rocked by the steady tempo of the seasons as we remember what we love and look forward to beginning the cycle once again.
Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Michigan and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is a contributor for New America Media Ethnoblog, Chicagoistheworld.org, PacificCitizen.org, and InCultureParent.com. She team-teaches Asian Pacific American History and the Law at the University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her Web site at franceskaihwawang.com, her blogs at franceskaihwawang.blogspot.com and rememberingvincentchin.com, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.