Immersing oneself completely in another culture is not something I have done. Reading Shark’s Fin & Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China tells me the experience is disorienting to the point of retreat or escape. Luckily for would-be readers, author Fuchsia Dunlop endured to tell the story of transformation from a foreigner in a strange land to a person who discovered a long hidden desire for culinary study and mastery. After initially visiting Chengdu on a previous trip in 1992, Dunlop arranges for a year of study that ultimately connected her with her true passion. You might relate to parts of her story.
Students who get good grades at school are not encouraged to run away and work in restaurants. I remember one middle-school teacher laughing at me, incredulous, when I told him of my ambition. So I carried on passing exams, working hard and doing what is expected of me. It was in China, thousands of miles away from home and almost completely cut off from my past, that I was able to do what I really wanted. Finally I was able to admit to myself that I was no socio-economic analyst, not really even a journalist, but a cook. It was in the kitchen, chopping vegetables, mixing dough in my hands or seasoning a soup, that I felt completely myself.
Your passion might not include cooking. However, the traits that showed up for Fuchsia as she made the transition from scholar to cook are traits you can choose to emulate. By reading the memoir, I noticed her ability to let go of preconceived notions and follow her heart. She engaged in curious pondering and experimentation. It would have been easy to stay with her plan and retreat to her studies as a form of safety and security.
If you don’t want to take the time and money to be a foreigner in a strange land, this memoir allows you the opportunity to imagine. Lose yourself in the drenching heat and humidity of sharing a hotpot with friends and then set your book down and enjoy whatever comforts you associate with security and ease. Who knows what lessons, analogies or discoveries you will make without ever purchasing a plane ticket?
Every week during 2014 I look forward to sharing books that I am reading. The lens of the leadership process will be the filter for which I recommend books. Books are powerful vehicles for providing us with inspiration and new ideas.