"Finding Joy in the Simple Things" — by Derek Lin
Filed in:Derek Lin
----“Lake Bound” by Heron Dance
In 1900, toward the end of the Ch'ing dynasty, China found itself in discord and turmoil. European countries had made their entrance. They easily dominated the scene with their superior technology and firepower. Anti-foreign Chinese militants fought back, even though they were hopelessly outgunned.
The conflict escalated until Beijing itself turned into the battleground. The situation became more and more dangerous until it was no longer prudent for Empress Tz'u-hsi to remain in the palace. Escorted by imperial guards and personal servants, she fled into the countryside.
Fear and uncertainty gripped the dowager empress. What was happening to her palace? Her city? Her country? Never in her sixty-five years had Tz'u-hsi felt so vulnerable. It seemed as if the violence they left behind in Beijing might pounce on them at any moment, threatening even her personal safety.
Days later, they came upon a farming village, and decided to get some much-needed rest. After her seemingly endless, fearful flight, Tz'u-hsi was physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and ravenously hungry. She ordered that food be brought forth at once.
The farmers prepared a meal with the best they had, which wasn't much. They were much too poor to have anything beyond the bare necessities. After much scrounging, they came up with rice porridge and a dish of preserved snails.
To Tz'u-hsi, the meal was incredibly delicious. She went for seconds, and then thirds. She had never tasted such delicacies all her life. Curious, she asked: "What do you call these marvelous dishes?"
The farmers knew the meal was the most common imaginable, without any class or artistic distinctions. But even in times of distress, anything the empress touched had to be appropriate to her exalted station.
"Um . . . Your Majesty had pearl soup and stewed phoenix eyes," they told her.
Empress Tz'u-hsi thought of the cuisine at the palace. Every meal was an elaborate banquet, featuring a hundred and twenty entrees, all painstakingly prepared by imperial chefs. Even though these chef were the best in all of China, none of their culinary creations satisfied her appetite as this remarkable meal she just had.
Later, after the fighting subsided, Tzu-hsi was finally able to return to the palace. Safely ensconced in opulent seclusion, she reflected upon her ordeal. She recalled the pearl soup and the stewed phoenix eyes and wanted to have them again, but much to her annoyance, the imperial chefi swore they had never heard of such things.
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Excerpt From: The Tao of Daily Life: The Mysteries of the Orient Revealed The Joys of Inner Harmony Found The Path to Enlightenment Illuminated