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Changsha, Hunan

Written by Daniel Otero

Spirit of Changsha

By: Daniel Otero

Flying from Jacksonville to JFK, my flight wouldn’t only take me to my hometown of New York City.  It would go beyond, to Shanghai and finally arriving in Changsha, Hunan.  Which by the way, gave me plenty of time to think.

As people read this article, people might ask themselves.  Oh my goodness, why is this guy writing about another sappy love story?  Bearing his personal life.

After all, I am the typical red-blooded American, bachelor and didn’t have any children.  Seeing what I saw in divorce rates, I was scared away from marriage for many years.

A little more about my personality.  Yep, I like my red meats, enjoy my pizzas, hamburgers and hot dogs on the 4th of July and salute the Star-Spangled Banner every time I see it, getting all emotional.  Prior service, you know.

But it was her, my changing point when I decided upon my decade in China to establish deeper roots with the Chinese community.  People may be shocked and say with exclamatory surprise, “A decade in China?  What are you doing there?”

Xiao qin is the first young lady doing a peace sign from the right

A decade before, I was destitute, without a place to go and homeless–after the market crashed of 2008.  I decided to take my degrees, everything which I learned and go for an exploratory two-year trip to China.  I didn’t know it would turn into a decade of ups and downs, from becoming a journalist for the Beijing Global Times, teaching young adults at Nanjing University and later educating High Students.  I understood that China with its complexities and issues can be a place of discovery.  A country to find oneself, enjoy the culture and food.  Chinese can be extremely friendly, deep rooted in their traditions, but helpful.  And this was my turning point in China, should I stay or should I go?

I was about to go and return home, when from out of the blue, I met the most beautiful girl from Hunan.  I know with these words, her ego will inflate with pride tenfold.  Her name is Xiao Qin and she was a teacher as myself in Hui-dong at the time.

Everything has a beginning.  For me, my commencement of a new life, began in Hui-dong, Guangdong.  You see, I am a middle-aged 50 something gentlemen with already my salt-and-pepper.  When I met this lovely young-lady 17 years my junior from Changsha. Although, she insist on adding years to her age. You know, the Chinese thing of adding a year to their actual age, for the time spent inside the womb.  Why do I state this fact? Because, yours truly was always a late bloomer when it came to life.  As a matter of fact, I am still.

We started out as friends and later, as it turned out, we fell in love.  We spoke about family.  Therefore, one romantic night, we decided to start a family by making a baby!

In this beginning, I decided to learn everything from Hunan which I could. A province to be honest I know little about.  That is when I stepped into some deep and intense culinary experiences.  Tasting the hot and spicy elements of this provincial-breathtaking art.  Food was/is the uniting element/force; especially to unite families in China.  This is something deeply ingrained into the fabric of Chinese society, throughout the country and especially in Hunan.  This ‘laowai’ (foreigner) made a shocking impression with her family to say the least. With my positives and negatives…

Sadly, it’s rarely the same anymore in my beloved United States, where many homes feel more like ‘airports’; family members coming and going. Back in America few take the time to sit at the table, eat and do small talk about their day anymore.  It is what unites families after all in love and care.  Not what’s happening today, people are distancing themselves more and more!

But let’s talk about food.

The platters that came when I tasted the elements inside a restaurant called, ‘Lao Changsha/Old Changsha’ made everything exciting, mouth watering.  Tasting the eggs with crystal-noodles in soy and red-hot-chili peppers decorating with spicy-flavor made everything fascinatingly-exotic!

When Xiao QIn began cooking for me, her love for Hunan came through with the spirit of spice.  She wanted to captivate me and she certainly did! Green and red peppers decorated all the dishes.  From the tomato and egg platter which garnished, to her desire to impress me with the gorgeous tofu she made. Dishes were and are as sexy as she is.

Hunan spicy beef with white rice

It captivated every sense in me indeed.

Now, Hunan cuisine isn’t for the faint of heart.  It can be intense and spicy. However, you can also request for a milder version when outside of China. Inside of Mainland, you may just have to certainly adapt.

The baby is due to come and it will be a December child.  If it’s a girl, we will name her, Maya and if it’s a boy, William (after my beloved cousin Willie).  And I know, one thing is for sure.  I hope that with our baby we can share the cultures between east and west.  The fascination for the use of chopsticks.  Fascinating it will be, because as he or she grows-up, I hope our child can taste a great steak and potatoes at places like the ‘Cracker Barrel’. But also fall in love for his/her mother’s provincial foods, spices and local language.  What can anybody better wish for?  Than for the deliciousness of Hunan.  Just doesn’t get any greater.

Dedicated to my love, Xiao Qin.

About the author

Daniel Otero

A New Yorker who has been living in China for the past 10 years. He's a freelance writer/journalist and ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher.

A former member of the military with extensive travel to 50 countries and has lived in six.

Lover of life, good food, travel, writing and dealing with social issues.