Thanksgiving Peking Duck

i. the duck

on special occasions:

birthdays, holidays, family reunions

my family always eats peking duck

all day we wait

as the smell of succulent fatty crackling skin

breezes merrily through our house

drawing all to the oven, to the hearth, to the center of home


carving the duck is an artisan’s job

a performance art piece, no less

as the whole family gathers around

plates are set, chopsticks aligned in parallel

with a pop and a fizz, drinks are poured

we settle down for a meal that matters


ii. the garnishes

if the duck is the crown

then our garnishes are its jewels

fat lines of fresh emerald jalapeno,

bespeckled with delicate amber seeds

circular white diamonds from the tips of green onions

long triangles of jade cucumber

reminds us that a star is worth nothing without its supporting cast


reminds us that life is better with the kindness we seek

that every gentle nod and smile

every “i’m thinking of you” text

every inside joke

every loving embrace

every bit of wisdom given freely

is another jewel on our crowns

is another garnish completing our meal

iii. the pancake

thin, and still strong

steamed, and still chewy

mildly sweet, and still satisfying

the pancake is the first and last step

in assembling the peking duck


when i was seven,

my mother taught me how to

perfectly measure your sauce

and swirl it onto the pancake with grace and ease

select the best pieces of duck

the right amount of green onion

and deftly carry them to your plate with your chopsticks

to fold first the sides of the pancake

and then the end

encasing everything in the warm security

of a simple pancake


when i was seven,

my mother also taught me how to tie my shoes

how to check out books from the library

how to bravely sled down any hill

how to find the best parking spots in chinatown

but the lesson i remember best

is how to provide comfort to others

warm others

keep my loved ones close,

and together

wrap the perfect bite


and sometimes, today

my pancakes still fall apart

or rip when i overstuff them

or burn my hands with their heat

i’ve got a lot more to learn

and as i reach for another,

i'm learning


iv. the first and second bites

the first bite is usually the worst

it’s just the pancake and some jalapeno

because, as usual, i’ve stuffed the duck too far down

and though i’ve come to expect this disappointment

it never gets better


the second bite is infinitely superior

when your peking duck skills finally pay off

much like how a star will explode

and elements will break apart, combine, create new things

so will the ingredients

i’ve carefully selected


sometimes, though

i get trapped in a series of first bites

and each day is like an empty disappointment

void of real substance

of flavor, spice, texture

sometimes i forget the feeling of second bites

when my work isn’t paying off

when i feel lonely

or on pause

endlessly chewing some bland, starchy mush


and that’s when i tell myself

yes, first bites are bad

but a second one has to follow

yes, first bites can seem to go on

endlessly

but, the second one will be worth it

and i am more than capable

of finding my second bite

v. the bones

this thanksgiving

when i was getting ready to eat my peking duck

i was asked a question,

by a total stranger nonetheless,

“i guess it's not turkey you’re eating?”

and i felt like i was in the oven

red glowing eyes on me

my flesh roasting slowly

my skin popping and burning


my shame was ugly

like a stripped duck carcass carelessly left behind

odd bits of meat hanging off bones

greasy fat pooling everywhere

grey bones peeking through

forming a useless pile of waste


and i thought: why am i even angry?

because it was true

i didn’t want turkey

i never did

and all year my mind had been focused

on succulent fatty duck


but already, i knew the answer

he had assumed that i would not be eating turkey

because i looked different

because people who look different

must act differently,

right?

i was angry because

people who look different

must celebrate american holidays differently

right?

because he had never ever considered

that it was my choice

to eat turkey or duck

to eat pie or cake

to freely make the choices

that all people are entitled to

because he had looked at me

as a duck in a flock of turkeys


but the best part about peking duck

is that the bones are transformed

that after the main meal is done

the bones are stewed into a delicate light soup

which is met with equal excitement and acclaim

nothing is ever wasted


i stewed my shame with a vengeance

i cooked it until it was nothing

i looked up and saw millions of peking duck eaters

doing the same

i am proud, now

that i can choose between duck and turkey

that i have eaten different foods

that i have seen different sights

that i have spoken different languages

that i am different


next year, who knows?

i might be asked the same question

and if i am

i’ll be ready

with my crown of duck

bejeweled with cucumber

wrapped in a sturdy pancake

and a side of boiled pride

to eat away ignorance

and reclaim my culture

Cover Photo Source: LovePik.com