The Simplest Things in Life
Elizabeth Wang, Winner
Every night when I walk to bed, I see my mom watching a Chinese soap opera on TV. Although this is nothing special, I remember one time when I was young when I saw a food in the soap opera that she was watching that immediately caught my attention. Curious at what the food was, I asked my mom and she replied, “It is called a train bento.” I asked my mom if she had ever had one before, and all of a sudden, my mom got very excited and started to tell me about when she was little girl and had a chance to try a train bento.
One day my grandpa brought my mom to Shin-zhu to join him at a friend wedding. In these days, the only public transportation to Shin-zhu was by train, and because the train was so slow, a trip from Gun-sun where my mom lived to Shin-zhu took at least took nine hours. During the day of the wedding, my mom had to get up very early in the morning to take the train so she would arrive at the wedding on time, so early that she did not even have time for breakfast. By noon, my mom was very hungry since she hadn’t eaten anything all day when she heard a train vendor yelling “Bento, bento, good taste bento.” Grandpa, knowing how hungry my mom, was bought a single bento and shared it with my mom.
“You knew when I was young, bentos were very luxurious for me. When Grandpa opened the bento, the first bite that I took was so delicious I can still remember it. Inside the bento, there was a fried pork chop, half of a stewed hard boil egg, some sour and sweet vegetable, and white rice. So simple and delicious.”
For a long time, I wanted to try a train bento to see what it tasted like. This was when I started to keep a list to keep track of all the foods I would want to try. Years went by and eventually my small notebook was filled with all sorts of food I wanted to try, all of which I saw on the Chinese soap operas my mom watched on TV. I thought I would never have the chance to try these foods.
One evening near the beginning of last November, the opportunity finally came. My mom had just gotten off the phone with my brother when she came up to me and told me “We’re going to Taiwan this winter!” My brother had saved up enough vacation days to spend a month in Taiwan and he wanted to take the entire family. I couldn’t hold in how excited I was about the news, and ran upstairs immediately to start packing even though we wouldn’t travel for at least a month.
As I counted down the days for our trip to Taiwan, I looked at my notebook every day trying to figure out which food I wanted to eat the most. Although I had been to Taiwan once before, I was so young that I did not remember much from my trip. When the day finally came for our family to go to Taiwan, I could not wait for the plane to land in Taiwan.
After 15 hours of being on the plane, we arrived in Taipei where my uncle picked us up at the airport. Since it was lunchtime, I excited took out my small notebook of food and pointed out to my uncle what I wanted to eat. When I showed him that I wanted to eat shaved snow for lunch, my uncle laughed saying that we will have to wait until later to have that. Slightly disappointed, I went to the next item on my list – beef noodle soup.
As the days went by, one by one, I was able to cross food items off of my list. Since my uncle really loved going out to eat, we had the chance to try so many different foods I didn’t even have on my list. These foods were so good I wanted a new notebook just to keep track of these foods. My family stayed in Taipei for several days with my uncle before it was time to leave for Taichung to visit my aunt. While I was sad to have to leave my uncle’s place in Taipei, I was excited about having the chance to try a train bento when we would take the MRT to Taichung.
After my uncle dropped us off at the MRT station, we said our goodbyes and we were on our way to Taichung. As we sat on the MRT, I waited patiently for somebody to come by selling bentos but minutes went by, hours went by, and there was nobody. After a few hours on the MRT, my mom woke me up from my nap to tell me that we were almost in Taichung. I was incredibly disappointed at not having the chance to try the train bento that I had waited so long to try. When we got off the MRT, my mom saw my aunt waiting for us in the parking lot of the station, and we slowly made our way over to her with our luggage. When we got to her car, I couldn’t help but wonder what delicious smell was coming out of a plastic bag in the passenger seat of the car. After we had filed into the car and sat down, my aunt turned around and started pulling small boxes out of the plastic bag I had spotted earlier, first to my brother, my sister, and then me. As I opened up the small box, my eyes opened wide to see that I had in my hand the last item on my list I hadn’t crossed out – a bento! It was just as my mom described: there was a fried pork chop, half of a stewed hard boil egg, some sour and sweet vegetable, and white rice.
A bento is not luxurious these days to most people, and is not even something that is hard to get, or difficult to prepare. The fact that something like a bento is so delicious that my mom remembers her first bento so vividly after all these years is a reminder to me that some of the most memorable things in life, some of the things you appreciate the most, can be simple.