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By Grace Lin
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Pacy is back! The beloved heroine of The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat has returned in a brand new story. This summer, Pacy’s family is going to Taiwan for an entire month to visit family and prepare for their grandmother’s 60th birthday celebration. Pacy’s parents have signed her up for a Chinese painting class, and at first she’s excited. This is a new way to explore her art talent! But everything about the trip is harder than she thought it would be–she looks like everyone else but can’t speak the language, she has trouble following the art teacher’s instructions, and it’s difficult to make friends in her class. At least the dumplings are delicious…
As the month passes by, Pacy eats chicken feet (by accident!), gets blessed by a fortune teller, searches for her true identity, and grows closer to those who matter most.
Table of Contents
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"PINK, PINK, PINK," I SAID OVER KI-KI TO MOM. LISSY, Ki-Ki, and I were sitting next to each other on an airplane, and we were wearing the same hot-pink overall dresses, the color of the neon donut sign in the food court back in the airport. "Why did it have to be pink?"
"That was the only color they had that was in all three of your sizes," Mom told me. "And I wanted to make sure you matched so it would be easy to keep an eye on you."
"I can keep an eye on myself," I said as I pulled at the brilliant-colored denim. The matching jumpers made it easy for everyone on the airplane to keep an eye on us, and it was embarrassing. Lissy thought so, too.
"I hope no one I know sees me," Lissy had said, horrified. "I can't believe you're making me wear the same dress as a six-year-old."
"Seven!" Ki-Ki had said. "I'm seven!"
But Mom hadn't listened to even our loudest protests, and now we were on the plane in matching dresses. Whenever people passed us, they smiled and I didn't blame them. We looked ridiculous, like plastic birds in a flock of flying ducks.
"This is an important trip," Dad said. "Traveling is always important—it opens your mind. You take something with you, you leave something behind, and you are forever changed. That is a good trip."
"Yeah, but why does it have to be a trip to Taiwan?" I asked. Dad always spouted in dramatic ways about things, sometimes to be funny but other times because he really meant it. When he meant it, we usually ignored him. "Why couldn't it be a trip to Hawaii? Or California? At least then we could've seen Melody!"
Melody was my best friend, and last year she had moved to California. I wished so much we were going to visit her. But, instead, we were going to Taiwan. Taiwan was far away. It was so far that I wasn't even sure where it was. Mom and Dad called it their homeland. But to me and my sisters, our small town of New Hartford, New York—with its big trees and sprawling lawns, the one shopping mall, and the red brick school with the tall, waving American flag—was our homeland.
I was also grumpy because I had to sit in the exact middle of the row. Mom and Dad sat on either end, Lissy sat next to Dad, and Ki-Ki next to Mom. I was stuck between Lissy and Ki-Ki, and I didn't get to see anything that was going on. "What do you want to see?" Dad said when I complained. "There's nothing to see. You would be just as bored sitting on the end as you would be sitting in the middle."
"And I can't believe we're going to be gone for the whole summer," I said. It seemed so unfair. All my friends at school got to go to fun places for the summer, like the beach or amusement parks. Melody lived near the Universal Studios theme park. They have a ride there, she had written me. It's even better than 3-D. They call it 4-D!
"It's not the whole summer," Mom said. "It's just one month. Twenty-eight days."
"It's not like you have anything better to do," Lissy said.
"You don't, either!" I said. But she was kind of right. Even though I had other friends, ever since Melody had moved away, my school vacations seemed to drag on like waiting in line at the supermarket. But I still knew I'd rather be at home than go to Taiwan.
"I have lots of things to do," Lissy said with a superior look. "Why can't we leave earlier, like when Dad leaves?"
"I have to leave earlier because I have to work," Dad said before I could say anything to Lissy. "You are the lucky ones! I wish I could stay the whole time."
"Besides, we aren't staying that much longer," Mom said. "Just twelve days more. We want to be there for Grandma's birthday. She's going to be sixty, so it's important."
"Why?" Ki-Ki asked. Ki-Ki was always asking why. Ever since her teacher had told her that there was no such thing as a stupid question, Ki-Ki never stopped asking any. She used to even ask things like "Why is why, why?" Her questions weren't as silly anymore, but she still asked a lot of them.
"Well, remember how there is a Chinese twelve-year cycle—every year is named after a different animal, and it repeats every twelve years?" Mom said. "Grandma is going to be sixty, and that means she has lived through all twelve Chinese animal years five times. That is very lucky."
"Pacy and Ki-Ki, you've never been to Taiwan before. And Lissy, you were probably too young to remember," Dad said. "We need to go to Taiwan so you will get to know your roots."
"Roots?" Ki-Ki said, swinging her legs to show Dad the bottoms of her feet. "I don't have roots!"
Lissy and I rolled our eyes. Ki-Ki still liked acting like a baby sometimes. Mom said it was because she was the youngest.
"Silly," Mom said. "You know what he means. We want you to see the place where we came from, before we came to the United States."
"You should know Taiwan. It's…" Dad said, his face dimming as he tried to think of the right word in English. His face fell, and he said it in Chinese instead. "It's… Taiwan is… bao dao."
Bao dao? I didn't know a lot of Chinese, but that word seemed familiar. It sounded like the Chinese word for…
"Pork buns!" I said. "Fried dumplings? Taiwan is wrapped meat?"
"No," Mom said, and laughed. "You are thinking of baozi and jiaozi! I guess bao dao does sound a little like the words for pork buns and dumplings. But bao dao is completely different. It means 'treasure island.' People call Taiwan an island of treasure."
"Treasure?" Ki-Ki asked. "Is there buried gold there?"
"Well, no, not gold," Dad said. "Treasure like forests and water and rich earth to grow food."
Taiwan suddenly sounded like the woods in our backyard at home. Ki-Ki thought so, too.
"Taiwan sounds like camping!" she said. "Is that the treasure?"
I looked at Dad eagerly. Camping was interesting. We had never gone camping. Dad didn't like it. He always said, "What's so good about camping? Who wants to sleep on the ground?" Maybe he would like it if we were camping in Taiwan?
"No! Taiwan is not camping!" Dad said, and we could all tell he was having a hard time thinking of how to explain it. I was disappointed about the camping. "Taiwan is cities and cars and culture and restaurants. In Taiwan, there are beds and good food. A lot of good food!"
"So, food is the treasure of Taiwan?" I asked. I was still thinking about the dumplings.
"Yes!" Dad said, and he and Mom laughed as if I had said something very funny. "Yes, it is! Food probably is one of the treasures of Taiwan. We will definitely eat a lot when we are there."
I heard Lissy give a little sigh. I felt like sighing, too. I'd have to last twenty-eight days in Taiwan until I could come back home. That was so long. Already, it felt like forever.
"Don't worry," Mom said, watching us with a grin. "It will be fun."
"Are you sure?" It wasn't that I thought Mom was lying; it was just that sometimes her kind of fun wasn't the same as mine.
"Yes." Mom smiled. "You'll see."
BEING ON THE AIRPLANE MADE ME FEEL AS IF I WERE stuck in a plastic bottle. It was hard to tell if we had been flying for one hour or ten. At first, we played with the TVs. We all had our own—each was in the back of the seat in front of us, and we could watch any movie we wanted. At home, Mom let us watch only three TV shows a week. We'd each pick one and watch it together, which wasn't always fun. Lissy had just started choosing some silly hospital show with lots of kissing, and Ki-Ki liked a baby cartoon that we (even Ki-Ki herself) were all too old for. So I was excited to be able to watch whatever I wanted.
But after a while, even that became dull. I tried to read my books, but my head felt all stuffed up and I couldn't concentrate. Dad was right when he said there was nothing to see. The airplane ride was so long and so boring. It seemed as if the only thing I could do was sleep. Which I did, until Lissy elbowed me awake.
"They're bringing the dinner!" she said. A flight attendant was wheeling a cart and handing out prepacked meals to everyone. I turned the knob that held up my tray table on the seat in front of me. Clack! It fell open with a clatter, but no one paid any attention. Everyone was too busy getting the food.
Lissy passed down to me a tray full of covered containers all shiny and smooth. The largest container was wrapped with foil, which I carefully began to peel off. Getting airplane food was fun; it was like opening presents! Though not the most delicious-looking presents. Pale, flattened noodles and unknown meat chunks were drowning in the orange-brown overflow of curry sauce. A mix of sliced cucumbers, corn, and dark purple beans filled one of the small containers. The other container had faded melon cubes, the same color as unripe grapefruit. The dessert was in a wrapper with big white, fancy letters that said CHOCOLATE-CHIP SHORTBREAD, even though it was really just a chocolate-chip cookie.
On the side were a napkin; a fork, a knife, and a spoon (all plastic); and a pair of chopsticks. Lissy pushed the chopsticks toward me.
"Since we're going to Taiwan," she said to me, "you'd better learn how to use chopsticks."
"I've eaten with chopsticks lots of times!" I told her. "I know how to use them!"
"No, you don't," Lissy said. "You hold them all wrong."
Did I? No one had ever taught me how to use chopsticks. I had just taken them and eaten with them the best I could. It had worked fine—I had always been able to get food to my mouth.
"Look," Lissy said. "You're supposed to hold them like this. Hold the top one like a pencil. They aren't supposed to cross over like that."
I tried holding the chopsticks the way Lissy showed me. They felt awkward between my fingers, but I aimed them toward the container of cucumbers and corn and grabbed. Plop! The slices fell from my chopsticks back into the tray like raindrops. I tried again. Plop! Plop! The cucumbers slipped off the chopsticks again.
"See!" Lissy said triumphantly. "You can't use chopsticks! I told you you're going to have to learn!"
"Speaking of learning," Mom said, leaning over, "I found out about a special cultural program they have in Taiwan. It's made just for kids like you—kids from America. We've signed you up for classes."
I stopped trying to pick up cucumbers. Classes sounded like school. Lissy thought so, too, because she made a noise that sounded like she was gargling mouthwash.
"Classes!" Lissy said. "But it's summer. It's vacation!"
"We want to make sure you don't get bored," Dad said.
Lissy, Ki-Ki, and I looked at one another. We all knew never to say we were bored when Dad was around. If we ever complained about having nothing to do, he always said something like "Let me give you some math problems."
"In Taiwan," Mom said, "a lot of kids study in the summer, too. But, anyway, don't worry. We just signed you up for fun classes."
This was another time that I didn't trust Mom's idea of fun.
"What kind of classes?" I asked.
"All different," Mom said. "Lissy has calligraphy, Pacy has painting birds and flowers, and Ki-Ki has paper cutting."
"I can cut paper!" Ki-Ki said. "I don't need a class for that."
"This is special paper cutting," Mom said. "You'll learn how to cut pictures out of paper."
"Isn't calligraphy Chinese words?" Lissy interrupted. "How can I paint Chinese words when I don't even know Chinese?"
"Yeah!" I said. "None of us speak Chinese! How can we take a class in Taiwan?"
"Remember, it's a special program. The teachers will be able to speak English," Mom said. "We were very lucky to find this. Remember that Taiwanese-American convention we went to with Melody's family a couple of years ago? It's run by a group like that. They want to make sure Taiwanese-American kids know about their culture. There is even a special boat tour, but that is for teenagers."
"I'm a teenager! Fourteen is a teenager!" Lissy said. "Why don't I go on that instead?"
"It's for older teenagers," Mom said. "High school."
"I'm almost in high school!" she said. "I could go!"
Lissy was still talking, but I had stopped listening. Lissy was always being boring about how old she was, like we would forget that she was the eldest. But besides that, hearing about the painting class had me worried.
I wasn't worried about actually painting. I was good at art. I wrote and illustrated a book that won four hundred dollars before, and I was going to write and illustrate books when I grew up. I had decided that a couple of years ago. I knew I would be able to paint fine.
But I remembered that Taiwanese-American convention Mom mentioned. Even though I had gone with Melody, I hadn't liked it. It had been horrible. The kids there were Taiwanese-American, and so was I, but they weren't like me at all. In New Hartford, now that Melody had moved, I was the only Asian girl in my class. I tried to be just like everyone else, and I always spoke English, even at home. But at that Taiwanese-American convention, all the girls there could speak Chinese and Taiwanese, and they called me a Twinkie. They said I had lost my culture. "You're yellow on the outside, but white on the inside!" one girl had said to me. "You're a Chinese person who's been Americanized."
And it was true. I was Americanized. In New Hartford, Americanized meant being like everyone else and having friends. But at that convention, it meant being humiliated and disliked. Was it going to be like that in Taiwan, too? Would everyone there make fun of me and call me a Twinkie? Plop! Another cucumber slipped from my chopsticks onto the tray, and I felt as if it were just like my heart falling.
I WAS SO SLEEPY WHEN WE FINALLY GOT OFF THE PLANE. We had to wait in a long, long line for something called customs, which was really just a man in a uniform who stamped passports. When we exited, there were crowds of people waiting in front of us. It was like we were walking onto a stage with an audience. But before I could feel scared, we heard a yell and two people ran toward us, waving excitedly, like birds with flapping wings.
"Jin!" Mom said as they ran over to us. Auntie Jin hugged us with a big grin that seemed to stretch across her round face, like a jack-o'-lantern at Halloween. Her husband laughed, handed me and Lissy a bouquet of flowers, and took a suitcase from Dad.
Somehow, Auntie Jin herded us out of the airport and into a bus. It was hot! I felt like an ice-cream cone melting as soon as we exited. Luckily, the bus was air-conditioned. Mom and Dad and Auntie Jin and her husband kept talking and laughing in what I guessed was Taiwanese the whole time, though it could've been Chinese—I wasn't sure. Lissy, Ki-Ki, and I sat across from them and looked at the flowers. They were white and pink like stars with raspberry-colored freckles. Their smell seemed to sweeten the air.
"Are they real?" Ki-Ki asked.
"Of course they're real," Lissy said. "Feel the petals. They're lilies."
"Do you think they spray perfume on their flowers here?" I asked. "They smell so strong."
"Maybe," Lissy said, trying to look wise.
"What's our uncle's name?" Ki-Ki asked. "The one who gave us the flowers?"
I shrugged. Lissy looked confused as well. "It's… it's… I know it…."
"You don't know!" I said to her.
"Yes, I do!" Lissy said.
"What is it, then?" I asked.
"It's… it's Uncle Flower," Lissy said.
"No, it's not!" I said.
"Yes, it is!" Lissy said, and we all laughed.
"What are you laughing about over there?" Dad asked.
"Nothing," we said as we looked at one another. None of us wanted to ask what Uncle's name was while he was in front of us—then he would know we didn't know it. And that might make us look rude.
"Are you hungry?" Auntie Jin asked us. "Once we get to Grandma's, we can go eat."
"Yes, yes," Uncle Flower said. "First thing you do when you come to Taiwan is eat. Eating is a hobby here in Taiwan."
We grinned at that. Auntie Jin's and Uncle Flower's English was like Mom's and Dad's. It was a little hard to understand what they were saying at first, but once we got used to the way they said the words it wasn't too bad. Besides, they were talking about food, and that was always easy to understand. I was hungry. I had ended up not eating much of the airplane food.
"Okay," I said. "What are we going to eat?"
"Anything," Auntie Jin said. "We're in Taipei, the capital city! It has everything. What do you want to eat?"
"Pizza?" Ki-Ki asked.
"Ki-Ki! Don't pick pizza!" Lissy said. "We're in Taiwan—you have to pick a Chinese food!"
"You don't have to," Uncle Flower said. "There are all kinds of food here in Taipei. We have McDonald's—all that American food, if you want. But Taiwan has the best Japanese and Chinese food—sushi, ramen…"
"Dumplings?" I asked. I remembered how I had mixed up Taiwan being bao dao to jiaozi, which was a kind of Chinese dumpling. And it was also my favorite Chinese food to eat.
"Dumplings!" Uncle Flower said. "Taiwan has the best dumplings in the world!"
Uncle Flower, Auntie Jin, Mom, and Dad began to speak in Taiwanese to one another really fast. We knew they were all talking about food, and their words sounded like clicking chopsticks. All that talk was making me hungry. I wondered what the best dumplings in the world tasted like.
The bus stopped, and we all got off. So this was Taiwan. I looked at the gray buildings towering overhead and the people and taxis and motor scooters rushing by all around us. So far, all I could tell of Taiwan was that it was very busy. As Dad, Auntie Jin, and Uncle lifted our luggage from the bus, I nudged Mom.
"What's Uncle's name?" I asked her.
"Uncle?" Mom said. "It's Li-Li. He's Uncle Li-Li."
"Lily!" Ki-Ki and I laughed, and Lissy shouted, "I told you he was Uncle Flower!"
DAD AND UNCLE FLOWER LUGGED OUR SUITCASES UP the stairs behind us while we walked into a roomful of aunties and uncles waiting with hugs. Grandma's and Grandpa's faces wrinkled with smiles as they squeezed each of us at the same time. Although we hadn't seen Grandma and Grandpa in a long time, they still looked the same to me. But we looked different to them. "So tall now!" Grandma said to me, and "Young lady," Grandpa said to Lissy.
There were new cousins, too. One by one, they were introduced to us. Some were just babies, but there were two who were about our age. I couldn't remember everyone's Chinese names right, so I just made up names that sounded close to them. Everyone laughed when I called the sharp-faced boy with the laughing eyes Shogun instead of Xiaoquan and changed his sister's name, Chulian, to Julian. But they didn't really seem to mind, and they still answered when I spoke to them. Shogun was Lissy's age, and Julian was in between my age and Ki-Ki's.
"Speak in English!" Aunt Bea urged them, but they just smiled at us bashfully. "They learn English in school," she told us. "But now they're shy!" She turned to them again. "You can do it!"
Julian looked back and forth like there was a fly in the room. "Hello!" she said finally, and then looked at Shogun for help. He gave a mischievous smile.
"Okay!" he said loudly, and then started to laugh.
"That's it?" Aunt Bea said. Shogun and Julian nodded and laughed harder, and Lissy, Ki-Ki, and I joined in, too. I didn't know if we would be able to talk to the cousins, but I knew I liked them.
"Can you say something in Chinese back?" Auntie Jin asked us. Lissy and Ki-Ki shook their heads hard. We never spoke Chinese in New Hartford, not in school or at home. We didn't know any Chinese words. Well, no, that wasn't true. I did know one Chinese word.
"Jiaozi?" I said.
"Dumplings!" Auntie Jin whooped, and everyone laughed. "I guess that means we should go and eat!"
Everyone laughed again, and the adults began talking about the where and how of dumplings. Finally, something was agreed on, and we followed Grandma, Grandpa, Auntie Jin, and Uncle Flower down the stairs.
Uncle Flower stopped two taxis for us, and we got in.
"Grandma doesn't have a car?" Lissy asked.
"No," Mom said. "You don't need a car in Taipei. It's like New York City. There are so many taxis."
And I realized it did seem a lot like New York City, at least what I could remember of New York City. I had been there only a couple of times with Mom and Dad. But all the bright yellow taxis and the tall buildings and the people walking here were just like it. Except I couldn't read any of the signs. They were all in Chinese.
"Look!" Ki-Ki said to me. "Watch the light!" She was pointing at the crossing light, a flashing sign that told people when it was safe to walk.
But this light had a little green figure walking, like a cartoon. Above him was the countdown of how many seconds left there were to walk across the street. As the number got lower and lower, the figure started walking faster and faster until it was running! When the number got to zero, he turned red and stood still, and our taxi zoomed forward. We laughed. I had never seen a man actually move on a walk light before.
When we got to the restaurant, Uncle Flower laughed.
"Usually there is a long, long line," he said. "But we are very early."
"What time is it?" Lissy asked.
"Four o'clock," Mom said. "Are you tired? It is four in the morning at home."
I was tired, but I was also hungry. As we waited for the hostess to seat us, I looked into the kitchen, where the chefs were making dumplings. It was like a fast and frantic dance, the chefs' fingers flying as dumpling after dumpling were made. Six chefs chopped and mixed vegetables and meat. Also in the kitchen were a chef who made the dough, a chef who cut the dough into small pieces, another who rolled out dumpling skins, and a fourth who filled the skins with the meat mixture. And during all of that, more chefs lifted bamboo trays of cooking dumplings out of giant steamers, and hot misty clouds filled the air.
"They make the dumplings so fast," I said.
"Eh?" Grandma asked. Grandma and Grandpa could speak English okay, but sometimes they had a hard time understanding it. Usually we had to repeat things to them.
"The chefs," I said, speaking slower, "they make the dumplings fast."
"Yes." Grandma nodded. "In China, there is a famous dumpling chef. She can make one million dumplings in seven hours and twenty minutes."
"That's fast!" Lissy said.
"But is it faster than you can eat them?" Dad said. "We'll have to see."
The hostess brought us to a table, and almost as soon as Grandpa was finished ordering, the waiter came out with the dumplings, which were like little pinched bags in a bamboo basket.
Mom put one on a white spoon and handed it to me. I was glad I didn't have to use chopsticks.
"Careful when you eat these," Auntie Jin said. "They're special."
I'd had dumplings lots of times. How special could these be? But as I took a bite, I almost stopped in amazement.
"There's soup in these dumplings!" I said.
All the adults at the table laughed.
"I told you they were special!" Auntie Jin said. "They are called xiaolongbao. They have soup inside of them. They're good, aren't they?"
I took another bite. The hot soup filled my mouth, and the mixture of soup and meat and dumpling skin seemed to melt into a warm, rich flavor. They
- On Sale
- Jan 2, 2012
- Page Count
- 272 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers