There were a huge range of amazing submissions to last year's Student Writing Competition. This series celebrates the best of the lot. Read on for Lilith Jennifer Liu's short story 莲 (The Lotus).
莲 (The Lotus)
The lotus flower has many different parts. The flower with pink petals and bright yellow stamens; the seedpod producing green lotus seeds; the wide pads laying flat on the surface; finally the rhizomes. Buried deep in the mud of a river bottom, the rhizomes of a lotus flower thrive and grow to as long as four feet. When mature, it supports the stalk in presenting a beautiful bloom to the world.
莲藕 (Lian Ou)
In the countryside of Chengdu on either side of the skinny, crumbly road were lotus fields covered with green pads and pink blooms. Treading in the middle, Chinese grandmas and grandpas reached into the thick mud. My parents would take me on road trips during the weekend down the middle of the never-ending fields. The car's wheels rolled on, crunching on the sand and pebbles in its path. As I held my hand out the window, gushes of wind would breeze through my fingers, tickling me.
Road trips were always a decision made by mom and dad in a moment of impulse, meaning we had to stop and eat at a diner during the drive. I was always intrigued by more “modern” restaurants, drooling over the vibrant food models on display made to catch the eyes of a child. No matter how much I begged, my parents never stopped at these restaurants. Instead, we went to the shabby roadside canteens where mom always ordered one dish: 藕炖排骨 (Lotus Root Pork Rib Soup).
The soup was always served steaming hot. Piles of lotus roots are still slightly connected by the silk, hiding the pieces of pork rib in between. Being the crazed carnivore I was, I always scavenged in the pile for the meat. To me, the flesh was tender, flavorful, and tasted much better than the mushy roots in the bowl. Mother nagged at me: You ignorant child. You’re throwing away the best part! She would then skillfully pick up the pinkish roots and bite in. The silk stretches as she pulls away from the soft vegetable. I watched her in fascination as the thin strands clung on, unbreakable by even the strongest force.
After a meal, Dad never forgot to buy some lotus roots from the farmers to take home either. He knew which roots were the freshest just by looking at the holes. Back home, he would cut the vegetable into dice and slices for mom to make different dishes from — stir-fried, stuffed with sticky rice, or stewed with meat. I hated how often we had lotus roots. Yet, every time my complaints would fade as I took my first bite of the soft root. The aftertaste it left was wholesome and sweet.
It’s been three years since I left Chengdu and flew here to Auckland. I don’t go on road trips anymore, nor have I seen any lotus fields. The lotus roots in grocery stores are frozen and bland. They don't turn soft after being stewed with meat and there is no silk that connects my mouth and the root. I wish I was still in China, with my parents driving down the dirt road surrounded by lotus fields. Because, in New Zealand, I can eat at all the fancy restaurants I want. But even with the juiciest cuts of meat, I cannot swallow more than a few bites before the grease covers my mouth, blinding my tastebuds.
Youjia (Jennifer) Liu 385781
Mother was right, I was ignorant. If I could go back to the shabby place to have their lotus root soup again, the ribs will be the ones left out this time.
莲花 (Lian Hua)
Under the blue sky dotted with woolly white clouds, by the lotus fields sat Mother in a chair made of bamboo with a fan in her hand. With every snap of her wrist, a breeze of refreshing cold air is blown. Meanwhile, in the corner, a child poked into the mud as she leaned dangerously close to the edge.
“出淤泥而不染，濯清涟而不妖。” Mother recited.
(growing out of murky mud yet untainted, rising through freshwater yet preens not) “What?”
“出淤泥而不染，濯清涟而不妖。” She quotes the famous poet, Zhou DunYi again.
There’s a moment of silence. Her wrist stops the movement and the summer heat starts to build up without the breaths of wind. A mosquito circles the duo, buzzing its frequency. Mother seemed unbothered.
“The lotus plant grows below the water surface with the roots buried in the deep ends of a lake, amongst the thick mud. Before it rises in the morning to present itself as an elegant bloom, it must travel through the filth. Yet, the flower always remains pristine. After washing itself in the clear water, it does not stand out brightly either.” She picks up the cup of tea sitting on the stool beside her. Despite the boiling heat, the hot steam could still be seen.
“Zhou DunYi praised the humble and graceful qualities of the lotus flower. The way it stays unbothered and unaffected by the environment around itself is something for us to learn from. The second part, however, is a wish for people to be honest and just.” Mother takes a sip from the glass, “Your grandmother taught me to live my life like a lotus flower. Now, I too, wish you to grow up like one. Be elegant and be humble, my daughter.”
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