Back to Basics

Back to Basics

Sunday, December 12, 2010
posted by Michael Simms

by Songyi Zhang

I have an English-Chinese electronic dictionary. It’s as small as a lady’s powder box but contains English vocabulary and expressions as comprehensive as a cumbersome hardbound Oxford dictionary. I thank the inventor of the electronic dictionary for bringing immeasurable convenience to me. In fact, almost every Chinese, Korean and Japanese student that I’ve met on campus has an electronic dictionary of his or her mother language. Although I brought my Oxford dictionary to America, every time I come across a new word I’d rather press those little buttons in my electronic dictionary than flip the pages of my big fat Oxford dictionary.

But good days do not last. A couple of weeks ago, some of the gelatin buttons stuck and my electronic dictionary became useless. I was upset about it for a week. I don’t think I can get it fixed now since I am so far away from China. So I dust my big fat Oxford dictionary on the desk and resume its glorious mission. It turns out I enjoy using my dictionary as much as I used to before I bought the electronic one. The hardcover actually has more thorough definitions, and I hadn’t realized how much I’ve missed feeling the crisp paper between my thumb and index finger.

I cannot help thinking of how much convenience has changed our way of living. In America, I can fill my glass with tap water and drink it without hesitation. I can unpack the headless, peeled, cooked shrimps and throw them directly into my mouth. I can sit in the car to do my banking or purchase a cup of coffee at McDonald’s. I can have my pictures printed instantly from a silent machine at Wal-Mart.

One day when I was at my American friend’s house for dinner, I marveled that he sliced up a couple of garlic cloves in a minute with a round plastic container with tiny knives in it. He told me that it was a garlic shredder. We don’t have garlic shredders in China, although the one that my American friend has is likely labeled “Made in China.” In China, we need to boil water before drinking. We cook and peel the shrimp by hand before we eat them. We tell the workers at a photoshop what size pictures we need and how many ; we won’t get the photos until the next day. We cut garlic with real knives. We wash dishes by hand.

It’s hard for me to reject the conveniences I enjoy here in America. If I can drive to a library, why bother to walk? If I can get a prepared meal in a supermarket, why do I still spend hours cooking in a hot kitchen? If I can have my laundry dried in a machine, what do I need a clothes drying rack for? But I’m convinced that to enjoy life is to taste every part of the manual work. I don’t want to grow into a habit of not doing the “hard work” to achieve my goal, or it will be too difficult to return to my old life in China. Above all, I like studying my big fat Oxford dictionary.

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