I was so excited to be offered a few advance reader copies of some soon-to-be released memoirs and because I love non-fiction books, I gladly accepted.

How Sweet the Bitter Soup is a memoir by American, Lori Qian who journeyed to a remote village in China as a young woman to teach in an upscale school for wealthier citizens.  It’s a wonderful story about finding a place you feel is home, finding yourself and finding love in a foreign country.

I was drawn right in at the first chapter when Lori mentioned that she and William were the ninth American/Chinese couple to be married in the Hubei province….not that month or that year but for all time!  And then she went on to mention how she needed to explain her decision to go to China to her father who had dementia and of course, that brought me to tears because my own father had dementia.

I’ve always been interested in the customs of different cultures so it was fascinating to me to read about some of those taking place among the people of China.  The descriptions of the beautiful scenery Lori experienced there were also delightful. And of course, the lack of some of the modern conveniences that we take for granted in the United States was also interesting to learn.

I was slightly fearful of the title of the book thinking that something horrible might happen but was pleased to find out that it was actually about a real soup that is served in China that has a very bitter taste. The bitter soup “is about the bad days making us appreciate the good days, the idea that there must be opposition in all things if we are to ever learn anything”. Yin and Yang.

My favorite part of the book though is this paragraph:

“Because we are trying so hard to grow and develop, we must expect that some pain will come with that. If we were content to just be, and never try to improve, have new experiences, serve others, learn more or do more, then indeed life would be easy.”  This is the way I try to live my life… stepping out of comfort zones, learning, growing and serving. Life is much more interesting that way.

I had a chance to ask a couple of questions to Lori.

Q: What was your favorite custom you experienced while living in China? Did you adopt that custom for your family and yourself once you returned to the states?

A: Yes when I moved back to the states, I feel like a lot of parts from my China experience were incorporated.

There were little things like always removing shoes before coming in the house and sometimes treating fruit as a dessert, which it was there but usually is not here.
And then there were more meaningful things like celebrating Chinese new year even if no one around us was. Making dumplings and having noodles for breakfast. I think a lot of the food customs were incorporated very seamlessly.

At Chinese new year people often go and get their hair done and clean their house top to bottom and sort of put away the old and embrace the new. That has also become something that is an important part of our life annually.

Q: Do you still eat bitter soup and have you learned how to make it?

A: It’s a really great question about the bitter soup. The concept has come up a lot and we talk about “chi ku” or swallowing bitterness which basically means enduring a difficult experience—-but I have not learned to make it. It is something that I actually told my husband I wanted to do, though. Someday.

Lori Quan’s book will be available August 13th on Amazon from She Writes Press. You can also enter to win one of 10 copies given away by Goodreads on her website LoriQian.com.


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