During the Dragon Boat Festival, my parents and I made zongzi. My brother couldn’t help because his hands were too clumsy. He didn’t want to, either. His hands were meant for the keyboard; for gaming. So it was just my mom, my dad, and I, with a big bucket full of dark green bamboo leaves between the three of us, and various bowls with different fillings. The two biggest bowls contained rice that had soaked in water overnight. One had soy sauce added to it to make it savory. We made two types of zongzi; a savory and a sweet one. There was a can of dousha, a bowl containing dried dates and mizhao, and a bowl each of duck egg yolks, peanuts, and meat. My mother’s laptop is propped up because there’s a Zoom call playing; her friend is teaching us how to make the zongzi, because, as we continued further into the activity, it became quickly aware that none of us really knew how to do it correctly.
After multiple tries and several leaves sticky and unusable with rice, I make my first one while keeping an eye on the lesson; Line two leaves up. Fold up the bottom part so it creates a triangular pocket. Scoop in a spoonful of rice. Add fillings of choice. Cover with rice again. Fold the top halves of the leaves over tightly and then wrap with string.
The leaves split at the seams when you wrap them too tightly. They aren’t fresh ones, so some of them are yellow with age. My pockets are small so I have to put in the smallest amount of filling. Folding the leaves begets more splits. The string runs out. We forget to separate the sweet and savory zongzi, so we end up a pot full of shapeless green packages, each one of them unidentifiable from the outside. Still, we try our best to sort them into two containers. We set them in water and text a few friends to pick up their share.
When I take them out of the cooker, the water steams, silvery fog lifting into the air. With care I unwrap one, snipping the dead knot before unraveling the rest of the string. The leaves drip with water as I unwrap them. A haphazard triangle of white sticky rice appears.
My hands are sticky and red from the heat. I eat it anyway, blowing on the zongzi as I go. We’re happy with them. My mother complains about the shape and criticizes the amount of string we had to use, but it doesn’t stop her from taking out her phone and snapping an endless amount of pictures. My father eats some for dinner. Even my brother puts down his headphones to try a bite.
Banana leaves, rice, dried dates, string. My festival, cooped up at home. A little celebration for perseverance.
Catherine Tang is a rising freshman at the Overlake School. This is her first piece in the Emerald Youth Review.