The versatile bamboo

Bamboo painting by my mother with verses added by my father

It was freezing wintertime, and this kid’s mother was gravely ill. She asked for a bowl of bamboo shoot soup. The kid, whose name was 孟宗 (Mèng Zōng), and whose father had died a few years before, wanted to please his mother, but everyone knew that bamboo shoots normally cease to sprout during winter. In spite of it, he went outside, hoping to find any bamboo shoots that might have come up early. The bamboo stems stood proud and firm against the winter wind that rustled the slender bamboo leaves. The heels of the bamboo plants were buried under deep snow, and no bamboo shoots were to be found. 孟宗 (Mèng Zōng) felt sad and helpless. He started to cry. The copious tears melted the hearts of the gods who let the snow melt at a few spots to expose the early bamboo shoots. 孟宗 (Mèng Zōng) dug up a few bamboo shoots and made a delicious soup for his mother. Miraculously, after drinking the warm bamboo shoot soup, his mother got better and eventually recovered from her illness. This story is known as 孟宗哭笋 (Mèng Zōng kū sǔn). You probably already know that (kū) means to cry, and you may have seen the word (sǔn bamboo shoots) on the label of a can of bamboo shoots.

So, we have 孟宗 (Mèng Zōng) to thank for being able to enjoy what’s known as 冬笋 (dōng sǔn winter shoots), which are smaller and crunchier than the regular summer shoots. There is a city in Taiwan, named 新竹 (Xīnzhú), that’s famous for its 贡丸 (gòngwán pounded meatballs) and its fresh bamboo shoots. If you ever visit 新竹 (Xīnzhú) in the summer, be sure to fetch a few young and tender bamboo shoots from the local market. Simply boil, peel and slice the bamboo shoots then add a dollop of mayonnaise and enjoy the incredibly fresh, sweet taste. A bowl of soup that incorporates both the 贡丸 (gòngwán) and the bamboo shoots is something to dream about.

Chopsticks were traditionally made from bamboo, hence the name, 竹筷 (zhú kuài babmoo chopsticks). To refer to chopsticks in general, just say: 筷子 (kuài zi). Quality chopsticks make an auspicious gift for newlyweds as (kuài) sound the same as (kuài), and the implied message is: “Have a son soon!”

Bamboo is also used in making a wide variety of other products, notably writing slips, the body of calligraphy brushes, brush holders, flutes, arrows, conduits, crates, furniture and even dwellings. Naturally, most of these words take on the bamboo word root, as shown in the following examples. Notice how this word root looks a lot like the bamboo leaves in the painting displayed above.

(jiǎn) means simple, as in 简单 (jiǎndān) or brief, as in (jiǎnduǎn). It also refers to the thin bamboo slips on which letters or notes used to be written.
簿 (bù) refers to notebooks. Bookkeeping is called 簿记 (bùjì).
(piān) refers to a piece of writing or a chapter in a book.

Nǐ xǐhuān zhè piān wénzhāng ma?
Do you like this article?

(bǐ) is a pen. 毛笔 (máobǐ) is a calligraphy brush.

(tǒng) is a section of bamboo. The bamboo stem is hollow in the center and sectioned at intervals by dividers. Each section makes a perfect pencil holder or brush pot, 笔筒 (bǐtǒng).

(dí) is a flute.

(jiàn) are arrows, and 箭筒 (jiàntǒng) is a quiver.

(guǎn) is a tube or pipe. It also refers to a wind instrument. As a verb, it means to manage or to bother about something.

Bùyào guǎn tā.
Let him be. (Never mind him.)

(xiāng) is a box, a chest or a trunk. 箱子 (xiāngzi) is a general term of a box. A leather suitcase is called 皮箱 (píxiāngi). A refrigerator is called 冰箱 (bīngxiāng ice box).

(lán) is a basket. This character looks similar to (lán), which uses the grass word root instead of the bamboo word root.

竿 (gān) is a pole, and 钓竿 (diàogān) is a fishing rod.

Shèngdàn kuàilè﹗
Merry Christmas!

(Click here and read the 12/6/11 blog post to get the pattern and instructions for making beauatiful poinsettia napkin ring holders to brighten your holiday dinner table.)

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