When Life Gives you Red Bean

March 17, 2014

A lifetime ago, we led a team of college students from America on a short term missions trip to China. During one of our evening worship sessions, we participated in communion with bread from the local bakery to represent the body of Jesus.

“This is my body, which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 

There in the middle of the bustling city of Beijing, China, we stole a moment of silence to reflect solemnly on the sacrifice of our Lord, whose body is apparently filled with RED BEAN PASTE! I try to stifle my giggles, but it was hard watching the team leader up there breaking a piece of mian-bao (Chinese for bread) with red bean gooey filling bursting forth. I found the scene wildly comical and yet oddly culturally appropriate.

For those unfamiliar with red bean paste, it isn’t bright red, (though that may have been more apt in communion bread, we could partake of the body AND the blood in one fell swoop!) it looks exactly like dark chocolate filling. It is very common in China and Taiwan. We eat red bean in dessert soup, flavor it in ice cream, and often use the paste form in various kinds of baked goods including the traditional moon cake consumed during Moon festival. Most expats are not fond of red bean. My friend and I have a theory about this: we think the reason is because expats often anticipate dessert filling to be chocolate; the brain has already prepped the senses to savor a nostalgic taste, then BAM: red bean. It’s hard to appreciate that which is not chocolate. (Can I get an amen to that?) The deceptive appearance of red bean transfers undisputed assumptions, and one is left feeling cheated; and disappointment never tastes good.


Forrest Gump’s momma always said, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” From Forrest Gump’s era to now, the possibilities life has to offer has only increased as technology presents us with opportunities at our fingertips. Any ordinary joe can publish writing via a blog (me!), children can produce TV shows with youtube, stay-at-home moms and pops can make a living through a myriad of entrepreneurial activities online. The reason Millennials have a tendency to suffer from a Messiah Complex is because technology can build up unrealistic expectations to what we can actually accomplish. Everyone thinks they can change the world. 

We consume large quantities of polished products within a short span of time every day. Whether it is a gorgeously painted antique furniture on Pinterest, or a friend’s perfectly lit family portrait against a brick wall at sunset, our brains are constantly preparing us to savor the life we should have, and it is sweet and luscious like the most decadent chocolate dessert. Then, when our DIY crafts make it on the Pinterest Fail boards, and our kids are fighting and it rains on our family photo shoot, we are jolted by the red bean dissonance.

The thing is, I love red bean. Many of my Chinese friends and family adore red bean, this is why those desserts sell here in my part of the world. One reason is because Chinese people generally do not like very sweet treats, so the less sugary red bean paste is more palatable. Come to think of it, pragmatic Chinese people would likely think most of the Pinterest crafts are ridiculously over-the-top, preferring functionality over presentation.

Our expectations color the way we experience reality. We can’t avoid having expectations, nor should we want to. Anticipation is often half the fun, and setting proper expectations drives us to achieve. However, it is inevitable we are disappointed in life. We bite into chocolate only to end up with a mouthful of red bean. Perhaps it is helpful to remember there are those in the world who enjoys and even prefers red beans.

The point of DIY crafts is that they are hand made by ordinary people like you and me: messy, quirky, and asymmetrical. That rainy day family photo shoot, when stripped of picture perfect expectations, can end up being one of your most memorable experiences together.

Sometimes, red bean doesn’t taste half bad.

*When was the last time you had a let down due to unrealistic expectations? What is your opinion of Pinterest, seriously?