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BEIJING — Throughout the world, people eat in one of three ways: with a knife and fork, with chopsticks, or with their hands. Though the knife-and-fork folk seem to be the most powerful and widespread group, those who use chopsticks most clearly reflects human wisdom when they eat.

Nobody is sure when chopsticks were invented, nor by whom. Most believe, they go back at least 3,000 years. In the Shiji text, also known as The Records of the Grand Historian, finished around 109 AD, there is a mention that at the end of the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC-1046 BC) King Zhou used ivory chopsticks. King Zhou's favorite consort was Daji, a famous but vicious beauty. Legend has it that it was she who invented the idea of using her long jade hairpins to pick up food to offer to the king. Note that history also holds her responsible for the downfall of the Shang Dynasty.

Over the past three millennia, chopstick etiquette has expanded and evolved. There are some important taboos to be avoided. The mistake that Westerners make most often is to stick and stand a pair of chopsticks up in a bowl of rice, a practice used exclusively at a funeral or a sacrifice.

Second, never tap the crockery and or make any noise with the chopsticks. This has been a behavior associated with beggars.

It's also considered bad manners to use chopsticks to turn food around or pick up food from a dish before putting it back again. Nor must you gesture with your chopsticks at mealtime. Ok, you have been duly warned.

Of course, there are some who claim to master the art of holding the pair of thin sticks, elegantly picking sesame from a flat palette, nipping vermicelli from a bowl of broth, snagging a quail egg from a wok, or helping oneself gracefully at a banquet to a piece of tofu. All of these are high risk endeavours not to be undertaken by beginners. There is good reason why spoons are always provided.

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Dueling chopsticks — Photo: Hsing Wei

In the West, continuous improvement is made to cutlery for their practicality, but paradoxically, despite all the rules about the use of chopsticks, there exists no universal or unified criteria for making chopsticks, such as diameter, length or shape. Nor has anyone, even after 3,000 years, so far studied how the weight or location of the center of gravity of the chopsticks would be most suitable for use.

Your "extended hands"

As one's "extended hands," chopsticks are to be selected with care. Think of Roger Federer choosing a tennis racket. They must be pleasing to the eyes and well-manufactured.

Chopsticks come in many choices of style. China, Japan and South Korea are the most representative, as chopsticks originated from China and then exported to the other countries for centuries.

The Chinese chopsticks are in general much longer compared with those of its neighbors. In ancient times, chopsticks were made of animal bone, ivory, jade, coral or even gold, though the most commonly used were made of wood or bamboo. Today plastic is used. For those who look for something unique or personalized, you can find them made of mahogany, ebony, jujube, rosewood, snakewood from the Amazon, or horn and silver. They can also be decorated with various themes such as marriage, birthdays, housewarming or, if you fancy, Mao Zedong.

As for the Japanese, if one understands how much time they ponder about how to clean a wooden bathtub, we know how seriously they'll take selecting a pair of chopsticks.

Shorter than those of the Chinese, Japanese chopsticks are usually lacquered and are also very finely pointed, which is supposed to be easier for attacking fish bones. Superbly crafted ones can be inlaid with glossy shells or mica and are given as gifts for such happy events as a high school graduation or wedding anniversary.

The Japanese also are the source of endless ideas for this tableware in accordance with different occasions. Chopsticks made of willow wood are given to the newly wedded because willow symbolizes endurance. Meanwhile chopsticks pointed at both ends are traditionally used on special days, such as when treating guests or in a formal tea ceremony.

Korean chopsticks are known for being flat-headed. Like in China or Japan, they used to be made of brass, silver and gold for the rich and wood for the common folk, but today chopsticks are mostly made of steel, in accordance with government regulations. That keeps them shiny and hygienic — and saves the forests!

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Economy

What's Driving The New Migrant Exodus From Cuba

Since Cuba reopened its borders last December after COVID closures, the number of people leaving the island has gone up significantly. Migration has been a constant in Cuban life since the 1950s. But this article in Cuba's independent news outlet El Toque shows just how important migration is to understand the ordeals of everyday life on the island.

March for the 69th anniversary of the beginning of the Cuban Revolution.

Loraine Morales Pino

HAVANA — Some 157,339 Cubans crossed the border into the United States between Oct. 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022, according to the U.S. Border Patrol — a figure significantly higher than the one recorded during the 1980 Mariel exodus, when a record 125,000 Cubans arrived in the U.S. over a period of seven months.

Migrating has once again become the only way out of the ordeal that life on the island represents.

Cubans of all ages who make the journey set off towards a promise. They prefer the unknown to the grim certainty that the Cuban regime offers them.

Migration from Cuba has been a constant since the 1950s.

In 1956, the largest number of departures was recorded in the colonial and republican periods, with the arrival of 14,953 Cubans in the United States, the historical destination of migratory flows. Since the January 1959 revolution, that indicator has been exceeded 30 times.

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