The story of a talented Chinese student at Bates – James Li

During the summer of 2022, James and I were the few people who remained on campus. He amazed me with his extraordinary talents.

James Li ‘25 is from Chengdu, one of the major cities in China. I met him on the first day of the international student orientation. He is outgoing and friendly, which was my first impression of him. During the orientation, we cemented our friendship by playing pingpong and Chinese card games. Those times are memorable.

James cooked his first meal during winter break. Even though it hasn’t been long, he has already mastered the complicated Chinese cooking style, which encompasses over 30 techniques, 20 distinct ingredients, and over 10 seasonings.

His favorite dishes are those from his hometown Chengdu, which is renowned for its spicy cuisine. This is why red is always the main theme of the table. One challenge to cook in Bates is that ingredients and seasonings are always out of reach. They are usually available in Boston’s Asian markets, so he has to get inferior ones at Walmart. Despite this, his food tastes better than the majority of local Chinese eateries. Jiayi Yang ‘25 and Willa Wang ‘25, two other people who have sampled James’ cooking, agree that it is authentic in a manner comparable to that of several Chinese domestic restaurants.

James always tells his friend that he’s inventing his own recipes that perfect the original ones. Indeed, he always spends less and less time preparing meals, and the quality is steadily rising. His friend often asks him why he is so persistent in cooking, and he told them a simple answer is that he loves cooking. Recently, James is considering getting hired as a student chef in the commons to prepare special meals for people. You may see him in the Commons kitchen very soon. Among his specialties are Kung Pao Prawns, spicy diced chicken, Mapo Tofu, egg fried rice, stewed beef with potato and crucian carp soup, among others.

Despite his knowledge in Chinese culinary arts, James is also an avid basketball player. He started playing basketball in elementary school and has since mastered a variety of techniques, such as three-pointers, layups, windmills, etc. During the summer vacation, he constantly complains about the closure of the Grey Cage and the Alumni Gym, but he seeks out the sunnyside park, that is next to the Androscoggin River, as a temporary basketball paradise.

Everyday after dinner, he takes his scooter to the park, where he plays solo with his friend as the sun sets. James is a competent rival to play against. His offenses are so deft that even one’s best defense can barely stop him from scoring, and his three-pointers are almost a given. His defense is even better. Having performed remarkably in tournaments in the NCAA Division III, James was invited to join the Bates basketball team, but he turned down the offer because he wanted more time to study. However, even though his classes are getting harder, he plans to devote more time to basketball, from playing weekly to playing daily.

James also excels in chess. Having played chess for more than 15 years, he attained the title of National Master (NM), the second-highest class in chess after Grand Master. In the summer vacation, he played in the online U.S. chess tournament and earned third place, and scored over 2500 on (around 2650 being the highest score currently held). In addition to his personal achievements in chess, he has taught chess to people aged 10 to 65. One of his best students has become champion in provincial competition after one year of learning from him. Watching James play chess feels stressful, not for him, but for his opponent, because James can always foresee his rival’s moves and comment on them to his audience while grinding his opponent into submission.

What is the reason behind all of James’ talents? James always says that love is the most crucial motivator, and he once told his chess student that there is no shortcut to becoming a chess champion, other than daily practice. In fact, all the talents possessed by others that we covet are the product of passion and sustained effort. James’ passion for cooking led him to become a popular Chinese chef among his peers; his dedication to basketball and chess earned him distinguished titles and exceptional abilities. No accumulation of single steps, can’t reach a destination thousands li (miles) away; no integration of small streams, can’t result in seas and oceans, quoted from Chinese ancient philosopher Xunzi.