Thursday, January 24, 2008

Dinner with a Chinese Family, Pt 2

When Shayron, Rebekah, and I were done playing with the three kids, we got them to lead us back to their apartment. The apartment complex itself would be pretty nice by American standards, so I can only imagine how good it is here in Chengdu. Their house had a small kitchen, a dining room, a living room, and a few bedrooms in the back, and was heat so that we were quite comfortable.

When we came in, we had the option of taking our shoes off and wearing slippers (which I was pretty excited to know the word for: tuoxie) or of wrapping two pieces of plastic that looks like a shower cap over your shoes. They seated us at the table. It was the mom and her parents there. We wondered where the dad was and found out later that he was still at work—most Chinese I’ve met here work long hours.

About the time the food started coming out, I realized that when I invited Rebekah, I forgot that she was a vegetarian. This family had agonized over what to make us, as we found out later from our program director, but even at the time we didn’t want to be rude and mess up their dinner. We had non-spicy hotpot, which made it hardly hotpot at all. Still, the main components are various meats, and as the mom and grandma started loading food into our little bowls, Rebekah managed to make it look like she was just moving at a slow pace as she fished around for vegetables.

I decided what I liked by trying everything, including pig’s ear. It was striped pink and whitish with flesh and fat and came in half-bacon sized strips. It was tough, so you kind of had to gnaw on it, but didn’t have an unpleasant flavor. I’ve found that when I eat here in China, I’ll be excited to eat anything I can name, even if it isn’t something I’d normally like in the States. For example, at a lot of restaurants, they serve a dish that looks like scrambled eggs with tomatoes. I don’t like tomatoes, usually. But when there’s some green stuff on that part of the table, and some soupy stuff on this side of the table, and long white vegetables with little bulbs on the ends next to you, then eggs and tomatoes looks fabulously familiar.

Another thing about eating here is that it seems like I can only feel full after an American meal. There are two American restaurants in town, and unless I’m there, I feel like I’ve eaten a lot and am full for the moment, but in another half hour I’ll be ready to eat again. It was the same with this family. They kept giving us food, so I kept eating. I think we ate for like two hours. I tried to be sensitive to how much food they had and everything, but it didn’t seem like a problem, so I just kept eating. Weird tofu cubes, hard shreds of beef, rice, and whatever they pulled out of the pot in the middle: something like spinach, chicken legs, long strands of angel-hair type pasta. We washed it all down with soda. I think I drank more Coke that night than I did all of last semester.

As we ate, we tried to make conversation. It was really nice to have Rebekah there. If I didn’t understand what the mom said, I’d turn to Rebekah, and usually she wouldn’t know either, but at least then we were ignorant together. I think by the end of the evening the mom understood how bad our Chinese was. She talked really slowly, and used easy words, and paused at the end of every sentence to make sure we were almost following her. It was luxurious.

The kids got bored pretty fast after dinner, so once we were done too, we watched an anime tv show with them.

And that was pretty much it. When they heard that I didn’t have any plans for Chinese New Year, the mom invited me to come with their family to some mountain, I think. Maybe as the days get closer I’ll call her and see if she brings it up again. Rebekah had a great time and after talking the whole evening, she felt like she could finally look at Chinese with some hope. And on the ride home, the conversation turned to shopping, so Shayron even got involved and we had to translate every sentence. Overall, a successful evening, I’d say.


Dad said...

Your last two blogs "Dinner with a Chinese Family" have me laughing so hard because because I can really picture what you describe! It sounds like your are enjoying the adventure of actively learning to know the culture and the people - with the joys and frustrations involved! Way to go! Your sense of humor and perspective will carry you a long way!Thanks for staying in touch! It means tons! Dad

mom said...

OK, I think that out of all the weird stuff I've eaten, I've never had pig's ear. Ugh. Your stories are making those situations come alive. You are rally diving into the culture! Good for you.

T.C. said...

will im pretty impressed with all the trying of new foods you've been doing. You've come a long way from that time in D.C. when you adamantly refused to try the blue cheese dressing. Citing its horrible, horrible taste and appearance. o good times...

Virginga said...

Well, Will, like I said, I ate alot of bok choy in China. It is long green stuff. I admire your spirit and tenancity. I believe you'll come home thinking in Chinese. Glad you have new friends to share the experience with. Virginga

Grammy Dru said...

Grammy Dru speaks.
Will, you are a "sketch!" I've been laughing so hard reading your diary my cheeks hurt!
You are such a good sport and I hope Tracy can get a good night's sleep. Ah! Youth!
Love and a hug,
Grammy Dru