Thursday, November 30, 2006

Beef Noodles and Hot Pot: A Very Chinese Evening

On Tuesday night a man that me and Andrew have befriended invited us to come down to his noodle shop, and I will describe the night to give an idea of a typical evening of hanging out with Andrew and his Chinese friends (who, due to his previously mentioned conversation skills and friendliness, are numerous). We started off with a couple of bowls of Beef Noodles, the specialty of his and many other small noodle shops. Beef Noodles originally come from the capital of this province, so our students are proud of them and easily excited by their mere mention. Andrew had the idea of us watching him make the noodles and taking pictures and video of the process with my camera, which more than pleased him. When asked if that would be ok, he loudly said something very similar to "Of course you can take pictures! I am very happy!" I've always wanted to get a better view of the noodle-making, and it turned out to be picture-worthy in all its noodle-wacking and cauldron-bubbling glory.

After cleaning up (I decided against documenting the dish "washing" process) with his wife, he took us out for a second meal further down the road. His mother-in-law also came, a jovial and meddling woman who I found amusing. She spent much of the evening trying to talk us into letting her fix us up with a wife or two, possibly her unmarried daughter. Despite our protests and excuses, our friend (who I'll call Little Liu, as in the Chinese habit of putting xiao, little, in front of a friend's surname) insisted on taking us for hot pot. However, it was a simple place with a hot plate for every table and not the usual two-hour extravaganza in a fancy restaurant. The owner of the place, who had a used-car salesman cheesyness I kind of liked, was delighted to see two foreign and Chinese-speaking customers. He soon requested a picture with us, and jetted off to borrow a camera. He presented us with a plate of fruit (gifts are not unusual, but in all cases previous have been something I don't want), and tried very hard to treat us to some beers with him. But it was a school night, and we are, of course, responsible teachers.

After saying goodbye to our Chinese friends Andrew suggested a quick stop for naicha, "milk tea", at a place we like in front of the school. I had been fairly quiet during the evening, because Andrew's Chinese ability is well ahead of mine and I think and speak too slowly even when I do understand the conversation, and liked the idea of ending things in English. It's actually Andrew who usually carries the Chinese conversations, and there are few pauses. This didn't last long, however, as a man who was obviously drinking with his friends got wind of Andrew's Chinese, and was especially amused by a few words of Zhangyehua (Zhangye dialect) we could muster. He invited himself to sit down with us, and this time we didn't get out of drinking, as he had bottles ordered and glasses poured before we had time to protest. We insisted on leaving after just a few glasses (and mind you, in China they drink beer out of shot glasses), but he managed to exchange numbers with Andrew and promise to invite him out to eat sometime. Luckily he didn't take to me, mostly asking me what I was thinking about so quietly and why I insisted on saying things to Andrew in English. In those four hours, me and Andrew paid exactly 4 yuan, for the milk tea, which is the equivalent of 50 cents US. On the walk back home, Andrew complained about the hassle of having given this stranger his telephone number. And then we thought about that for a second, and marvelled at having a life in which the big annoyance of the day was agreeing to being taken out for a free meal.

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