Friday, April 2, 2010

April 2: A Good Day to Live in China

Fridays are my busy day...I have three classes; I teach two back to back at eight and ten, then have a bit of a breather at lunch, and then another at two.  After coming in and getting comfortable at home over lunch, I don't want to get myself together and head out again for that third class, but I'm always glad that I did once I'm there.  The afternoon class is one of my friendliest and most open; the Friday afternoon atmosphere helps, I think.  My feet sure hurt after standing in front of a classroom all day, though.  I have a heel spur I'm dealing with right now that is not helping matters.

In the evening, I decided to go out to find some supper.  I've been in a cooking mood all week, so I had exhausted my supplies, and besides, wasn't in the mood to make a mess again.  Just across from the East Gate of the campus are a row of little restaurants, each with six or seven tables inside.  The ones that face the university have their kitchens outside--an open flaming grill with woks ready, and racks of vegetables and chopped ingredients just waiting to be cooked up fresh whenever you order.  There are free-standing booths cooking up street food or take-out options--skewered sticks of meat and vegetables, cartons of noodles with various spices and vegetables added.  The restaurants around the corner have their kitchens in the back, down hallways into the interior of the building.  At first, to an American used to our shiny sterile kitchens, it seems a little dirty and wild, but the food is wonderful and I've never heard of anyone getting sick from the food there.  Everything that I've had reminds me of why I will miss Chinese food whenever the time comes to move on from here.

I stopped into one of the little places facing the gate; I picked it because as I was threading my way through the booths and kitchens, one of the cooks smiled at me and motioned that I was welcome to come in.  I was ushered inside, and sat down on the stool at one of the tables.  I ordered stewed eggplant; I've had eggplant cooked every way imaginable since I've been here and it's always good.  When the plate of eggplant was ready, the waitress brought me a bowl of rice from the huge wooden rice cooker near the door, and motioned that if I wanted more I was welcome to help myself.  So often, even if you don't understand a language you can get along--people are usually saying what you would imagine they would say, and gestures and body language communicate many things.  I ate my eggplant and rice slowly as I read a book.  One of the older ladies sitting in the shop watching TV (it was late and their weren't many customers, or else she would have been helping to serve) watched me off and on as I ate; seeing I was a foreigner, she offered me a spoon if I wanted it since foreigners sometimes have a bit of trouble with chopsticks.  I waved it off, though.  The chopsticks don't bother me.  I did wish I could explain to her that I wasn't eating slowly because I had difficulty with chopsticks, but because I was in no hurry and wanted to enjoy my food slowly as I read.  A lot of the people here do have a curiosity about foreigners and chopsticks...I've asked for questions from students a few times, and one of the first that comes up is "Can you use chopsticks?"

After I left the restaurant, I stopped by a small grocery store across the road.  Late in the evening on a Friday, it was packed, mostly with students. Here in China, I stand out everywhere I got.  I look like no one anyone has ever known; my hair, my eyes, my height (I can't think of any women taller than me), the way I dress--all are different.  I'm growing used to rounding the corner in the grocery store and getting suprised looks.  Often people openly stare; people with children excitedly nudge their children to look at the unusual sight--a waiguoren (foreigner).  Anyhow, I bought some bell peppers, orange juice, and cookies.  On my way back to the campus gate, I passed by the fruit stands and bought some bananas.

So, a busy day of work, a supper of eggplant and rice, and buying fruit at nine at night as I threaded my way through the brightly lit stalls--a good day to live in China.  As I entered the East Gate, I admired the lights reflecting in the motionless water of the decorative pond.  As I neared the pond, someone on the pathway on the other side began to play a flute...the music was beautiful and piercing in the dark; it was just the sort of music you would think of hearing on a Chinese night, the sort of thing you've heard on documentaries about China on the National Geographic channel.  I listened to the flute as I walked to my apartment, and I could still hear it out the window as I put my groceries away.

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