Friday, June 12, 2015

How Not to Use Chopsticks

     Hello readers! I'm sorry about the lack of posts. I have, unfortunately, been busy taking care of a very sick chinchilla.
     Have no fear! A post is here, and it's about using chopsticks!
     Or rather, how I use chopsticks.


     It was one of the first days in Chengdu. We were settling in at our “dorm” rooms—the dorm was actually a hotel, but they always put the PLU/LC students there because they had more accommodations than the other foreign student dorms, such as individual bathrooms. I think I can positively say that all of us were happy to be in one place. We’d started in Beijing, and hit the ground running—sightseeing mostly.
     Sichuan University had kindly assigned students to be our guides. After we’d met and exchanged names—their English was very good, which I suppose was one of the requirements—we’d decided to go out as a group for dinner. So, our PLU/LC group and our four guides—Eason, Kiki, Jennifer, and Demi—walked together out of the little north gate. They brought us to one of the many restaurants near the campus. We snagged a round table outside and managed to squeeze all of us around. Beer was ordered and toasts were exuberantly said. The beer glasses were akin to shot glasses—short and small. The dishes—massive tureens of steaming vegetables and noodles—were places in the middle, where everyone could reach. At least, in theory.
     I’m short, with proportionately short arms. This is not a problem; it just meant that I had to stand to reach the food. My chopstick skills, however, were a problem, especially when it came to picking up the extremely slippery noodles. In my defense, these noodles were not made of rice or wheat; they were a potato noodle and were as slippery as black ice.
There is also a technique that helps, which I was woefully ignorant of. You’re supposed to pick up your personal bowl and get that as close as possible to the communal bowl of noodles, and that way, just in case the noodles slip, you can catch them before they slither onto the table.
     I know now, but at the time, I was regrettably na├»ve to the ways of chopsticks.
     You know how it is. You’re in a new group of people and you want to make a good impression. This is particularly true when you’re in a different country and trying to represent your country in a respectable manner.
     I tried. Oh, did I try.
     For the majority of the night, it was fine. I got through a conversation with Eason and Anna without making an ass of myself, and I’d handled my chopsticks admirably. Then the noodles arrived. It was immediately obvious to me that I may have met my match, and yet they were tasty and different and I wanted to keep eating them.
     So, I stood, my chopsticks outstretched, and picked up a noodle. I carefully levered myself back towards my seat and was about to sit down when the noodle began to slip from my chopsticks.
     Oh no.
     It happened in slow motion and there was nothing I could do to prevent it.
     The noodle fell.
     Right into my beer glass.
     I sat, my hand still raised, and just looked sadly at my beer-sodden noodle.
     Maybe no one saw that?
     My eyes swept the table. Those who sat right next to me were oblivious, but then I looked across the table at Eason, who, as a good host, was gallantly trying to hide a smile. So much for making a good impression. I gave him self-conscious smile.
     A laugh broke through my embarrassment. Martin was sitting on Eason’s right and had also seen my failure. He had no compunction about laughing at me. It was his laughter that made me shed my awkwardness and I grinned back at him—really, if I had tried to get a noodle into my glass, I would have missed. Once Martin started, a chuckle escaped from Eason, and I added my own rolling laughter to theirs.
     Kiki got me another beer glass—I think the waiters were also amused by this clumsy foreigner—and dinner continued. So, I didn’t give the first impression that I wanted, but it was certainly the most genuine.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Little of This and a Little of That

     I have so many stories from my time in China, and some of them are short enough that they can't be posts by themselves. So, here are four short stories. I haven't decided if there is a common theme threading through the stories; I'll leave you to decide that. I'm sharing them, because, for me, it is in the quieter moments that our humanity reveals itself. It was during the late night conversations that I saw--saw and understood--my friends and the vulnerabilities that they are forced to hide because of their culture. The quick morning meal showed a lifetime of work and love. It was in the moments that I looked into a person's eyes and knew them--just for a moment. Even though we hardly spoke each others' language.

     But enough exposition. Here we go.


     I lived in the dorm, which meant that I didn’t have a kitchen handy to make food. This was fine, because in all honesty, I am lazy and there were plenty of places on the walk to school where I could buy a ready-made meal for less than one U.S. dollar.
     My favorite shop was run by an older woman, who had a craggy face and a full laugh. She sold these delicious pastries which were like crepes with egg folded into a package of deliciousness. From what I could tell—she had the thickest Sichuan accent—these were called momos. I would unabashedly inhale a momo for breakfast every single day on my walk to school. She sold a yogurt drink which I often bought too. The shop, by the way, was her apartment. She'd had one of the outside walls of her ground floor home taken out, and sold food which had been made right in her own kitchen. I would peek into the living room and see her husband or grandchildren watching TV. Her home always seemed full of people and chatter.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Competition Day (Part 2)

(A continuation of this post)(and edited for spelling errors. Sorry about that!)

    “Go in,” Chuanchao said “Get good seats!”
    "Good luck!" Simon and I chorused. He gave a grin and a thumbs up.
    The gymnasium was obviously new. The windows were shiny, the floors unscuffed, and it still had the peculiar smell which accompanies all construction sites. I wondered vaguely if this competition was the main reason for the creation of this gym. 

    We still had time, and there were plenty of seats still open, so Simon and I wandered through the different halls. For the students of this school, life was going on routinely. 

Badminton is one of the more popular sports in China

Monday, April 6, 2015

Eat All the Food: Street Markets

    Before I came to China, I was never a picky eater. I had some experience eating what most Westerners would consider weird (snakes and ants, anyone?). So, it was not a hard intention to make that while I studied in China, I would try as many new foods as possible. It is especially easy to make an intention such as this when I am at home with a bowl of cornflakes in front of me.
It was not always smooth sailing. There were a couple of times I was confronted with a food that my brain screamed "don't put that in your mouth!" But then I did. People eat all kinds of things and they survive. Therefore, I can too.

Welcome to
Eat All the Food
Street Market version  

    We visited quite a few street markets in China and Tibet. Some where more touristy than others, but all had much hustling and bustling. The crush of people was overwhelming at first, but then, after a few panicked minutes, I gathered myself and hustled and bustled with the best of them.
   Now, before you think "Ach, another success story. I thought the title of this blog meant that she fails sometimes too!"
    There is at least one fail coming up in this post (and more in later posts).

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Competition Day (Part 1)

(Edited for spelling errors. Sorry folks!)

    I mentioned in a previous post that I was learning kungfu. I was also fortunate to go see my friend's kungfu/taichi practice. My friend, who also happened to be the assistant teacher for my kungfu class, and his classmate had been training the preceding months for an upcoming competition. In the States, I worked for a Taekwondo dojang and I've been to my share of Taekwondo competitions. I was, naturally, curious to see whether a kungfu/taichi competition was similar. When I mentioned my interest to Chuanchao, he expressed pleasure, ducking his head in embarrassment.
    "My friend would like to go too. I will introduce you and you both can arrive together." He said. "You cannot come with me, because I have to be there very early."


    As the day drew nearer, I got lost in my studies, and Chuanchao in his. Chinese was running me over like a dump truck, and I was not doing as well as I'd hoped. It was the day before the competition, and I was walking home from a particularly horrific class--it was one of those classes during which I was apparently asking really dumb questions. My chin was tucked into the scarf around my neck, and I watched the ground as I strode. I was so lost in self-pity that I didn't notice that Chuanchao walking towards me. He had to step right in front of me, blocking my path, before I realized that he was there.
    As usual, he was wearing loose pants and a sweatshirt. In his hands, he carried several of the swords used in Chinese fencing. Obviously, he'd just come from practice.
    After exchanging greetings, he gave me his friend's number, saying that we should figure out when and where to meet.
    "The competition will be at the medical school." Chuanchao added.
    I nodded, thinking of the medical school near our own campus. "Okay, that's not too far." I murmured.
    "It will be good, I think." he said. "I must go now, but I will see you tomorrow."
I smiled as I waved goodbye. Then, I turned and padded back home.