Friday, July 04, 2008

Don't let Jennifer order if you are a picky eater

China is very different than Africa and is an exciting new place.

One of the main reasons I wanted to live in China though was to experience my ethnic heritage as an adult; however, being Taiwanese American in China has its challenges. I have heard about these challenges and yes they did scare me a bit, but I know that I am strong and can overcome difficulties proven by my two years of living in West Africa.

One major challenge is looking like I should be able to speak Chinese and not really knowing a word.

Tonight I went out to eat with three other Peace Corps trainees and felt the attention right away.

We walked through the alleyways between tall concrete polluted black coated buildings. We passed people sitting at hole in the wall quick eats looking for the noodle dumpling place we had gone to at lunch. Lunch was easy because our host country national trainers ordered for us. Instead of an opened restaurant, we saw the doors were drawn with the mom and pop preparing the dough for the next day. We continued down the alleyway that was just big enough for one car and walked into a noisy restaurant.

As soon as we sat down I was the person who all Mandarin was directed toward. All I could do was say, "I don't understand. I don't understand," in Chinese.

A crowd of 10 waiters surrounded our table. It was like being in a full bar with the music blaring except this place was only half full with no music. People know how to have a good time when going out to eat. There was so much noise and everyone was shouting at us. I was the only one smart enough to bring the menu that Peace Corps provided us that had Chinese dishes written in characters and explained in English. Since all of the shouting was directed at me, I had to make the decisions.

I got up and went to a table full of good food and pointed at the green vegetable dish that looked inviting. Then a waiter who spoke a little English pointed at various items on my Peace Corps provided menu and we picked two items: a pork vermicelli dish and a hot spicy tofu dish. Then the main waiter said something which I understood to mean that we had four dishes coming our way. We thought we had only ordered three.

So our three dishes came and then a HUGE pot filled with hundred of dried peppers and licorice like peppercorns filled with red oil and big chunks of fish arrived, our mystery dish finally making an appearance. But then another dish arrived, a HUGE bowl of clear broth with cabbage and a HUGE fish head. Lucky for me Africa taught me all about fish heads.

It was a meal to remember, savory, tasty, and cheap only $14 for the whole meal.

Plus I survived my first challenge, the challenge of being in a confusing atmosphere of language barriers where the locals can't understand why I can't speak Chinese and where I feel the stress of having to communicate somehow. It was intimidating but I survived. Lucky for me my dinner partners were not picky eaters.

1 comment:

Jesse said...

Great story, Jen! What a great payoff after all that, too, the meal sounds like it was delicious...if a little challenging.

Good work! Onward!

Miss you lots!