I arrived at my second story apartment yesterday afternoon around 3:30pm, 1:30am St. Paul time, and about 37 hours after Matt dropped me off at MSP on Wednesday. Phew! I nodded off a few times on the car ride from Pudong (the airport in Shanghai) to Hangzhou, but by the time Bao put the key in my new door, I was wide awake and crazy with adrenaline. I’ll put a video up soon of the apartment- for now, suffice it to say that it’s cold, and weird and quirky, and totally awesome.
So I’m here. And after Bao gets done showing me the particulars of the appliances and fixing my internet, he makes a phone call in Chinese. “Do you want to have dinner with your student’s relatives?” he asks. I glance into the pink sun-shaped mirror on the desk at my greasy, smelly self with smudgy makeup and puffy eyes. “Yeah! Of course!”
I knew before I came that one of my debaters, DW, had family in Hangzhou. DW is an amazing kid, responsible and practical and and funny and sort of a genius. His parents- who are Chinese- have always been really supportive of him, and of debate, and when they found out about my trip, they gave me lots of tips about China as well as their relatives’ contact information. But being relatives of these wonderful people, DW’s aunt and uncle called Bao first to ask if they could take us out to dinner, without waiting for me to call them. And Bao was determined yesterday to keep me awake long enough to stave off any lasting jet-lag, so a Welcome to China dinner was the perfect diversion.
They pick us up on the corner about a block away from my apartment, in a brand-new SUV, which DW’s uncle drives through the streets like it’s an ’84 Escort with a two-toned body and no insurance. We get to the restaurant, and I get big hugs from DW’s aunt, who is teeny-tiny with a cute, frilly, winter parka and expensive-looking leather boots, and from his uncle, DW’s mom’s brother, who bears the family resemblance. It was clear in the car ride over that they don’t speak any English, so DW’s aunt takes my arm and leads me into the restaurant (whose name I’m still unsure of) and to our table. It is as cold in the restaurant as it is in my apartment, so we keep our jackets on and sit away from the windows. Our waitress brings us tea, and just as I am about to take a sip, everyone jumps up and Bao tells me, “In traditional Chinese restaurants, you point at pictures and plates of the food you want.” We head upstairs, followed by our waitress who has some little PDA-looking device, and here is what we see:
(Can you tell I didn’t ask that guy for permission to take his picture? Oops. Bao says that if I’m doing something rude, people will tell me and stop me. So I just started snapping away.) There are plates and plates of food lined up, and we start pointing at what we want. Mostly, I let them choose because I have absolutely no idea what I’m looking at, although I do tell them I like seafood. We pick a few “cold” plates out here, and then head over to the wall of pictures.
These are the “hot” dishes, served warm, and they will follow our cold plates. Meanwhile, our server is behind us, clicking our orders into her PDA-thing. At this point, I’m pretty satisfied, but then DW’s aunt (far left in the picture) tells Bao (centered in the picture) to ask me how I like my shrimp cooked. “Um,” I say, “pretty much any way at all.” We turn around, and it’s then that I notice the third food-ordering room, and it’s got 3 walls lined with aquariums and- you guessed it- live seafood. Shrimp and flounder and who knows what else. Before I know it, the fish chef has pulled a live fish from the tank, throws it flopping into a shallow dish, and tells us that it’ll be ready soon.
Talk about fresh! So we head back down to our table, they order a round of coconut milks, and our food starts coming. (And the people at the next table light up and start puffing away. So weird! I think a lot of people here smoke. Bless you, smoking ban, bless you.)
At some point during the meal, DW’s aunt says that I must be very brave to have dinner with 3 strangers. I tell Bao to tell her that I think they’re more kind than I am brave, and after I finally crawl into bed, I truly can’t imagine a better welcome to Hangzhou.
And I think of a comment Bao made at dinner, that he bets 80% of my pictures will be of food. I can’t say I disagree. Check out these duck tongues:
I mean, duck tongues?! China, I already love you.