Classes have concluded. Grading has concluded. Nothing happens until after New Year/Spring Festival. So it is, naturally, time to eat.
I’ve mentioned before that the easiest introduction to Chinese culture is food. Food is everywhere; there are probably 50 restaurants within three blocks of where I live, and the blocks are not especially large. Many of these I cannot eat in because they list things only in Chinese. I am a bit intimidated by that, and even when I can read some of the characters, I can’t read all or enough of them, or those selling me those dishes will ask me questions I don’t understand.
Me: I’d like the chicken soup.
Me: Could you say that again?
Me: (I wonder if they are asking if I want them to pour it on my head or down my pants?)
So I don’t go in.
And even when I can read the characters, and I’m ready for questions (I can usually deal with things like “do you want it heated?” and “is this to go or to eat here?”), the dishes may have names that are not really that informative. So I go into a place, and read the menu, and am not that confident what I will be getting when I ask for “Seven Swallows Fly Over Purple Mountain.” Is that fried duck tongue? (If so, ok.) Is that eggplant? (If so, not ok.)
This is frustrating. These restaurants are very cheap, and I’ve eaten at many of them when I’m with Chinese speakers. But I’m often on my own, would just like a bowl of noodles or some chicken and rice, and am too cowardly to go for it. I am working on it: characters and attitude.
In the meantime, I fix things at home and eat at a) Chinese restaurants with English menus, b) Chinese restaurants with picture menus, and c) Western restaurants. The last tends to be quite expensive, so I try not to go to those too often. However, it is sometimes nice to just get a hamburger or some pasta or a pizza.
But this week, it seemed all sorts of folks wanted to go out to eat. Monday there was my friend Jimmy, who helped me by doing some translation work; Tuesday was Emily, my Chinese teacher (and patient soul); Wednesday was a student at Soochow University, whose name I don’t actually know (I have it narrowed down to Mariah or Mary), and I’m not sure she knows my name either; Thursday was Emily again, and Zoe, an old pal. (Well, she’s not old, but I’ve known her since I arrived in Suzhou.) Friday was lunch with Ann and Hong Xia, two colleagues from my university.
Yet, foolishly, I forgot to take pictures, except with Jimmy. So no pictures of Uighur food, Chinese barbecue, or the various dishes I was treated to at the new Soochow University faculty dining room. What was I thinking?
But I did remember to take some pictures at the good dumpling restaurant quite near me; I eat there every couple of weeks, because their food is very good and it is close (and they have a menu with both English and pictures). It is a little more expensive, in part because it can be, given the reviews it gets on Yelp, Trip Advisor, etc.. And probably because of that, there are often people in there looking suspiciously like me.
So have some food pictures, and come back next week to see if anything more exciting has happened. Generally, at least in my life, everyone seems to be waiting to go home, or some place, for the upcoming holiday, the biggest holiday of the year. Not me; travelling during the New Year holiday is something for people much braver, and much more tolerant, than I will ever be.
[I will admit I have not yet turned on the TV in my flat, and have not had a beer since August. New Year’s Eve, I am going to have some beer, and watch—along with all the rest of China—the New Year’s Extravaganza. I don’t understand most of it (it is very Chinese), but I like watching it anyway. Last year I watched some of it (it goes on for awhle) in a bar in Guiyang. Beer seems to help me understand it better, or help me not care that I don’t.]