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avant-garde_chauvintist wandering through the garden of ideals

Spicey food and pandas

CHINA | Thursday, 7 February 2008 | Views [599] | Comments [1]

A little more planning went into the visit to Chengdu. We were aware of the relatively large size of this city. Mario sniffed out the best couch surfer to stay with for the new year.

All I wanted for the Chinese New Year was to be in China. My expectations were met and then far surpassed with the couch surfing experience in Chengdu.

We hopped on a plane in Harbin and found ourselves in Chengdu about five hours later. Arriving at the airport we phoned our new friend, You (prononced Yo! What's up?), and made our way to her parents house.

You is 17. She's in high school. She's studying to enter university in a couple years. And she's a couch surfer.

She heard about it randomly on the news or something. She signed up offering her parents home as a reprieve in Chengdu. Her parents speak very little English. In fact, they don't really speak Mandarin, mostly the dilect of Sichuan. Her parents aren't super keen on the idea of inviting foreign strangers into their home, but, like most Chinese that I've met, they insist on helping the foreigners. The idea that foreigners are completely helpless in land o' tonal speech leads them to, probably against better judgement, invite three American strangers into their not-so-humble abode.

You's house is AWESOME. It's about 500 meters from one of the prime attractions in Chengdu (a Buddhist temple; You thinks it's silly, but she obliged to give us directions there). It's got an extra bedroom (as the only girl, this was my room) and tons of space. And little treats like coffee from Hainan (the Hawaii of China) and a box FULL of sweet treats.

We did our best to see things around Chengdu, but some things were difficult with the holiday approaching. Her uncle ended up driving us to this small town near Chengdu one morning because it is an archaeological site from like 5,000 years ago and is supposed to be amazing. Upon arriving, we realized it was closed. Without missing a beat, he turned the car around and drove us straight to the Panda Reserve so our day wouldn't be wasted. In the process, he phoned his mother, who lives in San Diego, to have a chat with Ilan, who's from San Diego. He also kept tossing bread and milk for breakfast into the backseat so we wouldn't go hungry.

On the new year, we were invited with their family for their dinner. Since I arrived in China, I have heard about the new year dinner countless times. My students have given numerous presentations on the subject. During quizzes, they managed to change the topic to new year food more than once. When having individual conversations, somehow the new year food always comes up. Needless to say, being invited to experience it with a real Chinese family not only piqued my interested, but made me squeal with the delight of a Chinese kid receiving "lucky money".

And after all this antipation, I sort of expected it to be as anti-climatic as viewing the Mona Lisa for the first time. Or as disappointing as instant coffee. Luckily, this was not the case. Banquet style. About 10 courses of the finest Chinese food. All in my belly. Yum Yum.

You is an only child, as are most in China. But she has three cousins. It's incredible for a Chinese family to have three kids, but they do. (The first one was free. The second one cost Y500 in fines. The third, Mei Mei, cost about Y10,000 in fines.)

Mei Mei is four. She's been counting in English since she was about two. And she was absolutely, positively in love with me. After the lavish feast, I felt a tugging on my bag. Anticipating a rude Chinese person trying to get by, I stepped aside. Only the tugging didn't stop. I couldn't see the cause until I looked down. Way down. It was Mei Mei trying to find my fingers so she could grab a hold.

For the next 14 hours or so, she never let go.

She touched my hair and face. She pulled back the lids of my eyes to get a closer looks at the foreign and inexplicable green roundness. She sat on my lap. She offered me food. She talked to me in Chinese and in Sichuanese trying to help me understand her. I talked back in English and broken Mandarin, which made her giggle. She attempted to speak my language by mumbling jibberish.

We watched the fireworks together. We watched the classic Chinese New Year program on TV together. We ate far too many sweet treats together. In the morning, when she woke up far before I did, she asked "Lao wai jie jie zai nar?" Which translates to "Where is the foreign big sister?"

She was ADORABLE. And, interestingly enough, she was not interested at all in Mario or Ilan (both of whom teach little children and have far more experience with Chinese children who can only count to 10 in English).

She wouldn't let go when it was time to say good bye. As a parting gift of a four-year-old's capacity, she offered me a piece of beef jerkey. She also ended the introduction with "ching-ching" or kisses.

We stayed in Chengdu for six nights, but as we quickly fell in love with You and her family, it was hard leave. As we landed in Kunming, reminiscing on our experiences and luck in meeting her, we realized that we already missed her...

Tags: On the Road




IT WAS SO SWEET...hehe...qinqin~

  You Feb 24, 2008 11:50 PM

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