Saturday, 14 February 2009

What to do in China on Valentine's Day When You're Single

So I get woken up on Valentine’s Day morning by a text from one of the teachers at my school wishing me a happy and romantic Valentine’s Day. This is not weird for China, a lot of my students wished me a happy Valentine’s Day yesterday. I read it in a barely conscious state and then lapsed back into slumber for another couple of hours. I seem to be stupidly tired at the moment, even though I really have no reason to be.

I went with Kara to have lunch with Mr Dong, who is my boss of sorts, and his daughter. When he called me yesterday I was having quite a bit of trouble understanding him, so I assumed that it was just going to be a casual meeting. It turned out, however to be a feast of such dimensions that I began to wonder if there was a magic stove in the kitchen, as just when I thought we’d finished, another dish appeared.

Daisy, the English name of Mr Dong’s daughter, is studying in Kunming, Yunnan Province, and the gist of much of our conversation was the general superiority of Kunming to Shijiazhuang in most respects, which I don’t find hard to believe. It’s not that I dislike Shijiazhuang, but most other places seem to be more interesting.

I also discovered that I teach Mr Dong’s son, who is a junior two, and at that teenage boy stage of hiding in his bedroom and then lurking silently at the family dining table, although I have no doubt he probably yaps his head off when he’s with his friends. When prompted by his father to speak to me, in a socially deft move to avoid having to talk to your teacher on a Saturday afternoon in a foreign language, he cheersed me.

On first catching sight of six plates of cold appetisers I made the foolish mistake of wondering if that would be enough for six people to eat. There was a dish of pig’s ear and onion, which was actually quite toothsome if a little chewy, an absolutely delicious plate of corned donkey, delicate starch noodles and cucumbers, some of the peculiar frankfurter type sausage so beloved by the Chinese, a dish of crunchy and tangy lotus roots in a garlic and ginger sauce that was so addictive Kara and I are hoping that Mrs Dong will teach us how to make it, and a plate of incredibly fresh cherry tomatoes that got rather overlooked amongst the somewhat less quotidian options.

This was followed by a resplendent fish, served whole in the Chinese style, that I had to manage to refuse to eat politely. Luckily, it was accompanied by a dish of succulent green beans, so that I had no difficulty in eating busily. Then came what was remarkably like an Irish stew, and a roasted fowl. A discussion of what you would call a baby marrow in English resulted in the said vegetable being transformed into another delectable morsel faster than I would’ve thought possible.

This was followed by the sweet course, a selection of sticky rice balls with an orange flavoured filling in a sweet soup and baozi (a steamed bread bun) filled with a sweet red bean paste. Really, these were just too sweet for my taste, but I managed to womanfully consume most of my portion. Especially as I wanted to remain in Mrs Dong’s good books in the hope she might teach us how to make dumplings – and lessons from such a good cook would almost be worth eating fish eyes for.

After having eaten so much food, washed down with red wine, the gym might not have seemed like the ideal way to spend the rest of the afternoon, but as I’ve been backsliding for the last couple of days I decided not to let myself makes excuses again, and apart from a slight feeling of nausea when I was on the elliptical I was glad I went. Not least because I bumped into one of my students there, a Senior 2 boy called Micheal. I have so many students (well over 1000) that it is quite impossible to get to know most of them, so I really enjoyed talking with him. How he manages to fit in six hours a week at the gym on top of the truly insane homework load he has is quite amazing.

I didn’t enjoy talking so much with the man that accosted me outside the gym. I’m obviously wearing my ‘stalk me’ hat at the moment as it’s the second time this week that I’ve been followed down the street. I think he was trying to obtain my phone number, as he kept waving his iPhone at me, but given his lack of English and my evident lack of Chinese, I would have thought he would realised the futility of his endeavour before he did.

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