The Accidental Interloper

The Accidental Interloper

Tonight marks the end of my first month in China. It has been a beautiful month, challenging sometimes, full of ridiculous situations that I got myself into and a lot of miscommunications. Fortunately for me I have been blessed with patient people. Shop owners and coworkers patiently let me stumble though new words, making a fool out of myself. But over all I am getting on pretty well here. Tonight I had a new sort of experience.

Earlier I went for a walk and went farther then I meant to and also got a bit lost. Getting lost is a common side effect of not being able to read the street signs. While getting lost in a strange city has its charm, tonight it made me late for dinner. It as 8 pm, by the time I was on my way to the restaurant where I eat. Usually I would eat around 5 or 6 on weekends, so I was a little worried that it might be closed. I was very tired and very hungry so I was glad to see the doors open and the light shining bright as I approached the the restaurant.

As soon I walked in I saw the family that ran the place sitting down for their own meal, realising that they might be closed, and I was interrupting dinner, I started to back out the door, my face flushing to a bight crimson. The grandmother smiled and laughed at me, then waved her arm motioning me to stay. She walked over to the door and ushered me over to the family table, where a chair had suddenly appeared and I was being pushed into it. I smiled shyly around the table, everyone was beaming at me and speaking rapidly to each other in Mandarin. Even after a month, I still no very little and no one in the family spoke any English. Their smiles soon put me at ease though.

Some of the ladies from the restaurant.

The children flew to my side instantly, two leaning on the side of chairs, staring at me. The youngest girl, and the princess of the family, clamoured up onto my lap were she perched for the rest of the evening. I think she is about three. Chopsticks are made even more difficult with a three year old clinging to one of your arms. She was darling and chatted away to me, never stopping for a breath. It made me miss my own chatty niece.

When you eat out with a group the food is always served family style. Everyone is given a rice bowl and then you use your chopsticks to eat directly from the serving plate. If something is too hot or the bite is too big, you can place it into your bowl of your rice. I love this style of eating as you get to have a bit of everything, rather then have to pick just one thing off the menu. The downside of eating alone in China, is you miss out on the variety.

Tonight however I was able to sample bit of everything, well actually a lot of everything. When you are a guest in China, the hosts push food on you constantly. I could barely keep up with everything that they put in from of me. Everyone was dishing me up a bit of this and that, everyone ignoring my protests. When I was so full, I could not eat another bite, I remembered to leave a bit of food in my bowl. I was told that this is the polite was to say that you are full, here in China. Maybe I did it wrong, or did not leave enough food, because they kept putting more things on my place and motioning for me to eat them. I really need to learn the Mandarin words for “No thank you, I’m full”. They might have saved me tonight, had I known them!

I walked home, reflecting that this was the first time that I felt a sense of belong in this place, and marvelling that I was actually able to walk out on my own after consuming all that food. It was a lovely evening filled with laughter and amazing food.

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