Well, that was an adventure.
You may (or may not) remember that on our last day in Wuyishan, Aleid and I made friends with a couple on their honeymoon. When we parted ways, they told us to come visit them when we had a chance. Despite the fact that we spent an entire lesson studying a text detailing the awkwardness that can result from assuming Chinese people mean it when they say this sort of thing, we decided to assume they meant it. I texted Lin (the woman) on Thursday asking if we could come over this weekend, and she yes, so take that and stuff it, Beijing University Press!
They live in Zhao’An in Zhangzhou city, and she assured us it was very close. So Sunday morning Aleid and I met at 9, went to the bus station, and got a perfectly-timed bus heading that way. We didn’t think to inquire about the length of the trip until we were seated on the bus, which was when we discovered it was over 3 hours away. Um . . . ‘kay. Aleid and I exchanged a glance and she said, “Let’s just see what happens!” And so it began.
We slept on the way, but every time I woke up I got to appreciate a tiny bit of Fujian’s mountainous, green beauty. When we arrived, our friends picked us up on their motorbikes – sweet. (Actually, first we had to find the bus station, which was less than a block away but quite unassuming. We asked the swarms of taxi and pedicab drivers where it was, and one twerp actually offered to take us there. After I snorted and rolled my eyes, he pointed to the building directly behind us. Aleid told me that this sort of thing happened to her less-China-saavy roommates in Guangzhou; they ended up getting driven around the block three times before being dropped off exactly where they started.)
The majority of the afternoon consisted of three things: 1) being fed ridiculous amounts of food, most of them 诏安特产 (ZhaoAn specialties), 2) drinking miniscule cup after miniscule cup of bitter tea, and 3) being introduced to every friend of our friends.
We went to the cell phone shop that she opened, where we had lunch. We went to their house, where I got to look at their wedding photos. This is always a pleasure of mine, but especially so in China where wedding photos take up an entire day and include several costume and location changes.
We went to her cousin’s business, her friend’s house, her other friend’s clothing store, her other friend’s cell phone shop, and were introduced to other friends on the street. We were also sometimes driven around by her friend who mysteriously had a really nice car. (Can you say Mob Boss? Most definitely. That, or a DVD shop.) We drank tea at every stop, much to my chagrin :( (Somewhere around the 27th cup, I fantasized about telling them I don’t drink tea. But then I figured they wouldn’t believe me, and continued to choke it down.)
One of the friends gave us some peanuts from his hometown as a gift. Then Lin remembered my singing of the national anthem back in Wuyishan, and told me to sing it again. When I protested, she told me that he had given me peanuts and it would be polite to sing for him. I took the opportunity to tell them about a phrase we have in English, the one about “working for peanuts”.
We had dinner in a nice restaurant, where they took our rule of thumb (one dish per person), doubled it, and ordered a second soup. While I really regretted their inexplicable fondness for 苦瓜, the bitter gourd, the meal was pretty good. There was this fried sweet rice thing, some delicious pork dumplings, savory greens, the best Japanese tofu I’ve had yet with some tasty (already half-peeled) shrimp, the mandatory eggplant dish, and some sort of fried fish stick.
The only problem with being treated to dinner by Chinese is their darned hospitality. They’re such conscientious hosts that their concern sometimes borders on smothering. At the very least, it’s slightly pushy; at worst it’s aggressive. They like to add food to your plate – usually what they consider the best, which I usually consider the weirdest. They refill bowls without asking, over your protests. Your claims to be full will be studiously ignored and refuted until you’ve finished everything on the table, including the dishes they ordered after you began claiming to be full. With that said, I know they do it because they care and I treasure these dinners – weird dishes, painfully-full stomachs, and all.
After dinner we went to sing karaoke. We went to her cousin’s business, which had a combination conference-room-slash-karaoke-parlor (of course). Aleid and I started off with some English songs, performing some awesome versions of “Pretty Fly for a White Guy”, “Last Christmas”, and “Umbrella”. Then they sang some and we pulled out our (very small) repertoire of Chinese songs. I think we did pretty well for ourselves, singing 童话, 爱我别走, 故事里的事, and 普通朋友. It was my first time doing karaoke with Chinese, and it was a ball. We sang until midnight – ending with the national anthems again, of course.
Our original plan had been to stay for the afternoon, but our friends weren’t really happy with that. They greeted us by asking how many days we were staying, and wouldn’t accept “one” as an answer. There was a cool festival coming up – on the SEVENTH! – that they wanted us to stay for, but I think in their hearts even they knew that was ridiculous. We managed to bargain down to one night (pleading class as an excuse). It’s not that I didn’t want to stay; we did have class and we didn’t have any overnight necessities with us. Thus, we slept in our clothes and Aleid and I shared the one toothbrush that she gave us.
As we lay in bed – our first time sleeping in a Chinese home, stuffed to the gills, still slightly buzzed from karaoke – we giggled at how ridiculous our day had been. Definitely the best all year.