Today – as we emerged from the subway, walked under the shady bridge, and caught sight of the coffee shop – I realized that this trip has been more of a milestone than I originally thought. In addition to seeing pre-Xiamen friends for the first time, I’m also returning to someplace in China for the first time. Besides coming home to Xiamen after trips, I haven’t been to any place twice in China since I’ve been studying Chinese. The places I visit go in the journal, in the camera, in my mind . . . and stay there. Visiting them again draws these memories out and forces them to confront reality. In a foreign country, where so much of the experience is dictated by your language skills (which are always changing), this confrontation is interesting.
Our destination was right next to the coffee shop. In my memory, it was “the hotel next to the coffee shop”. In reality, it has a name – 华夏酒店. Who woulda thought? Both my memory and reality placed the restaurant on the second floor, and both involved an enormous room filled with tables of loud Chinese people eating dim sum. My memory of the dim sum was vivid, but contained absolutely no Chinese related to the food. This made ordering fun . . . For the first time in months, I found myself pointing to other people’s food and saying “We want that!”
I did okay – we got the sopapillas, soup baozi, and jiaozi – but my attempt to get sweet sesame balls returned instead a zebra-colored gelatin with basically no flavor. You win some, you lose some! I was pretty pleased overall, though, especially when Pat remarked with surprise: “None of that was bad!” This is basically my goal in life, to show people how delicious and cheap it can be to eat Chinese food in China.
This afternoon we went souvenir shopping on the island. Despite the fact that the US Consulate is no longer on Shamian island, the adoption process is completely centered there. All adopting families stay on the island and a variety of services have sprung up to take care/advantage of the new parents. Picture stores filled with shirts that say Mom, Dad, Big Brother, Little Sister, etc. in Chinese, and a man who writes the kids’ names in English and Chinese for free. The prices were pretty reasonable, though, and Eva and I make a good bargaining team (with my language skills and her backbone) so we did alright.
For dinner, we went back to the place with the sawdust eggplant that Carson had been raving about since we ate yesterday.
We followed that up with ice cream at the 7-11. I passed on the Magnum bars to try milk-tea flavored ice cream, which tasted just like you’d imagine milk tea ice cream to taste like – freaking delicious. I also got a Slurpee there earlier today! Most amazing Slurpee of my life – I mean, it tasted just like they do in America, but it was in China which is amazing.
I could tell Shan was excited tonight. I think he’s happy about going to America, but also he was looking forward to seeing a friend of his from the orphanage.
She was just adopted by an American family on April 6th (the day before her 14th birthday) and they just got to Guangzhou this evening. We met up with their family – mom, dad, 4 natural kids and two adopted – in the hallway and talked for a few hours.
They all speak a little bit of Chinese and have been to China several times before, but I was surprised to hear that they’ve basically had the same experience as my friends. One of the greatest incentives to learning Chinese is that freedom is directly proportional to language skills. As I get better and better at Mandarin, I am more and more able to go where I want, buy things I want, eat what I want – and pay what I want. In my complete naivete concerning adoptions, I guess I figured that it would be somewhat similar. I’d probably still have to hire a translator and people to help me with the paperwork but I’d find a cheaper, more convenient hotel, and would get around with public transportation. Apparently, this is not possible. LAME.
Their flight is early tomorrow morning and my only goal is to eat breakfast before it stops at 10:30, so we said goodnight and goodbye. It’s been really great to see them, and I’m sure glad they got to see me :)