Maria Holland

Goodbye, Hunchun

In Uncategorized on May 28, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Making jiaozi is like Thanksgiving, at any time of year.  We made a few hundred last night, which meant today’s breakfast was jiaozi and it looks like tomorrow’s will be too.  Eating jiaozi dipped in a mixture of soy sauce, garlic, and hot – alternating with cookies and milk – at 6 a.m. didn’t even feel that weird.  It felt . . . delicious. 

They went to work and I went to church.  Everyone on Sunday had welcomed me back any day, so I took advantage of the proximity of the church here (and the fact that I was already out of bed) to go to daily Mass.  As soon as I opened the door, I knew something was different – the sight that greeted me was 50 black heads covered in white veils, and the sound that greeted me was not Mandarin.  It turns out that today’s Mass was in 朝文, [North] Korean.  Huh!

I was helped by the Korean/English missal that a sister passed me, and by the fact that the readings (and even the homily, I think) were all read twice, in both Chinese and Korean.  Nothing makes a foreign language sound familiar and comforting like another, more foreign and even less familiar, language!  I mainly read everything to myself throughout Mass (although one of my approximately 10 Korean words, “komapsumida” or “thank you” did come up several times!), but I found it a little weird to read the English Mass after so long so sometimes I recited the Chinese to myself.  I think it takes a long time to say stuff in Korean, because sometimes I had time to do both before the priest caught up with me! 

This has been an interesting week after Pentecost, including Mass in two languages (neither of them my native language).  The story of Pentecost is the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, filling them with gifts including the ability to speak in tongues and be understood by all who heard in their mother tongue.  Unfortunately, this gift has yet to manifest itself in my presence, but I have, throughout my life, witnessed the proclamation of the Word to many different peoples.  It’s just the work of many to do this, the task of each particular church.  It’s also super cool.

After Mass (and after the stream of Koreans greeting and thanking me subsided), I went off in search of a place to wash my hair.  I love staying at the Zhang’s (call me a sucker for a heated floor) but the bathroom situation is a little less than ideal – as in, I don’t believe there’s a towel larger than a washcloth in the entire house.  Luckily, China offers cheap alternatives to showers, so I just went to a small, slightly sketchy, hairdresser and had them wash and blow-dry my hair for 10 kuai, or $1.50. 

I went to peruse the mall after that, when a woman caught my attention by guessing correctly that I’m American, not Russian.  She was a manicurist and, as I had torn a nail the other day and hadn’t brought a nail file up north with me, I sat down for a manicure.  Despite paying double price for a French manicure (10 kuai!), it was still cheaper than buying a nail file in America.  Plus it came with an hour of oral Chinese practice!

It was time to meet up for lunch, so I took a sanlunche across town.  [Picture below is from the archives, not current!]

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Sanlunches (pedicabs or, literally, “three-wheeled vehicles”) are way cooler than taxis because a) the view is better, b) they only cost 2 kuai instead of 5, and c) Xiamen doesn’t have them.  I met the Zhang’s at the place they’re working, then Mob Boss and his wife picked us up from there.  No one wanted to make the decision of where to go, so when Mob Boss finally tossed out the idea of dog, I agreed.  We went to “Hunchun’s best dog restaurant”, where we ordered a plate of dog, a plate of beef, two eggplant dishes, and potato cakes.  The dog was a little bit better than last time – the hot sauce helped a lot! – but the texture is unmistakable in a not-so-good way. 

Eating dog I can handle, but some things at lunch still threw me off.  The second time our waiter came in, they asked me if he was 帅不帅, good-looking or not!  Okay, I’ll admit he was good-looking and the thought had crossed my mind, but . . . I couldn’t say no because that would be both rude and a lie, and I couldn’t say yes because we just don’t say things like that!  I settled for hysterical laughter and a bright red blush.  Well played, Maria.

After that, we got into a thorough discussion of my finances – how much and from where – that stopped only because I don’t know how much my dad makes.  It’s interesting – if there were a trivia contest between them and my friends back home and “Maria’s Finances” were a category, they would win.  Americans just don’t ask those questions . . .

One good thing about this discussion is it apparently convinced them that they could let me pay for lunch.  I had invited them (with the obvious implication that I would pay) but they still jockeyed for the bill.  This was my first real battle over a check here, and I’m proud to say I won. 

Dog for 5 = 160 kuai. 
Beating a Chinese man at 请客 = priceless.

We dropped Xiao Zhang off at work, and then they took Xiao Li and I out.  It was my last day in Hunchun and they wanted me to 好好玩, or have a good time. 

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We headed towards 防川 (the place where Russia and NK cut China off from the Sea of Japan) but stopped along the way at some sand dunes.  Yes, Hunchun has no ocean and is covered in snow 5 months out of the year, but they have sand dunes too! 

We took a bunch of pictures (with his camera, though, so I’m still waiting) and I laughed so much that my cheeks hurt.  What a great last afternoon!

Back in town, Xiao Li took me to buy some things I need to cook Chinese at home – jiaozi sticks, enormous strainer/spoon, and garlic press.  Then we walked through town towards home, stopping along the way to visit her friends.  I found it really interesting that all of her friends (plus my manicurist) where Christian and showed it pretty obviously.  This is a pretty big difference from Xiamen, where the only Christians I know are either foreigners or friends I met at church.

At one friends’ store, while they were discussing the differences between Chinese and American food, I burst out in uncontrollable laughter.  The discussion – “they eat bread and drink milk” – is nothing I haven’t heard a hundred ten-million times, but this time it struck me as particularly funny.  I had this mental image of our family gathered around the table, upon which is set a single loaf of bread and a pitcher of milk.  We look around for the rest of the food, but there’s nothing – just bread and milk tonight, again.  Maybe Americans make generalizations as much as Chinese and I just never noticed it, but I seem to have taken on refuting incorrect assumptions (especially about foreigners) as my personal task this year. 

At the same place, I took another step towards assimilating into Chinese culture!  They asked how old I was, and instead of going into the discussion of whether you’re 0 or 1 when you’re born, and therefore whether I’m 22 or (gasp!) 23, I just said I was 八八年, or born in 1988 and let them figure it out.  Personally, I’m annoyed when other people make me do the math, but they don’t seem to.  This way seems more efficient in China, so maybe I’ll make it a habit. 

Back at home, Xiao Zhang showed me how to make 拔丝地瓜, sweet potatoes in caramelized sugar.  We had that and beef-‘n-ginger for dinner, then walked to the night market for dessert.  Yes, tonight was the night I finally ate silkworm.  Having heard that they’re good from Xiao Zhang, ZaiBin, and Timothy & Naomi, I decided I couldn’t put it off any longer.

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Verdict?  Not the worst thing I’ve eaten.  (Although honestly, I say that about everything.  I’m not sure what I would say is the worst thing I’ve ever eaten!)  They were grilled to a crisp, leaving the inside still mushy.  The texture was fine (although, I’m not gonna lie, finding a bit of shell in between my teeth later was more than a little nasty) but I didn’t care much for the taste. 

At this point in my culinary adventures, eating something is no big deal.  The big deal is that, after getting one silkworm down, I had another one.  (There were four on the skewer, Xiao Zhang only wanted two, and I don’t like to waste food!)  Also, I didn’t have anything to wash it down with, which I think is pretty amazing.  Go me!

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Xiao Zhang didn’t seem so happy at the night market.  Maybe he’s just tired, but I wonder if he’s also sad that I’m going.  I know I am . . . and although my Chinese has improved a lot, I still can’t fully express how I feel.

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  1. I read your blog aloud to Sebastian, but when I got to the “ate dog” part I told him you were talking about “hot dogs”. Whew!! Then, when we got to the “eating silkworms” part, we both got sick. Yuck – I’ll never let you kiss me again! And now will you please try peas again whe you get home?

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