A note to start on, I am having to post from my friend’s computer and typing characters isn’t so easy on her’s so the following blog will have pinyin only 😦
Making Friends with Strangers Who Don’t Speak Your Language
So after learning how to make Jiaozi with Ken, my day continued to adventure on. Friday night, we had been attempting to ask the DJs to play Lady Gaga but they weren’t having it (which we thought was odd since “Oh my Lady Gaga” is literally a popular and common thing to say here). So I decided to ask the group of people that were hanging out at a table behind the DJ booth if they had any pull with the DJs and could ask them. Eventually Lady Gaga was played, but more importantly, new friends! One of them was my age named ChenKai, and come Sunday afternoon, I was getting a phone call from him.
I think I’ve only ever answered a phone call with “wei?” maaaaybe once…and I’m pretty sure it was with a bilingual friend and that I just giggled and spoke English for the rest of the phone call. ChenKai, however, does not speak aaany English whatsoever. Happily, I was able to successfully understand and answer when he asked if I knew who was calling, if I was free that night, and if I could go eat with him at 5. My giddiness at being able to carry on an entire phone conversation in Chinese (which is slightly more difficult and nerve wracking because you can’t even use your hands or facial expressions), soon turned to nerves at the prospect of potentially just having been asked out on a date…with someone who doesn’t speak my language, whose language I don’t speak super well, and frankly, though we talked at the club, who I didn’t really know.
Fortunately my roomie Jenna had come back from Suzhou and stopped by to see how my foot was doing. Little did she know that she was about to be roped into my adventure. Initially I just asked if she could walk me to the gate to meet him, but when the car pulled up, it had two other guys in it and they wanted to know if she wanted to come too. She was awesome enough to say yes! Aaand so off we went…into the countryside…
Adventures in the Countryside
About 20 minutes outside of Zhangjiagang (which got prettier and prettier with trees and a view of the river), the kid driving called someone (yeaa zero cell phone laws here…people even text while driving motorbikes) and started asking a lot of questions that lead me to believe that he was kind of lost. He kept going though and ended up turning into something a bit more residential and I asked ChenKai if he lived here, he said he’d never been there…riiight…we kept driving, wondering where we could be going.
Eventually we ended up driving right next to the river (and I was seriously seriously kicking myself for not having my camera with me because it was gorgeous with antique looking boats and green and beautifulness). We stopped at what looked like a tiny shack on the river. ChenKai had said when we got in the car that we would “diao yu”…but I didn’t really know what “diao” was and kind of assumed it was some kind of fish because yu means fish. Turns out diao yu means “to fish”…I was wearing a dress…with a broken foot…there was a bucket of eels, a basket of crabs in the water (as with Ken, I say “wo bu chi haixian” (I don’t eat seafood) and am given the response “zhe bus hi haixian, shi hexian!” (This isn’t seafood, it’s riverfood!”).
Soo we ate eel. Which was actually the easiest and tastiest to eat after I got over the sheer fact that it was eel. Had to have ChenKai show us how we were supposed to eat it though, because it had a really thick spiky bone in the center. Then we had to have him show us how to eat the crab, because it was not a broken apart easy to eat crab. And I don’t eat crab even when it is sitting in easy to eat pieces…it was also super yellow. But it ended up being kind of fun to eat because it was a challenge and didn’t taste tooo crazy.
There was also some sort of chicken knuckle soup (the broth tasted like straight up chicken broth so this was fine), some other kind of knuckle/foot meat dish with ginger, two kinds of fish (I hate fish but ChenKai just kept putting everything on our plates and saying it was delicious, so I ate fish). There was also a reaaally gross dish of green stuff that tasted like an ash tray.
Oh and it was me, Jenna, ChenKai, two people who were introduced as farmers, one who was introduced as an uncle and three others who were introduced as a friend, “a pain and you don’t need to know him”. One of them spoke some other dialect of Chinese so that anytime he said anything, the others translated his Chinese into Mandarin…talk about layers of communication!
After a very homey, countryside dinner in a shack on the river, we piled into three BMWs…such a weird contrast. Also, we listened to Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber on the ride back…not sure if that was for us or that they genuinely listen to them, but whatevs it was kind of adorable. They asked if we wanted to go drink tea, and Jenna was tired so she decided not to come. But in keeping with the adventure of the day (and also with my sincere love of tea), I said sure why not. Jenna actually wanted to walk home (partially to get some food on the way back since dinner was so weird), but they all started demanding that I call her and tell her that one of them was going to come and pick her up to drive her home. Attentive, but geeez!
So here I am, a foreign girl sitting in at a tea house with about 10 Chinese guys who collectively speak about ten words of English. The experience actually really made me wonder if this is a normal way to spend a night for them: a group of guys, ages ranging from 20-34, all of them pulled out some sort of technology when we sat down (iPads, iPhones and laptops…ChenKai has a fancy cell phone/mp3 player that he was constantly plugged into the entire day/night…he later asked if I wanted to listen and I was shocked to find that he had been BLARING house music into one of his ears the whole day…like, I don’t even think that ipods even go this loud, I put a bud in my ear and felt the music in every single bone in my body!), sitting in a tea house drinking tiny and very methodically seeped cups of tea and kind of ignoring one another for the most part.
The kid sitting next to me actually tried to talk to me for most of the time we were there (3 hours). His name is DiDiao and he insists on speaking complex Chinese to me. Literally insists, I got QQ (Chinese version of instant messaging) and started talking to him, and I told him that the Chinese he uses with me is a lot harder than my other Chinese friends use. He said they should use harder Chinese with me or else I will never learn. I’m not sure how productive looking up every other word and phrase is, but it is an interesting addition to my Chinese learning experience nonetheless. Anyhow, the tea was completely lovely. We tried some 83 kinds and it was cool to watch the process. Again, wish I had my camera. Every once in a while, one of the wise guys at the table would ask me to say something in English and the only one I couldn’t figure out was something that they kept describing as some sort of vehicle. I kept listing vehicles until they gave up. I looked the word up later and found out that they were totally asking for the word for Transformers haha. Technically they are a kind of vehicle!
# of seafood dishes that I was guilted into eating that day: Shrimp, crab, eel and two kinds of fish
# of seafood dishes that I have been guilted into eating since: Zero since I now know how to say that I don’t eat Sea OR River food.
It is very weird reading through this entry because I wrote it 2 weeks ago and sooo much has happened that I want to share. So look forward to, hopefully, some more pictures and stories!