Thursday, September 20, 2012

When Words Fail

I'm back in Beijing, and mostly enjoying the relatively simplified life I live here.
Even with the hassles: a washer that used to dry clothes, and now has decided not to dry clothes. (China: 1)
Air pollution in the "very unhealthy" range, which I can smell and taste. (China: 1)
A cab ride across the city that costs as much as coming from the airport. (Debbie: 1 -- at least we got a cab)

We're enjoying the visit of Jen and Bill, and yesterday we managed to visit both the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven.

It was only when we decided to take them to our favorite Xinjiang restaurant that the day fell apart a little. We ordered about six dishes -- green beans, wild vegetables, nan bread, nan bread with ground meat on top, some grilled chicken and beef.

But what appeared on our table first was an odd cold turnip thing. How do you say in Chinese, "We didn't order this?" I don't know. Best I could manage was "bu yao" -- I don't want. The waiter helpfully showed me that I HAD ordered it by pointing to the Chinese characters on the receipt. Oh, okay. Maybe I pointed wrong, I thought.

Then another dish we hadn't ordered came out: some dark blue pickled eggs. I know I didn't point to that. And then another dish: grilled shrimp. Again, I was certain we didn't even go near the seafood section since Jennifer doesn't eat fish.

So I had a bit of a meltdown, or as much of one as I could do with my limited language. "Bu yao! Bu yao!" I yelled and placed the shrimp and the eggs on a table across the aisle.

Meanwhile, the green beans turned out to have some sort of spice that made Jennifer gargle with beer. I've never seen anyone gargle with beer before.

As I'm watching her gargle, the waiter comes over and puts the eggs back on our table. At this point, I give up. China: 3, Debbie: 0.

After a few minutes, the waiter came over and said something in Chinese that sounded contrite. I mumbled something back -- I'm going to assume it was an apology. Did they take the unordered dishes off the menu? I have no idea, but the final bill was only about 158 RMB, or about $25, and that included three big beers. So I paid up, while the waiter continued to shoot me doleful looks. I think we got him in trouble, and then I probably compounded the insult by taking my change with my left hand.

I still have so much to learn.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What It's Like to be Back

So I'm back in Beijing and in general delighted to be home.
But China keeps winning little victories, just to remind me that I'm not in Kansas anymore (sorry, Nora).
The dryer part of our washer-dryer is not working.
The internet connection is so slow it's taking me a while to post on my blog.
The ATM was out of service for a chunk of the day.
I've been shoved off the airplane, nearly run over in the street, and shopped in the local Wu Mart that reeked of spoiled fish.

But I'm home.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dear America

I'm just finishing up a lovely three-week visit with you, and I want to tell you what it's like to visit you after living in China for almost a year.

You need to appreciate what you have here:
Blue skies
Food that you can eat without wondering if it will make you sick
An open Internet
Roads that are paved and smooth
Air conditioning
Stores that sell anything you could want to buy
Elections where voters actually get to pick their next leader
Drinkable tap water
Green parks, green roadways
Lakes as clear as tap water
Ice cream
Newspapers that can write the truth
Maine blueberries
Garbage cans
Good coffee
Living anywhere you want to live
Crossing the street without having to look in every direction
Rain storms that don't flood your cities
Clothes dryers
Shirts without sequins or ruffles
Blue skies
Body lotion that doesn't whiten the skin
Lobster rolls
Good beer
Kayaks on pristine lakes
Blue skies
Air that smells of cut grass, not machines
Raisin bran for $2 a box
Sugar free gum
No one spitting in the gym
No one spitting on the sidewalk next to you
Blue skies 

Trust me on this. We're pretty lucky. And we tend to take it mostly for granted.