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.

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