26 September 2009

Much of our time here is spent alone.  We plan for classes alone; we stand solo in front of a class to teach our lessons; we exist quietly alone in our apartments during free time.  However, meals here are quite the contrary.  On a daily basis, wide-eyed students gape at the passing site of their foreign teachers marching off to lunch—promptly at noon—or dinner—promptly at seven.  Sometimes we return to our favorite spots, other times we venture into the melee of street vendors selling piles upon piles of kiwis and pomegranates and apples, past small restaurants where Muslim masters kneed and twist flour and water into perfect noodles, and where the overwhelming scent of vinegar and chili burns in our lungs.

This is how Allie and I spent today’s two hour lunch break.  We pushed our new bikes out into the fray of honking trucks and pedestrians who don’t get out of your way, and brought them to rest outside one of these noodle restaurants.  We were ushered in with Chinese by a man with a small white cap on his head, and served by a sweet face after a common and always funny conversation that involves no words, but rather expressive hand gestures, nodding and frequent grunting.

So what if we were eating potatoes and noodles in the same dish?  There were peppers thrown in, too, and we got a side soup with cabbage and mushrooms.  Allie and I were Lady and the Tramp, slurping up noodles, shoving them into our mouths as quickly as our clumsy chopstick skills would allow.

Whether it is eggplant, mushrooms or dumplings, eating is a greedy frenzy of flying chopsticks, spinning lazy susans to get more tea, grabbing for one more bite even though our stomachs could barely handle the last one.  I could, I will, I do eat Chinese food for every meal, and I still can’t get enough.  I don’t care about the grease. I don’t care about the spice.  I just want more.  Though I am thoroughly frustrated by cabin fever, a controlling government, and a school that doesn’t want me to travel because I’ll get swine flu, at least I have a meal in a few hours to look forward to:  a little braised eggplant, some veggies thrown into a wok and briefly stirred up with a little oil and vinegar to be piping hot and delicious, a roasted duck you can smell three blocks away…

If there’s one thing I’ll miss, it will be this.