Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy 牛 Year! 

For those of you who are not Mandarin speakers, it's a play on words. This is the year of the Ox. I had planned to be up in Heilongjiang by now, but I couldn't get a ticket. So last night I decided to go to the Haidian Church jiaozi party. They had a brief church service, then a big jiaozi feed. The jiaozi was really, really good. I ate my fill. Just after 8 o'clock, they turned on the big screen to watch the New Year's Eve gala on CCTV. This is the four-hour program that is aired every year on Chinese New Year's Eve. Everybody in the country watches it. I guess it's a way of giving a billion people something to do on a night that tends to get a little wild.

The young ladies at the Bridge Cafe had invited me to their New Year's Eve party. They even closed the restaurant early for it. But when I got there, they had already started, so nobody saw me or heard me. The place was locked up, and the party was on the third floor. I figured it wouldn't hurt me to miss out on the food, since I was full of jiaozi, but I did feel a little bad about just not showing up, so I sent a text message to one of the wait staff who had invited me, and then went to KFC for a few minutes of quiet reflection. About an hour later she finally called me and apologized for missing my message. I went over there and she let me in--just in time for the fireworks.

Believe me, there is nothing like the shock and awe at midnight on New Year's Eve. That would be Chinese New Year. (The regular New Year's Eve is quiet and peaceful in China.) And the fireworks are private fireworks. Neighborhood fireworks. In America, on the Fourth of July, people get together in a park to see the fireworks. In China, on New Year's Eve, you don't need to go to a park. Just look outside in any neighborhood.

Tomorrow, I leave for the north country. I am taking the train to a little village up near the Russian border in Heilongjiang Province, where my student lives, and then the plan is to head back south to Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang Province, and the old Russian outpost from the Trans-Siberian Railroad days. Sunshine said her mother was worried about whether she should prepare some special sweet food for me or buy me a fork. Definitely fits the stereotype in China. Foreigners have a sweet tooth and eat with a fork.

Actually, a fork is not that convenient when eating a Chinese dinner. Typically, there are several dishes all placed in the middle of the table. Most of the time, there are no serving spoons; everybody just reaches in with their chopsticks. It's kinda hard to explain if you have never done it, but reaching across the table to a common dish using a conventional fork is awkward to say the least, but with a pair of chopsticks, especially with a long pair of chopsticks, it's a piece of cake. That's a figure of speech, of course. If it really were a piece of cake, a fork would be better. Forks are better for cake and pie. But for eating Chinese food together, chopsticks are definitely the thing.

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