What a weekend! We woke up Saturday morning to blue skies and sunny weather. So gorgeous!
I apologize for the anti-climax of the arrival of my eliptical machine. It was purely Geoff: I don’t think of it as a toy but rather a necessity to combat the physical discomfort my body has undergone since I’ve been back to desk-work–really the greatest down-side of coming out of retirement. I am sure the eliptical will help me iron out the kinks, since my knees object to running now.
In the afternoon, we walked and did a bit of shopping and generally enjoyed the wonderful day. Then at 5:30 we were taken out to dinner by our neighbours, Tina and Klos, to a rather posh Chinese food restaurant, the same place that our school leaders took us to on our first Friday, The Lounge. The place is a series of private rooms with adjoining washrooms and “butler” areas where the food is arranged prior to delivery to the table. What a feast! Tina had invited some friends to join us, so there were seven of us in total. Klos ordered enough food for 10, she said, but I think it was for more like 12 or 14. We were absolutely stuffed when more food arrived, including an enormous platter of stewed goat. Fortunately, just like home, they were able to have the remains packed up to take home.
What did we eat? Well, all sorts of wonderful things: some sort of fungi (spicy and chewy but very good), salad, a variety of green vegetables (Geoff inexplicably now loves them), thin slices of beef cooked rare which you drag through finely ground pepper (fabulous), cooked lichee nuts, a new vegetable with the taste and texture of potatoes but which were long and thin like smallish carrots, an egg drop soup of some sort, a fabulous custard/sauced dish with a morsel of abalone in the center (lovely) and a special fish dish that they had to order in advance. It arrived in a steaming, covered clay pan, much like a paella pan. All of the food was set on the table on a lazy Susan for self-service, but this dish was in honour of us as “foreign guests” and so was served to Geoff and me first. I could see steaming pieces of beautiful white fish and was happily anticipating my portion when I heard something about the head of the fish. I may have said this aloud, I’m not sure, but I was thinking, “Don’t give me the head, please don’t give me the head.” The waitress passed me my bowl. I looked down. A fish eye looked back. I may have temporarily blacked out. I heard Geoff say, “Do you eat this?” and Tina replied, “Of course, it is fish!” Shortly thereafter, I spooned out the fish portion and discreetly (I hoped) put it on the plate, as close as possible to my bowl so no one would notice. Meanwhile, Geoff gamely popped his serving into his mouth, but not before discarding the fish eye into his side-dish, saying politely, “I can’t eat this.” Let me just say that the broth was delicious. So was the lovely white meat I spied initially and which I managed to spear as it passed by on the Lazy Susan later. But I will never forget what that fish eye looked like when Geoff deposited it in his side-bowl. I felt both honoured and horrified at the same time. Needless to say, it is considered the most delectable morsel of the entire feast, but neither of us could bring ourselves to eat it. Our hosts graciously overlooked our short-comings. (Ed note: Eyes Right)
After dinner, everyone went to a bar except Tina and I. Why? Because I had asked her earlier in the week if there were any hairdressers in Jiaxing who spoke English. No, she said, but it would be her pleasure to take me to her hairdresser. I did not expect this to be at 8:00pm on a Saturday night but, sure enough, on we went. I was pointed to a chair where I would get a shampoo. I did not see any sinks so thought that perhaps I misunderstood but soon enough a lad arrived to wash my hair. First he squirted some shampoo on my dry scalp and began to massage in a little water from another squeeze bottle. Gradually he worked in more water so eventually my head was completely in suds. Then, we moved to a sink for the rinse. This was my second experience having my hair cut in China and I have to say that their sinks are vastly superior to ours. They are built so there is no issue getting the chair adjusted so that your neck is supported. Your head tilts back onto an almost completely flat sink. Very comfortable. Next on to the stylist.
With Tina translating, I explained that my last haircut had been too short and that while I wanted him to cut around my ears and trim the back, I did not want him to touch my bangs, which were still ridiculously short. “Like yours,” I said to him. Voila! He shaped it all rather nicely while following directions. What more could I ask? Tina and I headed to the cashier but as I took out my wallet, she told me that she was paying. What? I tried to insist but after the fish episode, I didn’t want to risk causing her to lose face, so graciously accepted. “Next time, you can pay,” she told me. I’m not sure if that means that we are now tied to each other’s hair cut schedule but I will find some way of repaying her.
We met up with Geoff and gang later at a semi-private wine bar in the upstairs loft. I managed to join the conversation. All of Tina and Klos’ friends date back to middle school and have varying degrees of competency in English. Their friend Jerry was probably the most comfortable and when I complimented him on his fluency, I remarked that it seemed that he thought in English. He concurred; he lost no time in translation and was able to tell us about his exporting business (auto parts and tablets – go figure) and even told jokes. A most entertaining fellow. Likewise their friend, Connie, who unabashedly told us that she likes to drink and smoke but would have to quit in December after her wedding. Her fiance was not with us so she told us that he wants to start a family right away and insists that they give up their vices. She invited Geoff and I to her wedding but we had to decline. With a guest list of 600, we guessed that another two wouldn’t make much difference. She was offering it as a way to experience more of Chinese culture–very generous, we thought. All in all, it was a wonderful evening, with great food and company.
Sunday the sun continued to shine! Much warmer this day. We skyped some friends (we miss you all!), then headed to Starbuck’s and made our way to a “Chinese” supermarket, ie, one that doesn’t have any imported food or English subtitles. Goodbye, Walmart–Hello, RT Mart! What a bright, clean, well-organized store! As we have found everywhere in Jiaxing, the staff is so helpful and really do their best to take care of us, while the clientele were essentially dumbfounded by our presence in their store. The place is busy so the food is incredibly fresh. We will return and save Walmart for heavy bulk items that we don’t want to haul too far home.
We have cleared the mystery of “Self Rotation Beans Fishing.” We did know it was a restaurant, so today, as we were walking past it to check out the local cinema (since we learned last night that we can choose to watch a film in English), we peered into the window and discovered that it is one of those places we have seen on The Food Chanel where portions of food pass tables on a conveyor belt. Diners help themselves to whatever strikes their fancy as it passes by their table. Will we try it? Stay tuned.
Today we discovered another dining establishment called Jiaxing Fishing Port Limited. We couldn’t figure out what it was because, while it was almost on the canal, we couldn’t really see anyway that it could be considered near a port. We went in to have a look and found out that the lower floor is full of fish tanks containing huge variety of live sea creatures. Apparently, you make your selection from a tank, head upstairs and wait for it to arrive, prepared to order. We may check this place out again with someone who knows how it all works. I am not sure if I really need this experience as I enjoy a little distance between the source and the dinner plate. Will see.
The highlight of the day: we watched three men in suits lighting fireworks in a lane way, no obvious reason for celebration. I laughed out loud, thinking about our uber concerns with safety while these guys were lighting extremely short wicks on powerful sticks that flew into the air with the first blast, then exploded again high above them. When the last one sounded, I applauded. They had no idea we were watching and smiled like school boys, proud of their showmanship. What fun! (Ed. note: You may wish to turn your speakers down a little.)
We have just finished our Sunday meal. I made linguine with clam sauce, our favorite comfort food. Special, special thanks to my Book Club and to Terry and Ron Wallsmith who brought the clams all the way from Maple Ridge. I had mentioned the fact that we can’t get canned clams here during a Skype club meeting and the next thing I knew, Sheila had organized her sister Terry to deliver two cans and a year’s supply of neon Post-Its when she and her husband Ron came to Jiaxing to do some work with a local school. Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you! I made enough for two meals so will enjoy again later in the week. Thank-you also to Terry for transporting 2 Scrabble games all this way. Very helpful and fun for kids learning English!
Thus ends a wonderful weekend, full of new adventure and discovery.