PART222 two meals in one day and off to Beijing again


Monday, 6th, September, 2010. Sarah
got up early to have her first driving lesson. I woke back up with Bojang
playfully sinking his needle like teeth into my hand at 11 to find her back “I
love driving” she said enthusiastically. She told me all about how she learnt
to reverse and how it wasn’t as hard as she thought it would be. I woke up
slowly whilst training Bojang in on your back fighting; I want to turn him into
a superior grappler. I was reminded of the screeching whaling cats outside our
window last night. They moaned and screeched and it sounded like some devil
being tortured. I opened the window and shone my powerful pocket laser at them
which shut them up for a few seconds.

 

 Coach Ma has always kept me on my toes, in and
out of the gym. The last time we saw each other he said he would take me out to
dinner with some of my wrestling team mates, He didn’t say when or where. Today
at 11:30 shortly after I had woken up scrubbed and splashed myself awake and took
my place on the bed to read, expecting another relaxing and uneventful day.
Then the phone rang and Sarah picked it up. I heard a muffled conversation
thought the door, then it opened and Sarah said “Coach Ma is down stairs to
pick you up for lunch. I leapt off the bed and got ready hastily and dashed
down from the flat to where indeed Coach Ma was waiting with a car full of my
class mates. As I said he keeps me on my toes.

 

When we got to the hotel which we were
eating at and my class mates climbed out of the car I saw one of them had grown
very tall in a short amount of time. Last time I saw him which was just before
Christmas he was thin and rather small, now he was almost as tall as I was and
his shoulders where broad. He is 17 so he is at the age of insane growth
spurts. It was great to see them all again. It was only three of them but they were
all going to another school as they had graduated. I was sad to hear that I
would not be training with them anymore and would not see them again after today’s
meal. It was a large posh restaurant with a very high ceiling and dark red silk
curtains hung around the lobby which was also the restaurant. We sat at a large
round table by the window, by the individual heating apparatuses by each seat I
deducted that we were having hot pot, I was pleased as I hadn’t had hot hop for
almost half a year. The weather in Hainan was far too hot to even contemplate
eating from a boiling pot full of steaming meats.

 

Plates of thinly sliced beef and lamb where
placed on the lazy Susan in the centre of the table with long steamed thin
white mushrooms, lettuce, white and brown tofu and peanut butter sauce as a
dip. The waitresses came around and lit all of the white lumps of ceresin under
our pots and slowly the soup boiled and we began to throw the dishes into the
soup to cook. Coach Ma had an ear infection and he stuck a thin piece of rolled
up tissue paper into his deformed wrestler’s ear. His holes are very small as
the cauliflower ears have puffed up and closed around them. So he was not
drinking, myself and the three other students drank a few beers and we chatted
about my travels and the students plans in the future, They said they were
going to a new school in Yuen ping which is another town a hour or so away on
the train. They would not be learning wrestling there, I didn’t completely
understand what they said they would be doing there but it involved work or
training for their work…I just never found out what kind of work.

 

After the meal I said good bye to my class
mates and watched as they disappeared round a bend on the street. They are good
people who have taught me a lot; there is a special bond you form with people
when you do something like wrestling. When you’re with someone every day, trying
your best to throw them on the ground but without any anger or animosity. I
hoped that we would meet again soon. Coach Ma drove me back home and said I
could start train again whenever I wanted to.

 

I had a rest in the afternoon, getting
together all the documents, photos and other things I needed for my trip to
Beijing this evening. I am going to one of the registered hospitals to get a
chest x ray to see if I have TB; it’s a standard procedure for anyone wanting
to apply for the work visa in New Zealand. There are only a few places that are
officially recognized by the New Zealand embassy in China regarding getting an x
ray and the nearest one is in Beijing. It’s a bit annoying because there is a
hospital just a few minutes’ walk from our flat in Xinzhuo and it only costs 30
Yuan( about 3 pounds) to get one but instead we need to get the 8 and a half
hour sleeper train up to Beijing and pay 700yuan( about 70 pounds) to get the x
ray instead.

 

I rested in the late afternoon while Sarah
was out learning how to drive and when she got back at 7in the evening both of
us and Dad went out for a meal with a new friend I have made. When we went to
Dads friends’ sons’ engagement party I met the head chief there and we
exchanged phone numbers and he called us up today to invite us to where he
works for a meal.

 

We drove out of Xinzhuo for about 10
minutes and turned right down a long dark road lined with tall trees, it was
all very dark until like an explosion a hotel appeared with bright windows, red
lanterns and flashing neo signs advertising rooms and prices. Dad paid the taxi
driver and we got out and entered the large lobby of the hotel, big pillars and
marble floors gave the impression it wasn’t a cheap place to stay. All the sea
food was on display, lobster, flat fish, frogs, shell fish and other crustaceans.
We where shown into a big private room with its own TV and bathroom. We sat
around the large round table and waited, I felt my face and to my annoyance I
found that I had left a patch of hair unshaved from this afternoon’s quick face
mow. No time to get really angry about it as the chief came in, with his white
cloths on sporting his award badge “ excellent chief award for cooking abalone”
or something like that, also with his tall white hat on. “Hello Tim, it’s so
happy to see you come”, he slurred in his southern accent. We greeted him and
we sat down and his wife and another couple came in. they were all dressed in
very formal evening wear and the two women were very beautiful. I was glad I
put on my shiny shoes and smart black trousers but I felt underdressed and a
bit scruffy with my patchy shaving job. The Chief who said his English name was
“friend” sat down and thankfully took of his chief’s hat. The conversation was
fluid and easy but I felt a bit off. The last few days I have been having a
mild but constant and irritating cold sweat and it was coming back now extra
strong. “I went swimming today, I can swim underwater for two lengths” Friends grinned
at me with his rather menacing sharp looking teeth. “I swam a length in 19
seconds” be boasted very seriously. I looked impressed and applauded him for
such a fast time but to be honest I don’t know if its fasts or not for all I
care it could have been 9 or 90 seconds. The first dish appeared. Yet again
like at the engagement party a soup in a tea pot. This time he explained that
this soup was his own invention, not boiled but steamed for over 4 hours with
abalone and wild mushrooms, He boasted that it was not on the menu and he only
does it for friends. This time I was genuinely impressed, it was so delicious,
the wild mushrooms where so pungent and tasted unusual and the abalone gave it
a salty sea food taste. We also had spicy shrimps on barbecue sticks, thin
moist stakes. Which I was touched to hear he cooked just for me as a western
dish. Snails, fungus, ducks tongue (the only thing I didn’t eat) and giant wild
mushrooms with cauliflower in a brown mushroom and seafood sauce. It was all so
delectable I felt almost delirious and I felt my spirit lose its earthy weight
and drift toward ecstasy. Good food is certainly the best therapy in my eyes.
The company was very pleasant and they all chatted about Shanxi and how people
are quite honest hear “ Tim, in Gunagdong, people are not honest, but in Shanxi
they are very honest and friendly, this is why I married a Shanxi woman” Friend
laughed as he pointed to his beautiful jewel encrusted wife. “That is also why
I married a Shanxi woman” I replied quickly, as I put my arm around Sarah.
Everyone giggled and laughed and I toasted the chief to our friendship and we
gulped down the red wine. I was surprised to hear a local Guangdong person (Friend
is from Guangdong which is in the south of China) speaking ill of his own
province, But I don’t think he is a normal sort of person, he is open and as
his name suggests friendly. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the two
children who graced the table where not as children usually are in my experience
of China, who usually running around the table screaming and shouting and
trying it get the attention of their parents. They sat and ate their food and
when the TV was turned on they watched almost silently and when it was too loud
I was shocked, actually god smacked to find that one of the parents asked them
to turn it down. I was even more shocked, fork dropping out of mouth eyes wide
weak at the knees downright flabbergast and impressed when with no arm waving
or childish behavior they actually turn the volume down. I have now seen
everything. From my consistent experience of loud spoilt children running
around getting everything they want trying to distract their parents and doing
things like urinating on the bus or in the park, having tantrums and acting
like little emperors I was not expecting to see two well behaved reasonably
quiet children.

 

Plum tarts and meat filled steamed bums
where served after the main meal. The tarts where light, not greasy or sickly
like a lot of pastries in China and the steamed buns where soft as marshmallow
and the inner meat expertly cooked with a strong spicy flavor and salt. “I
never let people take away these bums” Friend said proudly. Then a plate of
sweet corn was put out as the last dish. I was eating the plain sweet corn with
nothing on it and I told Friend “ you know in the UK we put butter and pepper
on them”, Friend looked very shocked and with the up most seriousness as if he
was educating me in some universal high moral law said  “ the way it is cooked now is the best way,
you should not but other things on it”.

 

After the meal Friend’s wife gave us all a
lift back and we arranged to go swimming with them later on in the week.

 

When we got back we packed a few things and
got ready to catch our train at 11, o’clock. Dad put 6 boiled eggs, a bag with
what looked like half a donkeys worth of meat, two moon cakes, a tin full of
nuts, 3 Bananas, 3 beers and a packet of pickled vegetables into our bag. He
was bullying around slamming food into the bag telling us to take more with us.
It was mad. Firstly I was not going to eat another thing that night after such
a big meal and second we were going to return the next day. I took most of the
food out of the bag secretly and we left relieved to get out and away. The taxi
driver and his friend who was sitting in the front seat questioned me on the
way to the train station. I am getting awfully good at these questions, everyone
asks the same questions without fail “oh can he speak Chinese?” they ask Sarah,
I reply that I can “ oh you can speak Chinese very well” they reply ecstatically,
then they continue with other questions, I am not going to even bother write
down, the act of doing so would depress me greatly. Every time I get into a
taxi in china it turns into a scene out of ground hog day, endlessly repeating
the same worn out questions and answers, although the mercy of ground hog day
is that it actually stops one day. Even with efforts to sabotage the cursed
conversation by asking questions of my own does not work. By the end of the journey
I have been asked them all again without fail.

 

We got on the train and eating my words I
spoke before I munched a banana and polished off the beer before falling into
that strange light dream state that I get from trying to sleep on a small thin
bed on a rhythmically moving train. To Beijing!

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