OK, I may have explained this before, but getting to this site is so difficult at times that I don’t feel like checking, but Joh has been totally spoiling me on this trip. I speak nary a word of Mandarin. I’ve picked up a couple of phrases but I haven’t really been trying to learn much because Joh speaks it well enough to get me by. Verbal communication isn’t that necessary for things like transportation, but it is essential for eating in my neighborhood. Again, we are far from the tourist areas where people speak Chinese. Here, the menus are covered with the beautiful Mandarin characters for everything and usually an accompanying photo and the only English you hear comes from the translators in my office or the occasional “Hey, dude” I get from people on the street. When there aren’t any pictures, Joh asks the waitress to help with the menu because she doesn’t read Chinese that well. Either way, we always get a good meal becasuse she’s got it under control.
Well, Joh fell asleep early tonight – like right after work – so I finally had to go and brave the dining world on my own. It was inevitable that this would happen so it’s not like I’m all that shocked. And it’s not like I’ve never been forced to order food in a language I don’t understand that well; my first time ordering pizza in Germany was interesting (try ordering a pepperoni pizza in Germany and see what happens). Armed with my translation book and a few yuan, I go walking down the street to seek a simple meal.
In our neighborhood, sunset brings an army of food vendors out to the sidewalk. They have their little grills for cooking skewers of meat and vegetables, coolers for selling beer, and big pots for boiling dumplings. There are all off these little tables on the sidewalk and people just go outside – because the nights are very pleasant – and grab a snack and a Yanjing. One of our first nights in town, Joh and I grabbed a snack of our own out there and it was nice. For every one of the intermittent groups of tables, there’s always one table with a Chinese checkers game going on, and there’ll be a group of old men standing around two guys playing. At least, I assume two guys are in there playing. Normally it’s such a large crowd you can’t see inside the circle. Then there’ll be a couple of tables with guys sitting alone, probably people who had to work late. Maybe a group of 20-somethings at one table… you name it. It’s a good environment and it’s something I haven’t seen in the tourist areas, which makes me glad to see it here.
Well, I walk up to one of the vendors and confidently say, “yangroo,” which is a mispronunciation of “yangrou,” which means “lamb meat.” Apparently the “r” is kind of a half r-sound and half y-sound and the “ou” is acually prononced like a soft ow-sound (we won’t even get into the inflection…). Well, the lady undersrtands anyway. I hold up four fingers, then point at the eggplant and hold up three fingers and away she goes. I feel good. Perfect execution.
Then her husband shows up.
Then two pretty girls walk up.
Her husband starts talking to me like we grew up together in Shanghai. I’m smiling and nodding and my face is getting red and he’s talking and talking and then he’s waiting for a response and I say, “uhhhhhh. Wo bu mingbai.” I don’t understand.
He stares at me. Stares, stares, stares. Then, out of nowhere, he makes this big smiley face like a used car salesman in a TV commercial, gives me a thunbs up and says… well, I don’t know what he said but it sounded nice. He pulls my food off the grill and starts seasoning it, puts it in a container and hands it to me. I wait for him to tell me how much and he holds up his hand, makes a fist and sticks up his index figer and makes a hook of it, which is how they say “nine” with their hands. I hand him a ten, he hands me a one and he says, “BAD-ood-ja.” I spell it phonetically in the hopes that someone out there can tell me what it means because he just busts out laughing, his wife is laughing, the two pretty girls are laughing. I start laughing because I’m a sympathetic laugher and I walk off with my food.
The skewers were delicious, but I’m still hungry. And I think I should start practicing my Mandarin…