Having Me for Dinner

June 08

We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog with a quick-hitter about some ethnic home-cooking and company I got to share over a recent Chinese Holiday. (Don’t worry, Bamboo U: part 2 is coming up.)

China from a tour bus is one thing. Being invited over to a senior couple’s apartment for a holiday meal (who speak absolutely no English) is quite another. This is the genuine experience I’m always on the lookout for. Wanna see what it was like for this Minnesotan to share an evening with them? Good, cause I’m eager to show ya! :)

Now I’ve always had these neighbors since arriving last fall, but hey, you know how it is, right? I sometimes didn’t know my apartment neighbors back home. Never mind the fact that I can’t speak with the ones I got here. But sometimes a smile and a nod will get you places.

One such set of neighbors is a senior couple who care for their grandbabies while the daughter and son-in-law are working. “Ni hao” was as far as it ever got, though sometimes the grandmother holding a dear one in her arms broke the ice, too. Recently, I tried to say a few words to her in Chinese. It finally amounted to a mini-conversation and an invitation for dinner. It was Dragon Boat Festival–something about a legendary man throwing himself over a bridge to protest the emperor. Anyway, it’s a time to enjoy good eats and family.

It’s kinda daunting to agree knowing there’ll be little in the way of conversation, but I would impress myself by focusing on what we could say. I let my roommate know and we arrived Monday night. Knock, knock, knock. Hello? And in one second (or so) the door was open, and I can only assume Chinese “welcomes” and “come ins” being spoken. Ralf had the sense to buy a gift for them:

Okay, older Chinese women are smaller, but not THAT much smaller. A little optical illusion there.

There was Grandma playing hostess. Where’s Grandpa?

Getting the food out. He was slaving away in the kitchen when we got there.

We sat and chatted in very broken Chinese fashion. But you know what? Comfort is comfort, and when you feel welcome you focus on what you can communicate with: pleasantries, phone app translators, and pantomiming. :)

And soon we were joined by those that specialize in non-verbal communication, anyway:

I'd love to tell you their names...if I had a talent for remembering Chinese names. Oh well, what's in a name, right Mrs. Zea? (my 9th Grade English teacher) They were adorable no matter what you call 'em.

From grandparents to grandchildren, three generations of Hunanese Chinese were hosting us for this evening. Here were the daughter and hubby:

They were quite peaceful. (and I can't resist to mention that the fan in his hand is graced with a photo of yours truly: )

We ate. Some was spicy–as Hunan cooking is known to be–and most was delicious. One pink, seaweed-ish salad threw me, but mostly it was beefy, porky, hard-boiled eggy goodness.

After the dining, a couple nice shots:

What a nice thrill, and this destination was 15 feet away! Being in their home during a holiday meal might be as “real Chinese” as one can get.

And I took a little footage for ya that brings some of it into motion:

Oh, and it wasn’t done there. See, 67-year old Grandpa wanted to show another classic Chinese custom:

He absolutely smoked us.

After the initial welcome, and the time with the babies, here was the third lesson of the night in communicating without speaking. He gave me more and better ping-pong tips than I had ever received:

...but he still smoked me.

And with a simple invite, a polarizing truth: that there are limitless varieties of humanity to experience. Yet at the same you realize, by bonding, just how similar and close we all really are to each other.

to new plateaus,


p.s. If I may, I’m doing a little “membership drive”. If you’re a facebooker, considering “liking” New Plateaus on the right column of this blog. On this page, I post more pictures and other material and updates as well. Thanks a million. :)


Posted by on June 8, 2011 in Culture, Travel

1 Comment

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One response to “Having Me for Dinner

  1. lz

    June 8, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    Thanks, Brandon. Pat Zea