Sunday marked my last intended day in Binhai. That information came rather abruptly but not unexpectedly since I had received a text midweek asking if I was still in Binhai, my two classes were cancelled without informing me and Nanjing called to let me know I was being recalled south. On Friday, as things arranged themselves, I received another text from the head teacher Ms. Qin inviting me to dinner Sunday night.
Sunday night rolls around and it’s nearly 7PM when I get a phone call from Ms. Qin… well Ms. Qin’s phone saying my ride would be round in 5 minutes and meet out from of my apartment complex.
Really? 7PM? Not even, say… 4PM, so I knew the planned event was go? I very nearly went out for dinner before the call arrived and if not for four years dealing with ‘Asian time’ likely would have found my own dinner. Instead I go and banter a bit with the street vendors before walking across the road and climbing in with someone I vaguely recognize. She’s a teacher from school, but not my office, I ate dinner once in their office and shared some of her food and a few words. That’s it. Not really the person I expected to be my ride.
Oh gods how I wish anyone else turned up to chauffeur me. As a person she’s lovely, as a driver I white knuckled it to the restaurant, glad I snuck a few drinks waiting for the phone to ring. Never have I been so terrified of someone driving so slow. If the car was automatic it never got out of low gear. She broke for lights that showed 15 seconds before changing – in China traffic lights have countdown clocks so drivers know exactly how long they have before the light changes colour. She straddled both lines. A pedicab with a peddler dead for three weeks out paced us. This woman could not out-drive a shuffling zombie hoard. I do not know how she ended up being the one to pick me up but I drew the short straw.
At the restaurant the room set-up proves similar to the lunch with Mr. Sun over Spring Festival.
What strikes me first though, Mr. Zhang and Ms. Qin – my contact and head teacher are playing cards with two others. That’s why they send the Scariest Driver in China to escort me here. They don’t want to stop their game to contact or pick me up for my leaving dinner. I wish I could say this surprised me but… Asian… dammit… your priorities fail to match your intentions.
Naturally I rib Mr. Zhang but he dismisses me for cards. I hope he lost all the Yuan.
I sit in the seat of honour which means I get to pay. I don’t end up paying. That’s Ms. Qin, and after trying to kill me once today and nearly making me starve she better pay. The attendees mostly make sense. All but one of the people from my office – Mr. Sun, Mr. Shin, Mr. Han, Ms. Qin and Ms. Wang are there. Mr. Zhang as my contact person. A couple of other English teachers. Then a history teacher I’ve never met before. I think there might have been an unknown (to me) politics teacher as well.
I love Chinese communal dining. A big lazy Susan on the table and small bowls for people to select the small morsels they crave. The dishes come in stages. Chinese believe hot food aids in digestion. Instead of everything at once, it starts with some savoury appetizers, then perhaps a fish or some soup, another round of nibbly bits, heavier fare, all food groups are covered and all sorts of meat and seafood (especially as Binhai lies on the coast).
Also intriguing to me are toasts. Not everyone gets invited for every toast. Instead of a big group “CHEERS”, the toaster selects the toastees. I gave a small speech at the outset in slow, simple English thanking them for easing my transition into this new country and welcoming me with open arms and making me feel as at home as was possible. I invited Mr. Zhang and the people I shared an office with. The history teacher tried to work his way into the toast but I denied him to laughs.
Usually, I pace myself and only drink when toasted but tonight the other teachers proved bound and determined to get me toasted. And they did. Enough that I texted Nanjing to inform them of my day long delay. I could not have survived a 5 hour bus ride.
We all ate, drank and laughed. I did my best (as I have my whole time here) to leave a good impression of the lone waego in Binhai. For the most part I think I succeeded.
Two shocks to end the meal; no fresh fruit for dessert (another tasty Chinese tradition) and I had to get a ride back with the Scariest Driver in China. I wished to tell her no, take a taxi, walk, but that wouldn’t have worked. Even drunk she scared the life out of me. She barely broke 30 km/h yet looked shocked when cars honked at her or roared by her.
Mercifully back at my apartment I did a dive roll from the car and immediately picked up some beer from my favourite corner grocer. Turns out I wasn’t toasted enough.
干杯 Ganbei Binhai, it’s been a blast.