Hong Kong Run, I found myself seated beside a lovely woman from Nanjing, we struck up a conversation and before the flight finished exchanged mobile numbers to keep in contact. I disappeared into the hinterlands of Binhai upon my return. Since resettling in Nanjing, we restarted our friendship via text and the past couple of weeks met in person to better get to know one another.
The first date (and I use that term confusedly as will be explained) occurred at a teahouse I kept meaning to visit but didn’t want to venture in alone, this seemed a great place to start. I asked her to order the tea, since she could read the menu and knew what tea to select. I paid. For a couple of hours we did our best to communicate, my Chinese remains less than minimal while her English makes communication possible but tricky at times. Translators and dictionaries, charades and pauses played major roles in our conversation. It felt pretty good though. Not velvet smooth, but not Nanjing road construction messy either.
We decided to meet again a week later.
She invited me over to her place to meet her little sister (not her real sister but a term of endearment) and to make me dinner. In the west, my thoughts likely… okay would have… turned to some steamy after dinner dessert. It didn’t here, because I don’t understand the dating culture. I can communicate with gestures but reading body language eludes me.
We met just after lunch, and a 45 minute commute to the area she resides in, an area I’d never been to before. Mini-adventure yay! Apparently she lives near the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Who knew? Not I.
A late lunch of shrimp rice porridge set the tone of the day. Byron will not know what to expect, but will happily give it all a go. Shrimp mixed with rice gruel might sound different, but my time in Korea prepared me for culinary adventures, as did my recent trip to Luoyang, it turned out to be surprisingly appetizing. I cannot figure out how to eat shrimp like the Chinese, although I tried. They don’t peel shrimp, opting to pop them in tail first to the head, bite that off, spit it out and then peel the shell with their teeth.
Me… I went through a lot of napkins.
My friend showed me her tiny bachelorette’s apartment before leading me up to met her little sister.
Her little sister enjoyed a much larger apartment and seemed nearly overwhelmed at meeting a foreigner. We chatted amiably, yet awkwardly, for a few minutes before they announced it was time to shopping. This led to a local market where they bought the groceries but I became the centre of attention. Clearly westerners are scarcely seen in this locale. Everyone proved polite while stealing glances at me. Again, I didn’t pay for anything, but I can’t tell if this is because of cultural tradition or my own ignorance.
In fact, the little sister bought everything, despite being a university student. She selected pork, chicken, vegetables, fruit and a Coke. I asked her big sister (my friend) if she wanted to buy the larger Coke.
They both giggled (they giggled a lot), “No, she is making coca-cola chicken.”
We returned to lil sis’s apartment and she disappeared into the small kitchen and prepared a scrumptious feast on one hot plate. Normally, I’ve learned, Chinese like each course to be hot, so instead of everything being served at once, there will be a few dishes, dining, then the cook (usually the wife) disappears back into the kitchen to prepare and deliver the next assorted items. It takes a while to wrap my head around.
Not tonight, lil sis made braised pork, shredded and cooked potatoes, crab and tofu stew, a dumpling soup and the intriguing coca-cola chicken wings.
Lil sis can coooooooook!
Most of the courses made culinary sense, but the chicken wings… wow… she used the coke as some sort of marinade or sauce to cook the chicken in and so it soaked up some sweetness while becoming caramelized, making the chicken moist and tender. Completely unexpected delight!
We all dug in, as cooking one dish at a time took a goodly while. Lil sis must have started around 5:00, and it wasn’t until 6:30 we tucked in with our chopsticks to eat. During all that time, my friend and I talked as best we could. And again, I can’t read the body language, she sat near me but not next to me, yet she invited me to her home, then had her friend cook us a dinner so she could converse with me.
Can ya see why I can’t tell you what is going on exactly, but I do know she (and her lil sis) seem to be genuinely lovely people who I think are curious to get to know a foreigner better. It may remain utterly platonic but I’m happy to have some local friends to call my own.
For dessert, lil sis asked me dressing I wanted on the fruit salad… mayonnaise or ketchup.
Nope. I’m taking over. They found me a clean bowl and I chopped up bananas, apple, mango and cherries and mixed them all in the bowl. (Those were the only fruit on hand). Lil sis the chef found my way of cutting mango to be eye-opening. Instead of peeling it, cut off each side, then running the knife along the flesh make vertical and horizontal shallow cuts so it can then be inverted and the mango is cubed.
Finally, after a truly memorable and stellar dinner, they walked me to the taxi stand where I was bundled off back to the metro, giving lil sis a handshake and my friend a chaste half-hug.
I may not be fluent at the cultural complexities of personal relations… yet.
But I do know it must be a great day when I discover coca cola chicken wings.