Thursday, January 15, 2004

China Trip: Sick day

Jet lag is not fun. I woke up at 2:30 in the morning after going to bed at 9:30, and laid there wide awake for four more hours until morning. I determined not to take a nap so that this wouldn’t happen again the next day when I had to teach. The whole day was relaxing and enjoyable. It was a time to think, to rest, and to catch up on my journal.

Mrs. X came in the morning and took my temperature. It was 37.1 and she seemed happy that it was lower. The doctor came a little later and took my temperature again. It was still 37.1. Then Mrs. X came back and surprised me with the most delightful bag of goodies! There was a spoon, a knife, two apples, two pears, bread, butter, tissue packs, and yogurt. All of it was incredibly delicious!

Mrs. X took me to the hotel restaurant for lunch, and that was such a neat experience! The restaurant has a bunch of fish tanks with live fish swimming around in side. Mrs. X said you could pick out a fish and they would kill it and cook it for  you. We had a dish of snow peas and a dish of beef to go along with our rice. It was very good and Mrs. Wang entertained me with stories of her childhood. What a wonderful lady she is! However, I was so slow at eating with chopsticks that I it took us an hour and a half to eat. I still didn’t feel much like eating at that point, either, so I wasn’t able to finish the food.

Mrs. X came back at 5:30 to say that dinner would be at 6:00 in the hotel restaurant. She and her husband would be there, as well as some English teachers. I changed into a nicer skirt and a suit jacket, and when Mrs. X came to get me, she gasped and said, “Oooh, you look so beautiful!” She led me to a small, enclosed room, just large enough for the table and the ten of us. Most everyone else was already there, so I said hello and sat down. 

I was still pretty clueless as to Chinese etiquette, especially here in the fancy restaurant with important people who were all older than me. I watched the others closely and learned from them what to do. At first, there was only a bowl of rice and some small dishes of appetizer-like food around the lazy susan. I tried a little of each, and was especially intrigued by some things that looked like beans in a brown sauce with some herb sprigs. I wondered how they had been cooked, because they had a more crunchy, nutty texture than most beans. After I had finished them, Stephen, one of the English teachers, informed me that they were called drunken peanuts.

I really enjoyed the conversations we had that night. About half of the talking was done in Chinese, and it was my first opportunity to hear people near me really talking in Chinese. It gave me the feeling that if I was around it much longer, I probably could pick it up. During one of the snatches of conversation that was in English, one of the ladies was talking about an earthworm farm that raises earthworms for cosmetics. Since an earthworm can grow into two earthworms if it is cut in half, supposedly their cells have rejuvenating qualities useful in facial creams and things. Mr. X got a little notebook out of his pocket and wrote down the word “earthworm,” asking for the exact spelling, and pronouncing it several times to make sure he had it right. I do not think he had learned that word before.

While we were on the topic, Mr. X told a story. He said, “One day I saw an earthworm trying to cross a road. The road was wide, and there were cars and bicycles crossing it. The earthworm was small, and it would have meant certain death for the earthworm if it tried to cross. I picked up the earthworm to help it, but it curled up and got very scared. It did not want me to hold it, and it did not understand I was helping it. This reminds me of some people. They want to go their own way, but like the earthworm crossing the road, they can’t see that their own way will be dangerous. When someone tries to save them, they do not like it because they do not understand.”

Everyone applauded at the story and congratulated Mr. X for his very “deep thought.” It made me want to say something similar, relating a simple story to a profound truth. I chose not to say anything, but if I would have said anything, I would have told this story.

“This afternoon, I felt very thirsty and I was thinking about the salty food I had been eating. I wondered, “Why do the Chinese make their food so salty? How can they stand it? It makes me so thirsty!” Then I remembered that a person can be like salt. By their words and actions, Christians can make others thirsty for the living water, Jesus Christ. While we are in China, we have a great opportunity to shine our light and let people know that Christians are for real.”

Dinner was very good. We all had a plate about 5 inches in diameter, a bowl about 2 ½ inches in diameter and 1 ½ inches deep, a spoon made out of the same white china or porcelain the plate and bowl were made out of, and chopsticks. There was also a small cup for tea and a wet washcloth for wiping hands. Every so often, the waitress would come with another dish—vegetables, soup, fish, beef, pork, or some mystery dish. It would go on the lazy susan and go slowly around the table, each person taking a little bit. The only thing that was a bit of a problem was that I was still not at all hungry, but Mr. X kept pressing food upon me. “Try a little of this, Rebekah,” he would say. “Take some more of that.” I knew that NOT eating was a sign in his mind of the fact that I was still sick, so I made a determined effort to force all that food down my throat. I wondered how I could go so far past my limit of being full and still find a little crack or crevice of room for one more thing.

One of the dishes was a large fish head. I was the last to get some of this, and much of the obvious meat was gone, so I poked around and picked up something with my chopsticks. It didn’t exactly look like meat. It was a little more yellowish and spongy-looking. I would have put it down in search of something else, but Mr. X said, “That’s a good part. Take some of that. And take some of the meat, too.” I took it and put it in my mouth, wondering if Microsoft Encarta had anything to say about the anatomy of a fish head. I thought I was probably eating some gland or something. It didn’t have much flavor but had a soft and squishy texture. I smiled and gave the thumbs up sign. “Wow!” I exclaimed as convincingly as I could. “Fish head is good!” As soon as I got back to my room, I turned on my computer and checked Encarta. My mouth dropped open, my eyes widened, and I broke into a great burst of laughter when I realized I had eaten FISH BRAINS!

At the end of the meal, Mr. and Mrs. X expressed their approval and delight at how much better I seemed to be feeling. I was talking and smiling and generally convinced them that I was feeling okay. The next day I would teach, and actually do what I had come to do.

Next Post: Back to the classroom
Previous Post: First Day of English Classes
First Post: Pre-departure excitement

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