Last night we had the exciting opportunity of eating a very traditional Chinese dinner in a normal Chinese home.
We have gotten to know Donna, one of the Chinese teachers, rather well in our time in Guiyang. She was one of two CT's we worked with during the winter intensive classes the first month and a half we were here. During our lunches she was always very curious to have discussions with us about various topics, mostly comparing Chinese culture to US culture. Donna is now teaching our Chinese lessons which means we see her more frequently than the other Chinese staff.
During winter intensive Emily and Donna were talking about Chinese cooking. Donna brought some Chinese spices her mother-in-law made to school one day to give to us. After that Emily thought it would be really fun to learn how to cook some Chinese food, Donna was happy to oblige. As a result we finally got around to scheduling a day to visit Donna's house and learn more about some Chinese dishes and cooking methods.
Donna met us at school and we took the bus back to her apartment. She is married and has an adorable 15 month old son. One thing we find rather unique to Chinese culture is how much larger the nuclear family unit is. It is very normal for a married couple to live with one set of in-laws; Donna is no different. While Emily and I find it rather odd and would not seek to duplicate this trend (sorry parents) it is a very functional relationship. Both Donna and her husband work so the in-laws are able to help take care of her baby and do many of the housekeeping chores.
We arrived at her apartment around 4:30 and were treated with Chinese hospitality the rest of the evening. Donna's father-in-law was quick to bring us hot tea and offer us various fruits and candies. Our tea cups were never dry during our time there. Her mother-in-law was already busy in the kitchen working on dinner. Her husband was just waking up from some much needed sleep on a day off. He drives bus in 12 hour shifts every other day. Her son Xing Xing (as he is called endearingly) was napping.
Although Emily did not get into the kitchen as much as she would have liked we thoroughly enjoyed our conversation with Donna and her family, albeit we were very limited in the use of our Chinese, and they in English. Donna served gracefully as translator the entire evening.
Around 5:30 the dishes started coming out of the kitchen. We were in for a treat. Donna's mother-in-law had whipped up 9 dishes for us to enjoy. It is usual for a Chinese dinner to have 3-4 but as they were hosting guests, all the stops were pulled out. Before everyone sat down to eat, bai jiu was poured. Bai jiu is one of the strongest liquors, if not the strongest, either of us have ever had. When guests are present bai jiu is too. Many toasts are offered up throughout the meal, although they were gracious enough to allow us to pass on a few.
After dinner Xing Xing finally made an appearance and he was rearing to go. He found both Emily and I to be very entertaining, smiling and laughing as he stared at us. He is very active and toddles around the house. A game was invented when he found the candy bowl; he would take a piece from the bowl walk over to me and put it in my hand. Then he would go back for another piece and repeat. The bowl would empty and he would start over with the fruit bowl. It was endlessly amusing for him and the rest of us.
Before it got too late we finally made our way home, not before Donna's mother-in-law loaded us up with noodles, spices and er quai ba (a unique rice based gelatin) to take home. Donna and her husband walked us to our bus and we rode home, content and full. It was a very enchanting evening. Chinese hospitality is quite humbling, they are so generous when they welcome you into their home. It is quite a contrast from the fast paced pushy people we interact with on the busses and streets of Guiyang. Last night was a very welcome and warming experience in what has otherwise been a very cold past two weeks.