As my time in Shanghai blended into my time in Guilin and Yangshuo, I thought I would share a few unrelated stories, moments that made me laugh or smile or scratch my head, and which I don’t want to forget so am committing here to cyber-memory.
“I think that dumplings are not made for Caucasian noses.”
At lunch with several of my students and other colleagues one day in Shanghai, we ordered, of course, dumplings. One of my students, a tall, good-natured, quick-to-laugh young woman, mentioned that she had sustained an injury eating dumplings the day before. Oh no! I said, what happened? She promptly lifted up her chin, pointed at the underside of her nose, and said, “dumpling burn.” Was it the steam? I asked. In fact it has been hot oil that shot out of the dumpling when she took a bite, burning her nose next to her nostril and leaving quite a red and painful scar! I hadn’t been aware eating dumplings could be so dangerous. The story got even better when it was recounted to one of the heads of the alumni association in Shanghai, an incredibly kind, bespectacled middle-aged man. “Ah,” he said wisely. “I think that dumplings are not made for Caucasian noses.” And he demonstrated the way a Caucasian ought to go about eating dumplings to avoid injury – by moving one’s nose aside with one’s finger before taking a bite. I laughed so hard I cried.
Have you ever gone to hotpot? I had not. (Now I sound like Dr. Seuss.) At hotpot, you sit around a table with at most 7 other friends, and you order a flavored boiling hot liquid to be poured into cooking stations sunk into your table (you can see at left – we had 2 broths, one tomato-based and one white). You then order various raw things (veggies, meat) to be dropped into your hotpot to cook, and fish out the cooked morsels with your chopsticks. There is also a salad and sauce bar, where you can mix and match lots of different ingredients to add to your plate/bowl, making your own unique hot pot experience. You wear an apron – it has the potential to be messy – and it’s wonderfully interactive and fun. I was sitting with a fabulous group of students and colleagues, all women, and we were having a grand time. Randomly, a man walked by our table and said, in English, “Lesbians.” We were more amused than offended, and one of the faculty proclaimed the man a swine. A few minutes later, we all put on our aprons, which had Chinese characters on them. The faculty member wondered aloud what it said, and my student quipped, “Oh, it says Lesbian.” Tears rolled down my cheeks I laughed so hard, and that was not the last time that evening. I think the wait staff were happy to see the tail end of us that evening.
Legs like bamboo shoots, and a lucky foot freckle
One evening in Yangshuo, Alyssa and I decided to treat ourselves to foot massages. We had learned that regular massages are given by a person of the same sex, but foot massages are always given by someone of the opposite sex. No one could explain why. But the foot massage place (parlor?) we chose was a bit short-staffed that evening, so the the man taking care of Alyssa’s feet called in a female friend to tend to me. I think he actually just pulled her off the street, because I was watching what he did to Alyssa’s feet and mine were certainly NOT getting the same treatment. Maybe my lady was freaked out that she was massaging another lady’s feet. Whatever the reason, she was not on her game. But she spoke a little English and was chatty. First she noticed that I have a freckle on my left foot. Once we established the word for freckle, she told me it was very lucky to have a freckle on one’s foot. Who knew? Then when she was rubbing my calves, she complimented both me and Alyssa on the color of our pale pasty legs that haven’t seen the light of day since last August. “It is a good color,” she said. “Like young bamboo shoots – very beautiful.” I may not have gotten a good foot massage, but at least I learned that I have legs like bamboo shoots and a lucky foot freckle.
Are you talkin’ to me?
After the foot “massage,” Alyssa and I hailed a cab to take us back to our hotel, less than 10 minutes out of town. We’d made this trip several times before, and knew that the standard flat rate was RMB40 (about $6-7). When we hopped in this cab, the driver said it was RMB50, and when I shook my head he typed it on his phone to make sure there was no misunderstanding. Oh no no no no no, I said – 40, and that’s it. I held up a 20 and two 10’s for emphasis. 50 he insisted. No, I said. And he acquiesced and started driving. With a self-satisfied hmph, I put my money back in my wallet and said to Alyssa, “We did NOT just fall off the turnip truck.” Which set her into rounds of giggles, which set me off, and by the time we got back to the hotel I’m sure the driver thought we were well and sloshed, and probably would have paid US to get out of the cab. But we’d only had one local (light) beer each; we were just tired and punchy and the bamboo shoots and the turnip truck just pushed us over the edge. I’m so grateful to be traveling with a friend who I can laugh with!
That’s all for now folks – more on our adventures in Guilin and Yangshuo soon!