It’s Chinese New Years, the longest and most important holiday in the country. The streets, shops, restaurants, and supermarkets are completely shut down. I was told that trains and airports are horrifically flooded with people rushing to their families, which is why I elected to stay put.
It amazes me that in a span of 12 hours, a city of 7 million people can transform into a vacant ghost town.
For about a week, citizens spend time in their homes with family and friends. Thus, over the previous week I stocked up on snacks and drinks. Almost everything is closed for the entire week.
I was fortunate to eat an authentic holiday meal with a colleague (Leeyang, who I wrote about in a previous basketball blog) and his family. It was an invitation I didn’t expect and graciously accepted. We stuffed ourselves with pig feet, fish head, chicken, mushrooms, spicy cabbage, and shredded potatoes.
I’m not a particularly adventurous eater. Fish head and pig feet aren’t my idea of a quintessential holiday meal, but when you’re the honored guest, I believe you should stuff it down your gullet and stress how much you love it. So, that’s exactly what I did.
It actually was an excellent and delicious meal, by the way.
The pig’s feet actually wasn’t bad, though it’s tough to separate the meat from bone. It’s especially difficult to gnaw with chopsticks, and I found myself repeatedly having to use my hands. Luckily, Leeyang’s family didn’t seem to mind. “You can eat it just like you would at home,” they repeatedly stressed. Still, I tried my best to fare with the chopsticks.
We may lose at basketball daily to teachers shorter and older than us, but we definitely won at devouring that food.
Leeyang’s father was the head chef of the day. He’s also a renowned dentist in the area, which makes him a useful contact to have in case of a sudden toothache.
With the iron chef.
I couldn’t help but feel some initial fear–the fear of entering a household with different cultural customs. This stems from not knowing when you are committing a cultural faux pas or doing something that would be considered strange. Am I really using these chopsticks the right way? Am I eating in the correct order, and am I sitting properly? Am I speaking too little or too much? I found myself thinking all of these things and more.
It did give me some perspective on life as a foreigner, and just how many customs we develop over our life that we aren’t aware of. There is a lot more to learn than just another language. Culture is like an onion, and over a long period of time, you peel away layer by layer to gain a better understanding.
I’m still pretty stuffed from that meal, and it’s been about twelve hours. They also had some French red wine for me to take advantage of, which I greedily did.
After finishing the meal we spent a few hours relaxing, talking, and drinking green tea.
Later that evening, the school principal (I work at a high school) visited me with a few bags of gifts.
I’ve heard horror stories of English teachers flying (literally) into bad situations overseas, in which they’re overworked and underpaid. I’m lucky in that my situation couldn’t be more different. I’m treated pretty damn well.
Of all the goodies in these bags, this was the most interesting:
This is “Chinese dragon fruit”. You peel away the flesh like a banana and eat what’s inside. I haven’t been brave enough to try it yet, but intend to within the next day or so and report.
It was a great holiday, and hopefully I spend the rest of the week relaxing and munching down dragon fruit.