A Challenging Day

Emily Post teaches us that when we need to remove something from our moths at the dinner table—a fish bone, say, or a piece of fat—we should not spit into our napkin or use our fingers, but rather, remove the offensive object with the same instrument we used to put it into our mouths. A fork, say. In China, apparently, this rule holds up, and when eating chicken feet, you should remove the toenails/claws from your mouth with your chopsticks at all times.

Yesterday (Sunday) was one of the more, let’s say, challenging days I’ve had thus far in China. Traditionally on the weekends here, one does not just sit around and relax doing quiet, solitary pursuits. One must gather with one’s extended family and/or travel and/or play loud games of mahjong and/or some combination thereof. My host’s roommate, CJX, asked last week if I was free on Sunday because she wanted me to meet her cousin and have lunch and go to a theme park. Theme park sounded good. It seemed polite to accept.

Saturday night I returned home relatively late (late compared to the hours I’ve been keeping recently, not to those in my American life) from the local expat hangout to learn that I could not sleep in on this, my one sleep-in day a week, as we had to leave at 9 to take a bus for two hours to her cousin’s house. Fine. So we arrived in the suburbs, where large numbers of family and friends were beginning to amass for lunch. At 12:30, lunch for 18 was served. Ordinarily in China I’ve liked the food quite a lot, but my host typically serves pretty mild things in terms of foreigness and it’s not too big a challenge. But right in front of me was plopped the plate of chicken feet, and I thought I might lose it. Several other dishes that were, ah, not my faves, ensued. I mostly ate cashews in silence, wishing for less loudness penetrating my tired ears.

Off we went to Floraland, which is something of a Disneyland knock-off. First off, there was theming along Disney’s lines—American Fair, featuring midway rides and games, China land, featuring fiberglass pandas, etc. It was also a rip-off in more obvious ways: the mascot is a panda with Mickey ears, and there are “hidden Mickey” silhouettes scattered all over.

I never figured out if we were paying for the admission or for the individual attractions, quite. We rode the inverted roller coaster, and probably the strangest ride I have ever been on—this even beats Valhalla Castle at Tivoli. It was called something innocuous like Dark Ride. We sat in a car with plastic guns attached, and a steering wheel. Maybe this is like Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, I thought. We spun into the darkness, by which I mean, single room of track we circled twice, full of glowing clowns and blacklights and things. Shooting just for the heck of it, apparently. Awesome.

In Europe-land, various couples were taking wedding photos among the plaster columns. At some point as we walked by, “Bop to the Top” started playing. (I hope it goes without saying for all readers of this blog that that is a seminal number from the first High School Musical). After a couple hours I started to feel like I was developing the low-grade fever I occasionally get when exhausted. “We will go home after dinner,” CJX said. There was nothing to be done about this other than smiling and agreeing. At the house the ~18 people were still gathered playing mahjong, and I decided, rudeness be damned, I would lock myself in a bedroom and nap/rest. I emerged at 6:30 (the average dinner hour here, it seems), to find that because mahjong was still underway, dinner would be delayed. I sat.

Finally 18 of us gathered once again around the two card tables and coffee table. Fingers crossed for other food—but no, the same as lunch! The chicken feet are in front of me again! I know it is polite to take all offered to you at Chinese meals, but in this case, I decided eschewing politeness in favor of not becoming ill at the dinner table was for the best.

Dinner ended. Please, please let us go home soon. My 9pm desired bedtime was fast approaching. We wait. And wait. I think CJX started to feel bad I wasn’t happy. I plaster on smiles. The cousin who was going to drive us home has decided not to; he wants to play more mahjong instead. I want to die. Someone else is persuaded to drive us back to Chengdu, from whence we catch a taxi and are home 13 hours after leaving the house. Never have I been so happy to lay my feverish self down to sleep. A challenging day, but I guess you live and learn (learn that you will never agree to visit CJX’s family, eg).

In unrelated news, I have learned that The Lizzie Mcguire movie is one of my host’s favorites. High School Musical is also much-beloved.

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