Here’s my long-overdue post about our visit to the home of a Chinese family. I was with Nichole, a student volunteer who wants to be a radio presenter, and we went to her older sister’s flat.
The place was tiny – a kitchen, a living room / bedroom, and a little bathroom adjoining the kitchen. Two people live there, Nichole’s sister and her husband, but on this occasion it was crowded, as in addition to those two there were Nichole, two young women who were either friends or relatives, and three Brits.
We were given ice lollies upon our arrival, and I quickly opted for the safe apple flavour, leaving my fellow English students with pea-flavoured treats. Pea lollies seem to be quite popular in China, as I saw them several times, but never tried one. Other somewhat unusual snacks we were given during the visit included tomatoes, which the Chinese consider to be a fruit like any other, putting it in fruit bowls and on the same plate as watermelon at breakfast, and a salty, smoked plum.
Whilst the snacks weren’t entirely to my taste, the evening meal was wonderful. Nichole’s sister’s husband prepared lots of dishes for us, which I will attempt to describe briefly (I may be wrong about what they were): pork with green beans, chicken with little cucumber chunks, aubergine with tomato and chilli, spring onions, courgette, tofu in an unknown but tasty sauce, strips of a crunchy vegetable which I couldn’t identify, leaf parcels filled with sticky rice, and ‘dumplings made with glutinous rice flour in soup’. This last dish was looked up on the internet before the meal so that they could tell us what it was, and they laughed at the translation and asked to know what the real English word for it was. Of course there is no English term for such an unfamiliar dish; although it appeared savoury the dumplings were filled with an intensely sweet substance described as ‘black sesame’, and the soup was also sweet. Overall the meal was the best I had in China, and Nichole’s sister’s husband clearly enjoys food – both the preparation and the consumption of it! I make the last remark because Nichole’s sister took great delight in calling her husband a ‘fat boy’, although he was certainly no such thing by British standards.
Before the meal Nichole taught us to play mah-jong (ma jiang), which was great fun. For those who don’t know, mah-jong tiles are essentially like cards, and the game is similar to many card games. What sets it apart from card games is the feel, sound and appearance of the tiles. I’ll definitely be buying a set if I can find a relatively cheap one.
After the meal we drank some extremely bitter tea, which is thought to be good for your health (it is apparently one of the things Chairman Mao did to preserve his health, along with swimming in an icy river), and talked for a while. I was told that my eyes looked very similar to those of a little black girl in a tiger costume (on a bizarre poster behind me), and all our eyes were deemed ‘beautiful’. We were taught how to write one or two characters, and husband and wife disagreed at one point about the correct order of strokes. It’s a shame that our Chinese wasn’t good enough to hold conversations in, but several of them spoke quite good English, and with the help of a dictionary at times we were able to communicate fine.
Definitely one of my favourite moments of the trip; great food and hospitality, and very friendly people. I hope some day Nichole or her family/friends will visit England and I will be able to return the favour.