Saturday, July 31, 2004

another friday night banquet

well, it's saturday morning and i'm in a lot better shape today than i was at this point last week. last week, my homeroom class took me out for spicy-spicy hot pot (which was GREAT but left my stomach in knots), but this week, i took them out for dumplings. we obviously ate more than dumplings--there was the "1000-year-egg" and tofu dish, spicy tripe, pork joints in broth, and marinated cucumber strips...but the feature was the dumplings. four kinds: pork, beef, fish, and veggie. excellent stuff and the servers kept bringing bowl after bowl to our table. i have no idea how many we ate. there were 25 of us: me, all 22 members of my homeroom class, our chinese TA, and another teacher (my friend Frank)--and i am guessing we had about 450-500 dumplings. i know i ate around 35 and the beautiful thing about a banquet with these students is that they EAT. ravenously.

after class, we took the city bus as close as possible to the restaurant. but first, we walked to the bus. this was enough to have me completely soaked with sweat. for some reason--i know, the less clothes i get dirty the better--i didn't have an undershirt on, and my light green shirt was now dark green in the shoulders, stomach, chest, nearly everywhere. fortunately, this is the way the Wuhanese go through their entire summer so they are used to it. eventually, we get to the bus. but not without a lot of animated chatter between the monitor and the woman who seems like she must have been passed over for the job, about which bus to take. we settle for #602. it doesn't come for about 15 minutes. more time to stand outside and sweat. then we cram onto the bus. i was given a little debit card to flash in front of a card-reader, probably because the students didn't think i could manage to drop the 2 coins in the fare-box. their excuse was that i didn't have any coins. they had handfuls, but instead of giving me any, gave me the privilege of using the fare-card. we wedged onto the bus--a NICE, new one, air-condidtioned and very comfortable--for a 15-minute ride through the city. we got off at a point not necessarily proximate to the restaurant though. it was another 10 minutes of walking [and sweating] before we were met at the doors of the restaurant--this is customary, and feels very welcoming--and ushered into our own room in the back. then there were more animated conversations about the seating. we were able to string together a few tables into one long one and put all 25 of us around it. me, frank, and Lucia [the TA] sat in the middle. frank and lucia across from me and the monitor, and the other students stretching in either direction out from us. clearly it would be Ada's job again to do all the ordering and make sure everything went perfectly. this was a job she takes seriously--not sternly--but it is her job. it lasted for 3 hours last night, until one of the other students caught me hiding a yawn, pulled Ada aside and told her, then Ada sent us home. it's borderline ridiculous how she stage-manages the entire event, but it is also unbelievably comforting to have a "handler" the way a politician or any esteemed guest would have. she is also the one who utters to me in hushed tones what the other students names are when i get confused [after all, i've only seen my homeroom class 4 times [over the course of 3 weeks!] and they aren't sitting in the same seats anymore the way they did the first two days. she also makes sure my tea cup is always full, and when the boys start in with the drinking, she glares at them, GLARES at them, until they stop.

so, soon came the food. the other stuff first i guess, to nibble on while we anticipated the dumplings. then they started coming and they didn't stop for over an hour. straight. and towards the end of the dumplings came the beer. i had told them at the beginning that the beer would come later. the boys were disappointed--especially the 12 year-old-looking one who sat next to me. but of course Ada understood what i wanted--i would not prevent it, i just wanted to hold-off--and ordered everyone a canned coconut-milk drink to shut them up. it was cute to see david [ie/the 12 year-old] sucking his milk from a can through a straw, after he had protested so much about not starting directly with the beer. he would eventually be drinking many other unusual things too, before the night was over.

so, as the food wound down, the drinking got started. there were the same toasts as last week: we miss our families, you must miss your family, we should drink to our families, etc. but along with the drinking came the singing...we drank to ohio state and sang Carmen Ohio, which i had taught them earlier in the day. [we will sing it at the closing ceremony]. then we did something very special--we gathered at one end of the table, and sang happy birthday to my mom in both chinese and english [same tune, different words]. we had tried to call her, hoping to sing it over the phone, but instead we had frank take video/audio with his camera. it was great. i have the file here and am trying to send it home. it's *huge*--12 MB--so we might not get to watch the 36-second clip until i return. it is amazing to watch it...i must have seen it a dozen times last night--the looks of pure joy on the students faces, as they sing happy birthday to someone they don't know and won't probably ever meet, are precious. frank did an incredible job panning back-and-forth throughout the song--i can be seen in the back reading the one single repeated chinese sentence from a sheet--and the students look happy in a way i've almost never seen before. just from singing and clapping their way through such a simple song.

after the singing came their game-playing. it took frank and i a minute to figure it out, but it was a truth-or-dare game. about half of them, at the raucous end of the table, would count 1-2-3 and then hold out 1 or 2 chopticks. the number of chopsticks was tallied, and then starting from the previous "loser" they would count out who would be the current victim. first it was jade. she had to go out into the main hall of the restaurant and shout [in chinese, naturally] to everyone there MY NAME IS JADE I AM A STUDENT AT WUHAN UNIVERSITY AND I AM LOOKING FOR A MAN TO SUPPORT ME. poor jade is painfully shy, and can barely make it through class without some sort of dramatics when she is expected to give her speech, or simply answer a question. then one of the guys (Ada reminded me of his name but i've already forgotten!!) lost, and took the "truth" option...he was asked--by jade--"of all the pretty girls in the class, which one would you pick for your girlfriend." he blushed, repeatedly, for a while, then to his credit, he offered up a name. melody. it was a great choice. she wasn't someone anyone would say was striking, but when she smiled, it was clear he was very perceptive. she was a very pretty young woman. the boys then took one of table flowers out of the vase and pressured him to walk all the way over to her [of course, at the quiet end of the table] and give it to her, which he did. it was all very sweet. then, for the next round...Cynthia was the one who lost. she didn't want the "truth" so she got the dare: to stand on a chair and say in three different languages, my name is cynthia and i am a little piggy.

the thing is, none of this was happening so simply. there were over 20 of us gawking, yelling, and otherwise cajoling whoever was on the spot and all of this was the cause of uproarious laughter. there was also of course much craning of the necks from the other people at the restaurant--that is, when we didn't project our silliness into their sphere--and there was even some talk [in chinese of course so i didn't know exactly what was being said] that we were being too loud and should quiet ourselves. but at this point, we were a runaway train. and it wasn't until Gloria--sitting also at the quiet end of the table--caught me as i yawned, that the train slowed down. i knew i was in trouble too, because she immediately got up, walked over to Ada, and whispered in her ear. the next thing i knew, Ada got up and pronounced: BOB IS TIRED SO WE MUST ALL GO HOME NOW. it was abrupt, to be sure, but i can't say i was disappointed. it was a long day and i was tired. my belly was full--beyond full really, with dumplings and more than a little beer--and i was ready for bed. it had been an exhausting week--6 hours each day in front of a class--and even the evening bad been exhausting. the walk to the bus, the walk to the restaurant, even the eating itself was like work. good work to be sure, but work. then the drinking, the toasting, and the singing. it had been a good night though--just like last friday. it was a night i couldn't have ever imagined before i came here, and a night i am not likely to soon forget.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?