Last week I had a particularly glorious night teaching my eager, bright Chinese students and decided to celebrate the evening by gluing my self to a coffee shop chair while reading a good book. A few sips into my caramel macchiato and not even a page into my book a short, little Chinese girl approached my table with a sweet smile and shaky voice.
Over the next hour and a half I had one of the most surprisingly wonderful conversations with a complete stranger. She is an English major at a local university. Our conversation went all across the map; from what do you like about this city to how can we improve the Chinese and American school systems. I stopped her several times and asked if she wanted to go invite her friend, who she had come with, to join our conversation, but my new friend Lan wasn’t too concerned about her best friend in the corner, as she had encouraged Lan to come and talk to me in the first place. Numbers were exchanged and plans were made to hang out on the day of Dragon Boat Festival.
I left the coffee house absolutely thrilled by this new friendship.
Just two days ago I got a text from Lan inviting me to her home for a traditional Dragon Boat Festival lunch.
So today, I flagged down a taxi and made my way to the other side of the city where her family’s apartment is. I was excited to see Lan approaching in her adorable dress and with the always-faithful umbrella (no, it wasn’t raining, Chinese girls just like to keep their skin fair).
She was so excited to tell me that I was the first foreigner to ever come to their home and that she hoped I liked the food. Her family had certainly prepared more than I deserved. Her incredibly animated family greeted me at the door, all giggling when I said “Ni hao” to greet them. Then it happened…I had the BEST meal I have ever eaten in China:
Zongzi – triangular shaped sticky rice with beef and mushrooms on the inside (this is the traditional Dragon Boat Festival food). Táng cù lǐjǐ – Sweet and sour pork, I have had a lot of táng cù lǐjǐ the three different times I have been here, but none has ever even compared to this. Along with these fabulous dishes, there was also spicy fish soup, beef and hot peppers, BBQ chicken on a stick, spinach and some delicious clams (almost tasted like how we cook ‘em in Marland). On top of the amazing food, this family went out of their way to serve me and constantly remind me to make myself feel at home.
We had a great conversation after dinner surrounding Lan telling me exactly what Dragon Boat Festival is; A now famous poet, Qu Yuan worked for the government around 270 BC, but the King and rest of the government made choices that were so corrupt that he jumped in the river to commit suicide and show how much he loved his country. Legend has it that the local people who really admired him threw lumps of rice into the river, so that the fish would eat the rice, not his body, this is where the traditional food zongzi comes from. I loved listening to her tell this and many other stories as well as her family jumping in to add their two cents, which Lan graciously translated for me.
I will never forget this wonderful day where I was fully immersed in the incredible Chinese culture and love of the Mei family.