Happy Chinese New Year! It’s the Year of the Tiger and I’m really hoping to get one this year! That’s why they give years animal names, you know. So you can meet and adopt them as pets. I’m really glad it’s not the Year of the Snake or Rat. That would be terribly unpleasant.
My friend, Bojun and his mother invited me to spend the first day of Spring Festival with them at their home yesterday. The festivities began at noon, so I made my way there (eggs & milk in hand) ready to see how this important holiday is celebrated. Apparently, it’s primarily celebrated by eating nonstop. From the moment I walked in the door, I had plates and plates of food set before me. It started with dried fruits and nuts of all kinds: pecans, dried dragon’s eye (I was told this was fruit, not real dragon’s eye… but one can’t be too sure), macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds, dried figs soaked in honey, and pumpkin seeds. This was all the precursor to lunch: fried pork, giant shrimp (completely intact), stir-fried veggies, soup, other things I can’t remember, and of course… jiǎozi (gee-ow-dza). Otherwise known as dumplings, jiǎozi is absolutely required for a proper celebration of the Chinese New Year. And it’s so delicious! Bojun’s mother made it from scratch and stuffed each little one full of different meats and vegetables. It was divine.
By Chinese standards I am an incredibly slow eater. This works for and against me on days such as yesterday. Eating slow means I realize when I am full before I’ve absolutely stuffed myself, which is awesome, but it also means (to my Chinese hosts) that I have not eaten enough (a half-full plate of leftover jiǎozi is absolutely unacceptable). If I could just eat really fast and stuff myself before my brain realizes how full I am, then I wouldn’t be forced to eat until I start gagging from fullness (this may have happened yesterday). I honestly think they gauge my appetite by my outward, not inward, size – an unfortunate misconception I often try to combat by using my hands to show how big my “inside” stomach actually is. The fullness and gagging was taken to the next level when the post lunch plates of fresh fruit were served.
Please forgive me in advance for this next little bit of information. I only share this to fully convey my experience yesterday.
Soooo… I’ve been a little bit “stopped-up” lately. Not sure why or what may have caused this problem, but it was the source of much anxiety going into yesterday’s festivities, especially as I anticipated eating a lot of foods that promote regularity. It wouldn’t have been a problem, except that the facilities situation at the Liu residence is less than ideal. At some point during all the food consumption, Bojun informed me that I shouldn’t eat too much (even though he was the one practically force-feeding me) because going #2 would require a special trip to the #2 bathroom. You see, their bathroom is outside next to their house, and it isn’t actually a bathroom. It’s a shower - a tiny little cement shower that you squat down and pee in (which is extra trixy at night when there’s no light to help you see whether you’re peeing on yourself or not). So had I needed to go “big potty” it would have necessitated Bojun escorting me to the “special” bathroom in the main house, or to the 4-star hotel down the street.
Nothing like discretion.
Thankfully, my fervent and effective prayers spared me. I did not have to take any special trips nor did I experience any painful side effects from yesterday’s mass consumption. I literally ate for eight hours straight. After the fruit plates, the dried fruit and nuts were reintroduced … and then came dinner with it’s succession of courses. Not to mention all the tea and milk and juice.
Overall, the day was really enjoyable. The hospitality extended to me was exceptional, and at times a little bit awkward. Bojun’s house is small… just one room with a kitchen, and a little loft that you get to by climbing up a bamboo ladder through a hole in the ceiling. The “living” room doubles as Bojun’s bedroom, so his bed is right in the middle of everything. By late afternoon, he and his mother were insistent that I take a nap. I really didn’t want to. His mom kept making up the bed and telling me to lay in it, so rather than fully lay down I’d go and sit-lay… this went on for a couple of hours. Finally, I gave in. I didn’t nap or fully recline, but I “cozied” in a bit more, which gave Bojun’s mother the go-ahead to tuck me in. She grabbed a blanket, tucked me in tightly and threw a hot water bottle in under the covers to make sure I’d stay warm (I actually really liked that). It felt very odd to be sit-laying in someone’s bed right in the middle of their living room. I felt like the grandparents from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Except I was the only one in bed.
I was surprisingly emotional yesterday and at points I really, really just wanted to go home – not to my hotel. Home to America. To the familiar and comfortable where I’m known and understood (both as a person and when I speak), where someone will understand why I think something is funny without having to explain it, where I can have a normal flavored potato chip (not kiwi or shrimp), where I can fully express my thoughts and opinions in unbroken English. I can’t really even tell you where it all came from. My hosts were lovely and inclusive and hospitable. Maybe it was just watching their family dynamic and realizing how much I miss my own. I don’t know…
It got better when we all gathered (around the bed with me in it) to watch the national New Year’s production they do every year in Beijing. It was so fun! The production is four hours long leading up to midnight and includes performances of all kinds: dance, song, comedy, magic, drama. Bojun interpreted enough of what was happening so I could keep up (at least for the speaking acts). The night ended with an invitation for me to spend the night (which I politely declined) and a shared cab ride back to my hotel. But not before Bojun’s mother whipped out a measuring tape and began taking my measurements (over my puffy winter coat)!!! I do not know why or what for, and I couldn’t ask her because she doesn’t speak English. So who knows what I might be receiving! A tiger costume to ring in the New Year?
I hope so.