Just got back from another wild night on the town. I went out for a bike ride around the city and ended up back at the barbecue restaurant that Patrick and Dean introduced me to.  I hadn’t been sitting but five minutes before a 12 year old boy approached me and engaged me in conversation.  Usually when kids see me on the street they point and laugh, shouting, “Mama, laowai!”  Mom, foreigner! And if they have they have the gall to shout, “Hello,” they usually retreat in fits of nervous laughter, especially if I have the courtesy to respond.  This little guy (I called him John, as his Chinese name was pretty hard to pronounce, and impossible to remember) was different.  He spoke slowly and in clear and concise Mandarin, and I had little trouble understanding most of what he said, though our conversation required a variety of miming.  I ate my dinner and he invited me to sit with his father, who was a few tables over.

John Senior and his friend had already gone through a good deal of rice wine before I joined them, and they filled my cup three times in order for me to catch up.  “Wo de arzi zen me yang?” How about my son, he asked me, over and over again.  “Ta hen hao ren,” He’s a good person, I would say, over and over again.

He’s very nice, very smart, very brave to talk to a foreigner like me.  I could tell that Senior was very proud of his son, and thrilled that the boy had made a new friend in me.  Senior and his friend toasted to America, to Junior, to me.  Senior told the waiter he would pay for my dinner, and poured more rice wine into my cup.

My wife, his mother, made these dumplings.  Eat! Eat! I obeyed.

“Hao chi ma?” Taste good?

“Feicheng hao chi!  Ni de tai tai zou fan hou,” Delicious! Your wife cooks well.

“Wo zhi dao, haiyo ta piaoliang,” I know, and she’s beautiful too!

“Wo de arzi zenmen yang?” he would ask, yet again.

“Ta hen hao ren.”

“Nimen pengyou ma?” You are friends right?

“Pengyou! Pengyou!  Women shi pengyou!” Friends! Friends! We are friends!”

Senior repeatedly expressed concern with my ability to bike home after drinking so much rice wine, but despite the pretense he kept pouring me drinks, and as is custom in China, every time I drank, he drank. By the end of the meal it was I who was more concerned with his ability to make it home, even though his apartment was right next to the restaurant.  As we were getting up, ready to go, Senior told me to wait before I left, he wanted me to meet the rest of his family.  He whipped out his cell phone and started flipping through the contacts, but before he made the call he stopped to ask me, “Ni dou da?” How old are you? When I told him I was twenty-two, a wide, mischievous smile exploded across his drunken face.  In a few minutes I was greeting his wife and daughter.  The girl was about my age, and spoke a bit of English, but every time Senior prodded her to use it she would stare at me for a second and retreat in a fit of giggles.  She was able to squeeze out a few questions, but was far too shy to stick around for the answer.  Senior kept leaning in towards me, stinking of booze and bad intentions, spraying out a phrase the only word’s of which I could understand were, “Ni de nu’er,” your girl, at which point his daughter would whack him on the shoulder and cover her face in embarrassment.

On the ten minute ride home, Senior called me no less than three times, just to see if I was making it home safely, demanding “Ni zai nar?” Where are you?

I’m outside the campus right now. I’m safe.  I will call you tomorrow.

“Ni zai nar?”

I’m on campus now, outside my dorm.  I will call you tomorrow.

“Ni zai nar?”

I’m in my room.  I’m going to bed now.  I will call you tomorrow.

“Wo de arzi zenmeng yang?  Nimen pengyou ma?”

“Pengyou, pengyou, pengyou…”

Sitting here in my room I feel an incredible sense of accomplishment, having just conversed for hours in a foreign language—though a good deal of hand signals came into play—, made new friends that couldn’t have had a life experience farther from my own, and perhaps even setting myself up with a pretty Chinese girlfriend, though I do worry that Senior was just after a green card and an American’s salary for his daughter.  Still, I can’t express the excitement that an experience like the one I had tonight instills in me.  To think of the gap between our cultures, to think of the mutual animosity between our two governments, to think of the future of the relationship between China and the United States, and to think that I of all people, a middle class white American, drank rice wine and chewed on lamb kebabs with these people…it just simply blows my mind.

The “shifu,”literal translation master, cooks us up a delicious meal of roasted lamb kebabs and chicken wings.

John, my new best friend.  The word for children in China is “haizi”, but they are also commonly reffered to as “xiao pengyou,” meaning little friend.

From right to left:  Senior, unnamed Chinese dude I dubbed Bubba, the Laowai (foreigner), and John.

Advertisements