Today seemed like it was going to be an inconsequential Saturday in a city of 2 million. How wrong I was. Or at least for me and Molly, it was anything but inconsequential. What did we do that was so monumental, you may ask? We went to a movie and the supermarket and had western food for lunch. That might be your typical Thursday night back in the States. Not so for us. Why? Let’s go back to the beginning.
Twas eleven o’clock in the morning and it was cold. Too cold, some would say. It was National Teachers Day which to many was cause for celebration. For Molly and I, it just meant the beginning of a three-day weekend with absolutely nothing to do. We had big plans: do some laundry, watch some podcasts, stay up late to skype at time appropriate intervals with our comrades state side, and maybe even walk to the corner convenience store. It was also the weekend to celebrate the beginning of Autumn, or Mid-Autumn Festival Weekend, as it had been called by some.
To me, the celebration seemed rather vague, but did involve moon cakes. Moon cakes are not, in fact, food from the moon. They’re very like the kind of food a very beautiful lady ate long ago that made her fly to the moon, or so I’ve been told. I could be very, very wrong. At any rate, these cakes are eaten and people have three days off from school. According to my guide book, this celebration is actually a two-for to commemorate an unsuccessful rebellion against the Yuan Dynasty and also to celebrate the harvest. But, just like US, who actually cares what the real reason for the holiday is?
Aside: Moon cakes are not like the little debbie or hostess or whatever moon pies. They are not chocolatey with a marshmallowy center, much to my dismay. They are bread like. As Molly has said: “Bland. With a hint of nut”. Some have brown sugar and fruits like grapes in the middle. And, granted, this is just my experience with moon cakes. Overall, not what you’d think when you think of food from outer space.
Aside Aside: Everyone calls the U.S.A. “America” here. Which bothers me. Because there is more than just one America. There is either North America, the continent, which has three separate countries in it, or South America, which has a lot of countries in it. Or there’s Central America…which isn’t a country, but whatever. I don’t want to take the time to explain the incorrectness of calling U.S.A. “America” because most people have an infirm grasp on English at best…but I just wanted to here say that it does bother me. And sometimes I slip up and do it too, which vexes me even more. When people ask where I’m from, I used to say Wichita, Kansas. But that confused people. And as my illusion that everyone knew all fifty states of the US was shattered, I just reverted to the United States. To which people would say: “America” and nod their head knowingly. But I digress.
So after that lengthy introduction that, let’s face it, could be a blog post in itself, allow me to get to the real story of what happened on this fateful Saturday. At eleven o’clock we were taken to a five star hotel buffet that had western food. It was magical. I’ve been in China about a month, but my compulsion to eat pizza is incredibly strong. All the food had labels in Chinese and English. Some of the labels said things like: “Fried Fungus in a Sauce”, which was hardly appetizing. But they had rolls! They had baked bread (mostly the bread here is boiled. Ovens are uncommon in Chinese kitchen. Which means no baked bread OR COOKIES). There was pizza, potato soup, ice cream, meatballs, “Assorted Cheeses”, m&ms, and a chocolate fountain, among other things. It was a haphazard medley of food at best, but Molly and I were very excited for it.
Afterwards we were dropped off at a theatre. Our host offered to buy our tickets, but couldn’t stay around for the movie as he was very busy. He said he’d write down the address at our residence for a taxi when the movie was finished. Molly and I were a little apprehensive; we were marginally familiar with the area the theatre was in, as it was in a mall where we had also been to go grocery shopping and get Pizza Hut and McDonalds on different occasions.
Anyone who knows us knows that we are very independent. But having a translator or even just a familiar face ripped away from us in a huge and still new city was very daunting. Not going to lie, I was a little scared to watch a movie and then find my way home all by myself, something that would have not been a big deal at all in Kansas. But we shrugged and decided we would deal with getting home after the movie.
We settled on watching “Captain America” in 3D. And no, it was not in English. There weren’t any subtitles. But I think we both have a pretty firm grasp of what happened in the movie. Also, everyone uses their phones during the movie. People get calls, people get texts, I think they check their email during the slow parts of the movie and I’m pretty sure at one point I looked over and saw someone playing a game. Attendants don’t come in every twenty minutes to makes sure people aren’t doing so, however. There was a birthday party of little kids behind us and they were talking the whole time too. Again, no one seemed incredibly distraught. Also also, Captain America in 3D in China is way cooler than any 3d movie I’ve ever seen in the US. I don’t know if it’s because the movie itself was cooler or China is just cooler…but things seemed to pop a lot more. Captain America’s shield went at my face, I was scared for my life and my soon to be severed neck, or so I was sure at the time. Also also also, movie tickets are much cheaper here. Our 3D movie was 36 RMB. Which I’m pretty sure is like 5 USD (not 100% on that…but I definitely know it is cheaper here).
At any rate, if you ever find yourself in a foreign country, I strongly suggest seeing movies in the dominant language of the country. If you’re trying to learn the language, it will help. Molly and I both picked out phrases we were familiar with and if you know general words like “I”, “you”, “me”, “they”, etc. then you can also familiarize yourself with sentence structure and get a grasp on where those typically fall in sentences. It’s an entertaining way to go over basics that, hopefully, you’ve already grasped. We definitely didn’t laugh when everyone else in the theatre laughed, but I enjoyed it.
Well then we decided to go to the supermarket that was also in the mall. We’d done it before, so it was no problem navigating it. The only difference between supermarkets here and supermarkets in the US, however, is bags. They charge for plastic bags here. Most people bring their own, but as were weren’t expecting to go shopping we didn’t have any. We didn’t get much: just cheese (something that is avoided like the plague here – no one likes it) and crackers and noodles to last us the weekend, and a plunger. Normally we would get some fruit…but they have weird looking fruit here and we were limited to what we could buy because of the bag thing. We were able to carry it all between the two of us. I mean, a lot of people were staring at us while we were doing all this…but I’m quite certain that’s just because we were foreign and not because we were doing weird things. Because people stare at us everywhere. But I digress.
Finally we had to decide what to do about the biggest part in our day that we had put off: getting home. We were uncomfortable with taxis as they were a little expensive, required marginal human interaction in a language we both hadn’t mastered, and flagging them was like a competitive sport. Plus foreigners can occasionally get ripped off in taxis here, with counterfeit bills that we don’t know enough about and problematic meters. A seasoned citizen would have no qualms arguing with a dishonest driver, but Molly and I have neither the gall nor vocabulary to take on such a feat.
We decided to take the bus. The bus was a gamble too, however, because we weren’t 100% sure which one to take back to our neck of the woods. We were going of memory when a week ago we had been escorted to the mall for McDonalds (which has smaller serving sizes, curly fries, and a fried chicken like KFC meal option here). We got on the bus that we were pretty sure would take us back, holding all of our groceries and plunger in our arms. I’ll spare you the details of our ride back as it’s mostly boring even if I could probably draw it out and make it marginally interesting by peppering it with more asides and colorful language and perhaps an exaggeration or two. Suffice to say we arrived back at our residence, very proud of our endeavors.