Monday, November 24, 2008

A less than perfect dinner choice

The weekend over, it was time to get back into the grind. My regular morning routine started as it does every day, get picked up, driven to work, walk up the freezing stairway and get situated. Between this that and everything else, the morning flew by and it was time for lunch.

I went over to the canteen with two members of my local team –Jay and Gary – and chatted about the nuances of learning a language. I told them how many of the words in Spanish are similar to many in Chinese (purely out of coincidence I’m sure) and they thought my attempt to order a beer in Mexico with “Wo quiero yi ge cerveza” was pretty darn funny.

It has been a couple of days since my last hot pot so I decided to visit my friend. She was very glad to see me and happily shoved the picture menu out from behind her partition. One of the women from the office was already waiting for her bowl so she asked me about the quail eggs, since it appears that my grasp and knowledge about something so arcane was becoming a local legend. I explained the word “quail” and she thanked me and offered that she would use me to improve her English. I countered that working on language would be to our mutual benefit as my Chinese could certainly use some broadening. For fun I borrowed the menu from my friend and had this young woman help me with the characters for beef, chicken, pork and duck. 牛, 鸡, 猪 and 鸭 respectively. You add the character 肉 to get the correct term for meat as opposed to the animal.

After lunch I managed to break my glasses, something that immediately made me realize just how helpless we are here. I have no prescription, I know no optometrist. At home I’d toss them in the trash and head to Eyemart for a new pair, complete in 3 hours. I went off in search of scotch tape to at least get them repaired to where I could make it through the rest of the day and ended up using that ancient stuff that we used to call “cellophane tape.” Tough to tear, clear and gooey instead of sticky.

The rest of the day just sort of floated by until the manager of the language school came by at 2 in order to introduce me to my instructor whose name is Xie Li, 谢丽. The company pays for personal tutoring and my plan it to seriously take advantage of it before we get really busy next spring. We a nice time making a plan for me and Amanda, the manager, was surprised that I wanted to begin with the most basic book. I figured “why not,” I can use the review and there is no point in jumping in too fast and getting frustrated. Amanda said she was very impressed with my current capability, something that I hear so often that I am beginning to wonder if there is a conspiracy aimed at making me feel better. She did mention though that some of the drivers had told her that I could speak very well; it seems that I am now legendary as not only a quail egg expert but a linguist as well. My lessons start tomorrow with the first 2 hours.

After work I had James take me to the electronics mall to get a keyboard. I have run afoul of some corporate bureaucracy and for one reason or another, no one will give me one unless I trade in my laptop. Challenging this reasoning results in a lot of “yes, but” and “because” and so improviser that I am, I figured I’m living in the land of keyboard factories and thus ought to be able to find one pretty cheap.

The mall as it turns out is right next to my hotel so we parked and went in. Up yet another broken escalator to the second floor where we did quite a bit of window shopping before settling on a Sony Vaio model, brand new in the box for $6 with a one year guarantee no less.. James did the negotiating which meant the baseline price started lower than it would have started for me. I made a plan for tomorrow and sent James home to his family.

My pal Mike, fresh back from Japan, texted me to see if I wanted to get together for a beer, I agreed to meet him, where else, but in 5 Colour City at an expat watering hole called Café Vienna. I walked over from the hotel and took a slightly different route, finding a restaurant called Café Tiramisu that is supposed to be good. Walking under one of the arches on my way to the bar, something fluttered over my head and landed on a pipe on the side of the building. I figured it was a bat but I stopped and backed up until it was silhouetted against the lighter paint of the wall. It was a tiny Owl which sat there looking down at me. For fun I made the Western Screech-owl sound but got no response. I tried the Boreal Owl call with the same result. I guess this little fellow doesn’t speak English. I wandered a bit up the street and turned around and went back but he wasn’t having anything of a second visit, he flew up and over the building and went on his way. A bit of subsequent research leads me to conclude that this was a Little Owl (literally and in name), Athene noctua, a common night time predator whose range extends from the mid-south of Europe to the Korean Peninsula. And what a nice little treat, in such a grimy, urban place.

When the cigarette smoke drove us out we decided to go back to Café Tiramisu for some Italian food. The place was bright but deserted, as many of these restaurants are. Like those in Mexico, you wonder how they stay in business. I ordered a broiled chicken breast with garlic pasta and sat back and enjoyed a slice of bread. It’s funny, the decisions you make on the fly sometimes, but when I walked in I took the chair facing the kitchen instead of my regular habit of facing the window. No reason, I just did it.

We were sitting there talking and I was half watching the cook. He piled Mike’s noodles on the plate and the hostess/waitress brought them over. I saw him open the broiler, grab my chicken breast and then promptly drop it on the floor. He bent over, retrieved it and brought it to the prep station where I saw him cursing under his breath and making some wiping motions. Next thing you know, here’s my plate with a freshly sliced broiled chicken breast that just happens to have a few little blacks hairs on it. Mike was mortified; I just laughed and pushed the meat to the side, concentrating on the noodles as far away from it as possible. Between the limitations of the language and the $6 cost, it just didn’t seem worth the scene it would cause to clear it up. Besides, my appetite was pretty much gone. So much for the thought that this might be a place I’d be willing to sit and eat alone.

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