I’ve been in China for a week. Chongqing, Sichuan Province, China. To pronounce Chongqing, but on your best Chinese accent and say “Chong! Ching!”
I’m relatively sure I entered a plane in Rome, Italy, Planet Earth and flew the red-eye 6 timezones east and then landed back on Planet Earth. But I can’t say with certainty. A lot of things seem to be a good imitation of my previous experiences on Earth, but a lot of things are just a little off.
For example, it gets light and dark in a rhythm a lot like on Earth, but I haven’t seen the sun for 7 days. And I remember people drinking a lot more coffee. And beer. And water. I can find all of these things, but I seem to be almost the only one interested in consuming them. They fry stuff here, even shove stuff on a stick and then fry it, just like I remember at State Fairs on Earth. But the stuff on the stick, it’s mostly unrecognizable to me by visual recognition, and for sure the cartilaginous chew and crunch does notvibe with my previous experiences. And, finally, the people are intensely interested, oddly interested, whenever I’m writing in my journal. They clearly very much want to see it. The look a little too long. Then a little too close. Then they gesture, I give the journal to them and they exclaim! They flip through the pages! They have never seen anything like it, my scrawl filling the pages in A-through-Z Latin alphabet characters! Oh, last thing – seemingly my writing is not the first thing they haven’t seen before. They’ve never seen a person run, do pushups on the sidewalk or wear strappy sandals. I guess they’ve never seen anything like me at all. The small people certainly haven’t. It’s a good thing 3-year olds are so flexible, otherwise they would really strain their neck as they looked, and looked, and twisted to look more as they walked by. I don’t know. Back on Earth, almost half the people I remember had blue eyes.
So, all that to say, I’m a little suspicious if we really did just fly east and land ‘er back on Earth. I’ve been treated a bit ‘alien’. And the list of things that are ‘off’… A dozen things amaze, shock, surprise, make me giggle, bewilder me every day. Each. A dozen of each of those. There are a dozen things I thought I’d never hear, see or taste, a dozen things I wouldn’t have excepted, a dozen things I couldn’t have not expected because I would have never thought of them in my most wildly imaginative of moments. There are 100 experiences and small scenes that engross my attention everyday. “Huh. Another world class meal/bewildering “conversation”/unexpected sight/remarkable practice/foreign and incomprehensible existence. Okay then, moving on!”
Here’s one of those experiences, just a small scene that maybe illuminates some of what has been going on here. Following is an entry straight out of my journal:
The Noodle Soup Experience
At a tiny eatery. I went in because the lady was working the wok in the little street-side galley kitchen. You could hear the sizzle and pop of the heat and oil, the scrape, scrape clattering of the huge metal ladle and the wok being banged against the burner. These are the noises, the calling cards, of home-cooked and tasty.
The menu was on the wall, all in characters. I know the symbol for noodles and pointed at the category. And suddenly, once again, I had become the show, the mostly appreciated full center of attention, as everyone – cook, waiter, hawker, diner – all joined in animated talk (probably some mix of speculation, jest, mock, suggestion), laugh and gesturing. Apparently just pointing at the menu category of面was not enough. They had to know which specific one. I said, “Ahh, wait, wait, here we go..” I pull my phone out and they all point to it, sigh that they understand what is about to happen, yes, yes, good idea.. I type into the translator, “spicy noodle soup.” This didn’t go so well, ambiguity continued. The translation was clearly not perfect, but I did at least see the 面 symbol within the translation, so it wasn’t completely off the mark. I tried again, “hot pepper noodle.” Ahh! The small assembly looked at the phone translation once again, this time they gave me a head nod, head nod, and exclaimed a long mandarin phrase (I presume the name of some menu item). I roll with that assumption that we are on the same page and say “Yes!” and give an animated nod. Seemingly we had all reacted appropriately to the fully incomprehensible babbling of the other party and the series of events was set in motion - I was gestured to a seat, shortly thereafter presented a hot bowl of spicy broth and noodles, I consumed them with great satisfaction (they used some unusual high-tannin spice, though, and it was just odd to me), I pad 10 CNY, they have me 3 back with much look of questioning/is this acceptable, I say yes and nod, everybody is pleased with their experience and all parties are satisfied with their side of the approximately $1 USD transaction, I give a gesture to the now empty soup bowl, then thumbs up, the gesture clearly means nothing to them, I point to the soup bowl one more time, nod vigorously and give the universally recognized and generally reciprocated sign of friendliness and appreciation – a big ‘ol grin – and the world became infinitesimally smaller, and we all went on with our own wild and strange journeys.