Will you be my moon cake?

Trip Start Aug 24, 2007
1
9
42
Trip End Jul 04, 2008


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Flag of China  ,
Thursday, September 27, 2007

    Tuesday was Mid-Autumn Festival, China's second biggest festival.  It's a time where you come together with your family and your lovers to sit and watch the full moon while eating moon cakes, a circular Asian form of marzipan, but less delicious.  I can't really tell you why you spend the holiday with your family or why you eat moon cake because every Chinese person I asked didn't really know.  They would laugh awkwardly as they realized no one has ever asked them why they celebrate or what the story was behind the holiday.
    Most places have the festival off, but since the festival happened on Tuesday and we have all of next week off for National Holiday, I was stuck teaching in a humid sticky classroom full of students who would have rather been home.  So instead of actually teaching, Erin and I decided that it would be more fun to forgo lesson planning and take our 80-some students outside to play a game. 
    The premise of the game is that everyone stands in a large circle, except there is a person in the middle.  That person needs to say something true about themselves, and if it's true about somebody in the circle, then they need to run into the middle and find a new spot to stand.  The game creates chaos and always makes sure that somebody's in the middle.  And my students loved it.  The best part of it though was watching all of the girls do what Erin and I call the "Asian Run."  It's not a run at all, but a tiny tiny shuffle where they put their elbows close to their body, stick out their forearms, and leave their wrists limp while they shuffle their feet and make squeaking noises.  The end result is they look like a human tyrannosaurus rex gone horribly awry. 
    Sometimes the game became awkward at least for me, as I realized that there are some Western cultural taboos that do not exist or don't faze the Chinese at all.  There were times when somebody in the middle would shout "people who are the heaviest!" because they were specifically trying to get a certain girl in the middle or the time when they shouted "people who are not homosexuals!" or when they said "people who are not attractive!"  And it wasn't like I could demand that you have to say something nice, because to them, they aren't being mean to each other.  So I just let it go and moved on.
    After class, the three of us decided that we wanted to have a family dinner with Jackie at the Noodle Shop to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival.  Jackie really is like family to us now, even though we've only been here for a month.  Because in the course of this past month, he has effectively prevented us from dying too many times to count.  It's like we told him a couple of weeks ago when we took him out to dinner to thank him, "There's a mother's day, a father's day and then a Jackie day!"  And the Noodle Shop was just a natural choice - the whole Noodle Family is always there and even though we can't communicate with them, we've adopted them as our surrogate family.  Even if they don't know that yet.
    As our "baba" and "mama," Jackie took charge of the ordering and ordered more things than I thought you could ever order at the Noodle Shop.  We finally ordered the big 35 kuai pan we've been eyeing since we arrived and we thought that was all we were going to eat.  But food kept pouring onto the tiny table as we kept shoveling food into our mouths.  We ate sweet and sour cabbage, this meat and vegetable concoction that was delicious and potato sprouts along with the biggest pan of chicken I have ever seen.  It turns out that the focal point of the 35 kuai dish is a whole chicken.  Everything from the feet to the brain.  And it's mixed in with vegetables, broth, and Wayward Brother's delicious homemade shaved noodles.  As I was sucking the meat off of one of the chicken's feet, Jackie grabbed this hunk of meat which I assumed was a baby wing. 
    "Do you mind if I have this?" he asked us.  We didn't really care and I didn't really know why he was asking if he could have the wing. 
    "Go ahead, eat it!" we said. 
    "Oh good, I love the brain! It's the best part!" He said as he ferociously started attacking the inside of the head with his chopsticks to get the now unmistakably noticeable brain out of the skull. "Uggh," I thought. "And I thought eating chicken feet was weird." 
    When he saw all of our faces of shock and probably visible disgust, he just laughed. 
    "You don't eat this in the United States, do you?"
    "No, not so much," said Erin.
    "Is there anything that you think that Westerners eat is pretty nasty or gross?" Max asked.
    "No, not really.  It looks pretty delicious to me," Jackie said while still concentrating on sucking the last of the brain out.
    The only thing running through my brain was "Avian flu, Avian flu, Avian flu, Avian flu."
    "What about meatloaf?" I asked.  "You think that sounds delicious?"
    "Meat...loaf?" Jackie asked.
    "Yeah, think of a loaf of bread, but instead of bread, it's a loaf of meat.  And then you smother the top of it with ketchup," I told him.
    "What? Why would you do that? Can I have it without the ketchup?" He asked, showing some signs of disgust.
    "Nope, then it wouldn't be meatloaf."
    "That is the grossest thing I have ever heard."
    As the Noodle Family started to close up shop and made their family meal to signify the end of their daily Ramadan fast, we egged Jackie on to ask the family what their names were.  Our little ragtag family sat next to the Noodle Family, probing them with questions.  There was mutual laughter over both families' inabilities to say each others names and eventually Erin and I just amused ourselves by sticking our tongues out at KeKe, formerly known as Baby Noodle.  As the four of us left to go eat moon cakes on the steps of a campus building and underneath the moonlight, the Noodle Family huddled together laughing and eating for the first time since sunrise.  Even though I wasn't with my biological family, I still felt like I was a part of one.
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