This weekend was a blast--on Saturday, Sarah and we co-hosted an American dinner for our officemates at her apartment. We cooked spaghetti bolognese (American enough, you naysayers) with garlic bread; Sarah made bean chili, iced tea, and assorted vegetables. The coup d'etat was Sarah's delicious banana splits for dessert!!!! The evening was really fun: It was our first realization that our culture is just as foreign to them as theirs is to us, and I enjoyed that our officemates got to see a more relaxed side of us (and we of them). Some funny moments:
1) We told them we like to put lemon wedges into our tea; so, the first few people just plopped the lemons into the glass. We forgot to mention that you had to squeeze first and had to show them how.
2) They had never seen penne noodles before and asked what it was.
3) In China, they don't eat cheese. So Sarah provided yummy feta cheese with toothpicks, and one of the officemates (the one from the infamous bike buying adventure) took a nibble from one side, smelled it, saw we were watching, ate another nibble, saw we were still watching, and then braced herself and swallowed it like a shot of nasty tequila.
4) When Sarah served her sundaes (complete with homemade chocolate sauce swirled on top), the guy who got the first one looked into it with the same expression I feel like I'm making when the waitress drops off chicken feet at the table next to us. And all the Chinese people got up and stared into the bowl, like it was some sort of magic potion. They all loved it, though one did admit that she understood why Americans were so fat(!).
The highlight though was teaching them to play spoons. Each time anyone got 4 of a kind and reached for the spoon, the whole group ERUPTED in giggles and talked excitedly in Chinese for a few minutes before we could play another round. Alison and I decided that what made their reaction to the card game even more endearing was that these people were hand-selected in high-school for their sheer intellectual manpower and have risen to the pinnacle of Chinese medical research...so the fact that they could get such a kick out of a child's game was incredible.
Then today we went to Panjiayuan, the famous antique/crafts market, with a couple that I met in a police station. Anywhere but China, writing "police station Adam" in the subject of an email to invite someone to join you for an afternoon would be extremely odd, but here you have to register for the police when your visa status or your living situation changes, and so we happened to be there since we live in neighboring apartment complexes. The day couldn't have gone better: the two of them are really easy to hang out with, and we a lot of fun. So, when we got there, we quickly looked at the entry map......noticing where we could lie fallow. Then we started walking around. I think we spent 2 hours there and saw about 20% of what they were selling. Everything was grouped, so, for example, here was the fake-porcelain-vase section...
...and every so often they'd have a vendor selling something completely random...
...like an E.T. model. I also talked to a man selling extremely cheap rugs made in Afghanistan. It was kinda sad though because he said the rugs were all handmade (because there are no machines in Afghanistan) and naturally dyed (because there are no chemicals in Afghanistan). And it was less than $500 US to buy an ornate rug that was 2 meters by 6 meters...and since that was his asking price, I'm sure we could have gotten it for closer to $300. But we didn't buy much: we were there pretty much casing the joint to figure out what is out there to build up a list of things we want to bring back stateside with us. However, we did buy beautiful pillowcases that we decided would help add vibrancy to our apartment:
and were so happy we bargained this old Tibetan lady down from 150 RMB to 90 RMB for all 3 (meaning each one was slightly more than $4) until an hour later we saw the same ones being offered at a starting price of 25 RMB each (meaning they'd go for closer to 10 RMB). So this is Alison feeling duped in our apartment: