Happy Chinese New Year! I am steeped in Chinese culture this year because I am hosting an 18 year old boy, Kim Sun, for the entire school year. When he arrived in September I made a pact with my good friends, Marybeth and Irwin, who are also hosting a Chinese teenager, JZ, that all of us would go out for Chinese food every Thursday night. We have made good on our pact and every Wednesday or Thursday we start the round robin texting/Wechatting about who can come, where we should go and what time works for everyone.
The number of invitees have grown to include my friend Kathy and her boarder, Hao. We also invite Jill, a lovely Chinese woman I met at Kim’s agent’s house, and her six year old son, Hanyuan. So now, there are up to 9 people who join together on Thursday nights to share a Chinese meal and conversation.
Our local restaurant is Asian Gourmet – a fabulous Taiwanese restaurant that we all like. The Chinese among us say that it is “quite good” “almost like home” and we Americans think it is very “authentic” and “delicious”. I make a reservation on Thursday so we can all sit at the big round table with plenty of room for all the food. When we arrive, the two teenagers and the six year each get to choose a dish (Hanyuan orders seafood hotpot every week!) and then the rest of us fill in with a couple more dishes , some vegetables, rice and maybe an appetizer like beef wrapped in scallion pancakes or pan fried dumplings. When the food is served we pass and taste and comment on all the dishes. We order different things (except the seafood hotpot!) every week so there is always a great variety.
At the end of the meal when the waiter puts the nine fortune cookies on the table, everyone comes to life – especially Hanyuan (who is bored at the adult talk but loves the two teenage boys who have taken him under their wings). Hanyuan does the unwrapping of the cookies – opening the paper, breaking the cookies in half and pulling out the fortunes. He then passes the slips of paper to the 4 Americans. The four of us take turns reading the Chinese word printed on the paper and the Chinese folks try to guess what word we are saying. It is uproarious! Our Chinese is so bad that sometimes noone can translate what we are saying. Other times we say the Chinese word correctly, by chance I am afraid, and one of the Chinese yells out “pear” and we are so thrilled that we have said the foreign word correctly that we high five and get excited that perhaps we are learning some Chinese after all. Hanyuan just laughs at us when we make mistakes – he thinks we Americans are quite foolish when we totally mispronounce a simple Chinese word like “cat” or “pig”.