It’s weird waking up in a hotel room every night. It’s even weirder when that hotel room is in a foreign, non-English speaking country. Every morning I wake up in that absolutely pitch black darkness that only hotels are able to create; and, in those first few moments of bleary wakefulness, I plan my day. Where I’m going to eat lunch today, who I want to call or e-mail, the work I have to do, and the ladeez I hope to run into… and then I remember I’m in China.
As fun and exciting as that is, I still die a little bit inside every time I realize it. “Oh, so I’m not going to get the chance to be shot down by _____ today. Damn.”
I think the whole thing is even more mentally crippling because I don’t even have a home to miss right now (everything is still pretty much burned to a crisp, but slowly being repaired). I get temporarily excited about getting back to my home, but then realize that that is entirely unlikely to happen any time soon considering that my S.O.B. insurance adjuster returns e-mails in time scales measured in weeks. Ridiculous.
Anyway, there are two things that have happened on a regular basis as I continue to meet the locals. Both of them are comments:
1. (While sitting at a table having lunch or dinner with a group of people from the factory, there is muttering in Chinese to each other while glancing at me. Eventually, the best English speaker amongst them catches my eye and explains):
“She says [ed. note: in much the same way it is always “good morning” no matter what time it is, it is always “she” no matter the sex of the person referenced. In Chinese, the sex of the speaker is based on context, and not actually from a “he” or “she” word] that you are very good with chopstick!”
2. “You are very young, yes? 23? 24? (and then everyone starts guessing)
In regards to the age guessing, I’m not sure if they are all being extremely polite, or if they are sincere, but no one has guessed anything remotely close to my actual age, and 25 is so far the highest (and this literally is from at least 15 people guessing… this seems to be the favorite ice breaker, followed quickly by, “Do you have Chinese girlfriend?”).
This is, of course, flattering, as I’m approaching ancient, but also puzzling to me as I think I might look a little young for my age, but I’m fairly sure that’s my own vanity. I wonder, then, if this is the reverse of the common Western feeling that all Asians look very young well into old age. I know already that Asians are guilty of the same faux pas of thinking all Westerners look alike. The vendor’s driver, in fact, rattled something off in Chinese to my host that basically amounted to, “I’ve seen this guy before!”… which is entirely impossible.
As for the chopstick thing, like I said I always hear this, and it admittedly inflates my ego a dispraportionate amount. When I was 5 or 6, my family and I would always take my aunt to Benihana when she visited. In fact, aside from my grandfather’s flipino cooking, Benihana was my first experience with Asian
cuisine food (for some reason, I hate it when people use the word “cuisine”… I have no idea why).
I loved Benihana. The show, the food, the atmosphere. I was all about it. Selfishly, I looked forward to my aunt’s visits for the Benihana experience more than the familial visiting. I even tried to get my mom and dad to go there on non-special occassions, but they never did.
As I’m sure you know, you have the option of a fork or chopsticks at Benihana… and for intrepid learners like myself training-sticks. I attacked these with a vengeance, and I absolutely refused to use the fork no matter how little I ended up eating. After my first try at them, I took them home and used them every day. At some point, I was confident enough to untether them from each other (which presented a whole new set of challenges) and continued from there.
Eventually, Daniel-san had nothing on me.
The next time my aunt visited, and we went to Benihana, I got the first of many compliments that would eventually swell my head to today’s gigantic proportions. The Japanese waitress, after staring at me for a solid two minutes, turned to my mother and said with surprise, “Your son… he’s very good with chopsticks!” My mom, fumbling with her fork replied, “Yes… (looking at me oddly, her voice rising in a question) yes he is?”