Friday, October 13, 2006

trip to the motherland

Before I write about my trip to China, I have to write about my plane ride over there. Even though it was just under 2 hours long, it was like a vacation all on its own. I had been planning on sleeping the whole time, since I had spent the night in the airport and hadn't really gotten any sleep at all. However, when I went to board the plane, the lady who took my boarding pass crossed out my seating assignment and told me "seat change." I was disappointed, since my old seating assignment had been a window seat...I didn't realize until I got on the plane that my new assignment of 1J meant I had been bumped up to FIRST CLASS (and I still had a window seat)! Ever since my family's first trip to Florida when I was in elementary or middle school I have dreamed of flying first class (I saw a flight attendants bringing the first class passengers some kind of chocolate mousse or pudding dessert thing). This flight definitely lived up to my expectations. I sat in a ridiculously comfortable chair that could lie all the way down and ate a four course meal on really pretty china and a silklike tablecloth that I ordered from a menu. In the seat behind me was a Korean dude wearing huge Olsen twin sunglasses and a ruffly black trenchcoat who all the flight attendants came fluttering up to for autographs, and next to me was a very serious government man in a suit who spent the whole flight reading 50 newspapers. It was so exciting...I didn't want to sleep at all and miss any of it, despite the comfort of my bed-chair.
The trip to China itself was so wonderful. Unfortunately, we didn't take very many pictures...although the Chinese kids on the right got plenty of shots of us. We did, however, eat really well...indulging, of course, in American favorites like TGI Friday's, lots of cheese, and delicious, delicious pizza and good beer from the [Hidden] Tree (they changed the name from the Hidden Tree to the Tree since 2004, but I am choosing not to acknowledge the switch since the Hidden Tree is a way cooler name). We also made the old Wesleyan classic of pasta, basil, grape tomatoes, and feta and went to a really nice Malaysian restaurant with pretty wood and lighting and amazing food. My two favorite things there were an appetizer of mango rolls and this cactus-like vegetable (they called it four-sided bean) in a cashew sauce. Sooooo good. One afternoon, we got nostalgic with old, cheap Chinese favorites that formed the basis of our study abroad diet (before the advent of Hangzhou and the hanguo fanguanr) like scrambled-eggs-and-tomato, gongpao chicken, and dumplings. On one of the first nights, Will and I went out to dinner with his old language partners. It was so nice to see them and to get to have whole conversations in Chinese and realize that I could actually keep up and participate (thanks to Korean, my Chinese has gotten a lot worse...Will is finally better at it than I am--a fact that he delighted in rubbing in at every possible opportunity). They are so cute and patient, and since I learned a lot of my Chinese from them, their Chinese always seems perfectly clear and easier to understand than that of anyone else. We ate old Beijing noodles, or zhajiangmian, which any ETAs reading this will recognize as the omnipresent noodles with black sauce that, along with fried dumplings and sweet and sour pork, epitomizes Chinese cuisine here in Korea. I had kind of forgotten what the non-Koreanized, non-fast-foody version tasted like, and it made a nice connection for me between my life in Korea and my visit to China.
There were also highlights of the trip unrelated to food. We rode bicycles (I got to ride a Flying Pigeon, which made me happy) all over the city, which, although extremely dangerous, was wicked fun. I loved getting to see the city--since it was the Mid-autumn Festival, all the streets and sidewalks were awash with bright red paper lanterns, big and little--and all the people moving around, especially in the twisty hutong (neighborhoods of narrow alleyways formed by traditional courtyard houses that Beijing is famous for), and I loved getting to see/meet things and people I've been hearing in stories from Will, like the Chinese flower-delivering clown Kate is dating and the prostitutes they live next to. Most of all it was just really great to hang out, talk, and relax for a little while.

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