Jeremiah’s Hot Potscapade

11 11 2009

Hi all.
So today I had my second hot pot meal in China, after the one Missy and I had a few months ago. Did we blog about that? I’d check, but since Chinese Internet is always a dubious proposition, I’ll just assume we did already without actually checking.
For the uninitiated, hot pot is where you have a big, boiling pot of soup – generally the standard Chinese tasteless seaweed soup, but sometimes a spicier soup, and in the case of our first meal, more of a curry – which is then filled with a variety of kinds of meats or vegetables, which cook in the broth. This particular meal was hosted by the head teacher of Junior 1. Though they’re my favorite students, I only have Junior 1 kids once a week, so I don’t know all the teachers particularly well. There are 10, I think. So anyway, the head teacher send me a text message with directions in Chinese characters, most of which I couldn’t recognize, though I caught a bei (north), xiao (small) and yang (sheep) in there. So I just showed my text message to a cab driver, and he drove me down to a big restaurant north of the University.
I got there before some of the other teachers, so I waited around until Zephyr ( the other Junior 1 foreign teacher we’ve mentioned in a blog probably, or have pictures of on the Flickr page) showed up, then we went in and joined the other teachers in this private room (Chinese people like to eat by themselves in private rooms). So we sat down, the bulk of the Chinese English teachers (mainly the ones I actually know) at one table, and us and a couple other teachers and some guy I haven’t met at the other table. So the waitresses started the pot of boiling soup, which was divided into regular broth and spicy broth, and we ended up dumping some beef and lamb into the soup and waited for it to cook.
Here is an observation about Chinese people which I may or may not have mentioned before: When someone hosts an event, whether it’s a party or just a dinner/luncheon, there are three groups of people. The host, who stays the whole time and tries to get everyone to eat as much food as humanly possible; the guest of honor, who typically is fed the most food and paraded around to meet everyone; and everyone else, who come with two goals: eating and getting the hell out of there as fast as possible. Now, I thought in a relatively small and cozy setting among people who know each other fairly well, this dynamic would be less in evident, if not gone altogether. Well, my friends, I regret to inform you that it still exists, and it’s something I’ll never understand about the Chinese. So we eat at our table, the other table eats, neither really interacts, and everyone just leaves when they’re done eating. So I never really had any conversation with anyone I knew. Meanwhile, the teachers I don’t really know talked to Zephyr but basically ignored me, except for the classic “Zephyr, does Jeremiah take a Chinese class?” question. It’s always amusing when someone asks someone else a question about you that they would not necessarily know the answer to. So Zephyr just turns to me and says “I don’t know, are you taking any Chinese classes?” and I say yes. Then he says “Jeremiah knows how to say ‘Allow me to introduce…’ in Chinese.” So one of the teachers asks to hear it, and I say, in halting, probably incorrect tones, “Wo jieshao yixia…” then I turn to Zephyr and say “Zhe shi laoshi Zephyr.” (This is teacher Zephyr) The teacher who asked frowns, and I say “What, did I say it wrong?” and the one teacher I know says “Wo jieshao yixia. No, you said it right.” and I say “OK, I realize my tones are probably off,” and the teacher who asked initially says “Just say Zephyr laoshi.” And I said “Umm…OK.” Then, silence. So that was my contribution to the conversation at the table.
So into the soup we got some lotus root, some shrimp, lots of fish, some … umm… breadlike things, some meatballs, some fish dumplings, and a little bit of vegetables. I ate til I was full, but I’ll be honest: I’m not blown away by hot pot. I liked the one with curry, largely because Missy and I got to pick what we wanted, and it was fine. But not to sound too American, but I’m still a little creeped out by everyone eating out of a giant pot, particularly when some have the sniffles. And I’m never that impressed with Chinese soup. At least in the Nanjing area. It’s bland. Throw some Chicken stock on the fire, add some potatoes, lamb and some vegetables, and I’ll be happy, but I can do without seaweed soup with scuttlefish and meatballs. Sorry, China.

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