Dinner last night was eventful, but un-photographed.
I had a all the makings for dinner in the fridge and was ready to start cooking, but decided I rather fancied a beer or three to wash it down. So, before starting, I nipped out to the local supermarket which is five minutes walk at most from my apartment. I picked up a six-pack of my beer of choice and started to head back.
I had to stop for a moment as a car was reversing out of the entrance to the gated area in which my apartment is. But I recognised the registration plate number, if not the car. It was a friend, but he has had his white car re-sprayed black. He spotted me, rolled down his window and asked, “Have you had dinner?”
I informed him of the negative and he told me to get in and join him. It turned out he had been invited to dinner by friends of his and was taking me along, too. Perfectly acceptable in China. Anyway, I was told, I had met the hostess ever-so briefly in 1999, so that makes it even more OK.
So off we set. I don’t have a car, but if I did I wouldn’t drive to that restaurant. It is a few minutes walk away. But my friend is a lazy sod in some ways. I mean he works hard but he won’t walk anywhere that has the possibility of being driven to.
We got to the restaurant to find that the automatic barrier to their car park was broken and we couldn’t get in, but were told that there is a secret rear entrance. So we headed there. As my friend drove into the secret sentence he failed to notice a stone ‘island’ in the middle of the road to separate ingoing and exiting traffic and drove straight into it. I was in the back of the car, but banged my head into the empty front passenger seat, cutting my lip. There were no other injuries apart from to the vehicle which had a somewhat bashed front.
In Chinese way, we stopped, completely blocking the exit and called our hostess to say we would be delayed, then took lots of photos of the wall and car etc for insurance purposes. My friend was sure he could claim, despite the accident being entirely his fault.
Finally, we limped on to the restaurant. This was a huge barn-like room full of large round tables for 8 or more and every one was full. There must have been around 400 people there and the noise was overwhelming, as usual. We found out hostess (whom I didn’t recognise, at all), her husband and another male friend (whom I didn’t know either).
After the customary hellos and an explanation of our lateness, I was asked if I would like a beer with dinner. “Why not?” I thought. A waitress was called over and was asked what beers they carry.
蓝带 is Pabst Blue Ribbon, a liquid which I don’t even consider to be beer. I know America does some excellent craft beers, but the stuff you export to China is dreadful. Actually, Blurgh Ribbon is made here under licence.
Many of the Chinese breweries were started by Germans and still employ German master brewers. The local beer was an Austrian company until Mao took it into Chinese hands after the revolution. Their master brewer is still Austrian, though. Nice man. I've met him.
I was thinking of going out to the car where my six-pack of local beer was waiting for me, but the hostess’s husband shot off to a nearby store and bought the necessary. China restaurants seldom object to you bringing in consumables from elsewhere.
They had already ordered, but as is customary, we late arrivals were instructed to order one more dish – this duty fell to me. It was a Hunan restaurant, a cuisine with which I am very familiar having lived there for two years, so I was happy to choose something. I went for a frog dish with a ridiculous amount of green and red chillies. Other dishes included a lovely chicken soup, a beef and bone marrow dish, some kind of fish, very spicy shell-on shrimp, another chicken dish, mixed pig offal with chillies, potato fritters, eggplant fritters, steamed buns and I’m sure I have forgotten something.
The food was very good and I regret that I have no pictures to show you. Remember I had just nipped out to the local shops and didn’t take my cell phone or camera.
About half way through the meal, a waitress toddled up and tried to hand me a fork and knife. In 21 years in China that is the first time that has happened. I thanked her but declined. It doesn’t make sense to use a fork and knife in that setting. Chopsticks are easier.
We made our way through the food and the beer, except my friend who was driving. The conversation was interesting and the restaurant started to empty around us. By 8pm, it was all but deserted. Another Chinese habit.
Finally, we decided we had done as much damage to the food as we could and we had definitely finished the beer, so we left with many a goodbye.
Before leaving the car park, my friend, for some reason, decided to re-stage the accident and take more photographs. By the time he was satisfied with his photographic skills, I was feeling the need to void some of the beer, so I nipped back to the restaurant to avail myself of their facilities. I informed my friend as to my intentions and he said “OK.”
When I returned to the car there was no car to be seen. I looked around, but couldn’t see it or my friend (and remember I had no cell phone) so I set out to walk back. After about two minutes, friend (and car) pulled up beside me, my friend asking why I had abandoned him.
I still don’t know where he had wandered off to in the meantime. I’m not sure he does either. Three minutes later I was home.
Tonight, I will cook what I planned for last night’s dinner and thankfully I didn’t have to go shopping in today’s monsoon-like rain. Hopefully I'll have a quiet uneventful meal by myself.