Food, Glorious Food
My favorite part about China was the food. Oh my, the food... it is indescribably good. (I think what my least favorite part about the UK is also the food, but we'll leave that for another day.) I would go out to restaurants and just randomly point at things, and everything they brought me was good. (Although eventually one of the places translated part of their menu into English for me, which I thought was very nice, and prevented me from eating anymore pigs ear by accident.)
But it's not just the food that's different, it's the way people eat. I wouldn't be an oddity just for going out as a big white girl in China. I'd be an oddity because, more often than not, I'd be eating alone. Usually, groups go out to restaurants. Big groups. Fun groups. Loud and boisterous, with the round-a-bout on the table so everyone could try all the dishes without reaching over and passing things. Food was an experience to be shared, laughed at, talked through, enjoyed. It was such a social occasion that meals could last for hours, and it was marvelous.
I remember taking some of my students out for a meal and getting put in one the back rooms. These students, usually so quiet, came to life that day. We laughed and talked for hours... probably far longer than I should have had them out, but they were advanced students, and it was fun. We had so much tea that I thought I would vibrate on the way home, and they delighted in trying to tell me what things were in English. We ate and ate, and then ate some more.
But the best meal memory is my last night in China. I'd been getting very down the last few weeks, and finally started to perk up again in Shanghai. Through those sorts of connections that just happen when you're staying in hostels, I hooked up with two guys from the UK, a couple from Australia, a man from Finland, and a girl from the US. As a group, we did all sorts of things - got drunk and stayed up till the wee hours of the morning, sitting on the bund and singing folk songs while Chinese people did tai chi, going out shopping through Nanjing Don Lu, and then we went out and had one of those loud, boisterious, never-ending meals.
I remember it so well... the food, the laughing, the comparing stories, the talking... it was the first time I really felt that sense of belonging while I was there. We were all there as expats, all there having fun, and all there to enjoy ourselves.
That's the part I hold with me. I remember all the group meals I had like that fondly, and when I think back on China, I remember that feeling of being part of something fun and full of life.