Continued from my last post...
A few days before our scheduled date to Tianzefang, Michael asked me if he could come and hang out with me. I wasn’t doing anything major; it was my day of peace and relaxation, and so I agreed. He did (and brought me toffee and mango juice) and we sat on the couch and watched TV for a little while, and then he asked if I was hungry. I was.
So we hooked a cab and went three blocks up to a local spot he was familiar with; a small cafeteria. He asked me what I liked and proceeded to order our food. I sat at a table and smiled at all the attention I received from the locals. Most of them were staring at me in shock, but I’m used to this. Me, my butterscotch complexion and my gloriously big hair are practically rock stars (People sneak pictures of me all the time).
He explained, "Westerners don't come to places like this; this is a place for native Shanghainese."
My response, "First time for everything."
Michael brought the food: dumplings, soup, and a fried pork chop. The new thing for me was the fried dumplings, which were fandamntastic. We chatted amiably, drawing all kinds of eyes from the locals. Then we walked a half-block up the street to hit up DQ for dessert, where I had my first green tea DQ Blizzard. Then he escorted me home.
That was a fun, random experience. The next time we hung out was for our scheduled Tianzefang date, and even though it rained, we had a very good time. He paid for any and everything I wanted, and insisted on it because, “in China, the man pays for everything!”
Of course, I am in full agreement with this philosophy.
After that, we just started hanging out when it was convenient for our schedules. Since he worked for my apartment complex, it was easy for him to hang out with me after I got off work and we would watch TV and talk. I introduced him to my favorite movies, and he purchased some for me to watch. We ate dinner together a couple of times a week and it was fun. I was under no pressure.
He enjoyed taking me out to eat authentic Chinese cuisine; those local spots where the food is superb but the service is so-so…and I loved it. One morning, he met me outside my building, and we went to his ‘hood and had breakfast: fritters and an egg pancake for me, and mungbean porridge and a fried rice cake for himself. The fritter was all right, but that damn egg pancake was the freakin’ business.
Here’s the thing about street food: there are practically sidewalk restaurants where people are cooking all kinds of wonderful-smelling things…but there are no restrooms, sinks, or anything of the sort that an actual restaurant would have. I knew about this (which is why I got all my hepatitis shots and stayed up on my probiotics), so I wasn’t worried. Michael cautioned me and was concerned that I wouldn’t want to eat the food, but I was cool. This is just the way life is over here. There are people everywhere selling meals on food carts, hustling a humble living off other working folks. And the food is cheap. The egg pancake was a good 10” in diameter, and all of $2. It was made of dough fried in egg, and seasoned with salt and pepper, and herb toppings of your choice: scallion, cilantro, pepper, etc. The cook fried it on an overturned drum with copious amounts of oil until it was golden brown. Melt-in-your mouth delicious.
Yes, I’m a fan of the egg pancake. All kinds of right, it is.
A few days later, Michael took me to another local spot and we had beef noodle soup…and have mercy on my soul, but that soup gave me all kinds of life. The broth was rich and dark, like they’d been cooking it all day (like your Momma used to), and the noodles were homemade. And then it was served in a huge bowl. Decorum is not something customers are concerned about; the proper way to eat the noodles is to stick your face in the bowl and slurp the noodles with chopsticks and broth with a spoon. You can't do this and be cute at the same time; ain't happening.
Mannnnnn….no lie; best eating experience I’ve had to date.
So yeah, Michael and I hung out a lot before I went on a school-sponsored excursion. As I said in the last post, Chinese men don’t casually date; there is an endgame. I am not even in that realm of thinking, and there is the fact that Michael is considerably younger than me. I made sure to keep our conversations at a conversational depth; whenever he tried to veer towards the future, I calmly steered him back on course.
It’s my plan to enjoy this for what it is; making a friend that has absolutely nothing to do with my job, and said friend showing me all around town. Someone to watch movies with, goof off with, and go have fabulous meals with. Michael never failed to bring “gifts” when he came to visit, and I don’t take it lightly that he might be trying to court me. I don’t know if this is the standard for Chinese courtship; I have no basis for comparison, but what I do know is that the sensible thing for me to do is to insist on nothing but a friendship with this man. And if he doesn’t want that, then there can be nothing else. That’s not fair to either one of us. I harbor no romantic illusions; I can’t afford to. The reality is buried in the difference between our ages.
But hey, for now I’m having fun. And that’s that.