China, April 24, 2000
Of course Ayi's food tasted great! All mom's cook perfectly!
It’s a customary step in all
relationships, and as much as you stress and worry about it, the event
must come to pass. Ya gotta meet her (or his) folks. I've met a few
parents, of girlfriends, lovers, and such, but never ones I couldn't
speak the same language with. By the time I got to the parent-meeting
stage in Russia, my Russian was decent. I wasn't so lucky on Sunday night
Jingmei's folks came over to our place, nominally for dinner, but really to check out how she was living and whom she was living with. Being the househusband, I was way nervous, spending an entire, beautiful Beijing spring day indoors, cleaning everything at least twice and fixing all the little things I'd left to do "one day". Jingmei wasn't as nervous, but of course, she wasn't the one on display, I was.
To that end, I shaved, wore pants to cover my hairy legs, and even though of wearing a long sleeve shirt to keep her folks from thinking I was too hairy for their daughter. Now, don't go thinking I am some gorilla, with a rug on my chest and back. I am your normal guy, not even close to a Tom Selleck chest hair situation, but this is China, the country where razors are only sold in "foreigner" stores cuz the locals don't have enough hair to need 'em.
With the house clean, and me presentable, in came Mom and Dad, or "Ayi" and "Shu Shu," which I am to call them. Both were full of energy, very excited to meet me and buzzing around the apartment like I knew, but Jingmei doubted, they would. Ayi checked every room, even wiping her finger on a windowsill (secretly of course), and looking in the closets. Shu Shu was much more relaxed, nodding his approval of how I fixed part of the floor and sturdied all the tables.
Once inspection time was over, the real fun began. They'd brought over fixings to make jiaozi, a dumpling-esque dish of minced meat and vegetables wrapped in dough. As we sat around the kitchen table, and I proceeded to make the worst looking jiaozi on record, we talked and laughed about life in China, my inability to make jiaozi, and Jingmei's funny translation goofs in handing two fast talkers, her mom and I.
Once the jiaozi were finished, Ayi and Shu Shu took over the kitchen for an amazing display of wok and fry pan excellence. Unlike the noodle street food I am used to, Jingmei's family eats mainly fried foods with plenty of oil-based sauces. Surprisingly, with such fat-laded eats, they are all very thin. I guess, a while back, the Chinese traded the ability to drink alcohol without passing out in three shots or less for the ability to eat oil with every meal and still stay thin. Hmm.. then would that mean mixed Chinese-European kids should be thin alcoholics or fat tea-toasters?
When all was cooked, the eating began. Like the Russians, meals are very important to the Chinese, though unlike the Russians, there are no courses or private plates. You pick off all the simultaneously-severed plates with chopsticks, fighting with those that aim for the bits you wanted. I stayed out of the fray, going for succulent fried chicken and lotus/salami sandwiches, while toasting Yangjing beer with Shu Shu.
With our bellies full, we all sat back and capped the evening with a round of thank you's. Her parents thanking me for making their daughter so happy, me thanking them for allowing a laowai the privilege of living with their daughter, and Jingmei thanking everyone for speaking slowly so she could translate without going insane.