Dinner (meals)

Tonight we ate out away from the hotel. We shared three dishes (barbecued pork, sautéed green beans, noodles) and the bill came to 108 yuan (17 dollars).

Once again the staff asked Katherine questions in Chinese, which continues to make her feel uncomfortable. She hates being singled out. Ellen and I can easily pass as non-speakers, and we will draw attention because we are Caucasian, but we have years of thick skin developed. Katherine feels the burden of others’ expectations.

And once again, we pointed at the menu. This one had some limited English descriptions (“no lip disturbance” was one), and that helped us avoid the beef with peppers and mushrooms (my wife and daughter do not like mushrooms) miscue of yesterday. Always a noodle dish, always a vegetable, and then one other thing. The food is well seasoned (so much for the Cantonese/ Szechuan comparisons from home). And we are challenged to finish all this food. The flavors help us eat beyond our hunger. And maybe we don’t know how to order it, but no steaming bowls of rice accompany our Chinese food here.

One other observation: at a table near us, a boy was obstinately pounding the table with his mother’s well insulated cell phone. Clearly protesting her choice for dinner. She just ate. Picky eaters are everywhere.

Finally, a reflection on the expenses: 108 yuan is inexpensive, especially compared to meals at the hotel. There is a Sunday family brunch at the hotel that costs 258 yuan. The dinner buffet is over 350. Our coordinator explained that the average salary in Guangzhou is 3000 yuan per month. Of course we all know that average is a slippery term, but it keeps me cognizant of the divide between the what we experience at the hotel, and what we see in our walks out of it.

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Brian Brennan

I am a writer and a teacher. I have lived in Philadelphia, Binghamton, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Norfolk, and Northern Virginia. I have sailed on the ocean and flown over the North Pole. I write fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.

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