Food and drink / Immigrant Life / Teaching in Wenzhou / Travel: China

Rice Cooker Coffee



On a day like today, when the gas has run out but I still manage to make coffee in a rice cooker, I think, hey I’m a pretty adaptable gal. But appearances can be deceiving. The reason I resorted to a rice cooker is because I can’t be bothered to follow up with the person who is supposed to call the gas people on my behalf. The reason I can’t be bothered to follow up with the person who is supposed to call the gas people on my behalf is because I have a chance to spend two whole days home alone, without interacting with any person, especially any local person (even though “interacting” is a very generous term for it), thereby avoiding another version of the locksmith incident (see Thursday in the Life of…) and I don’t want to interrupt that peace. So, rice cooker coffee it is. It’s actually perfectly good. The coffee knows not in what it is made.

I, on the other hand, now know in what I’ve been made. Haven’t turned out so impressive.

Unoriginal observation: travel – of the “living here”, not the “visiting here” variety – really does teach you a lot about yourself, equal parts good and bad. Unless we’re talking about me, in which case it’s most parts bad. Over the course of being tossed this way and that by this strange life during these past eight months, some rather unsavory details about myself have bubbled up and only now begun to distill themselves into communicable form. Here’s what’s what.

Growing up on several continents and having lived in cities where I had no family since I was seventeen, I had been under the impression that I was the intrepid type. Somehow, I assumed that the fact of having changed addresses a lot qualified me for that title. What I conveniently, or maybe truly, forgot was that in every one of those places more or less everything was handled for me before, during and after my arrival. Whatever I did for myself was by choice, not by necessity. And never was there any linguistic or cultural barrier on the level that I’m drowning in at present. On a superficial level, I knew all this before coming here. Of course I knew. But the reality of it is a whole other dimension of knowing. Faced with being a true alien, here are some embarrassing things I’ve learned about myself:

1) Not only do I not like to fend for myself if I can avoid it (as in, if I have had the luck to be paired up with a hustler-type person, which I have), but I’m actually totally helpless when I have to, really have to, fend for myself. I would rather go hungry, thirsty, itchy, lightheaded, whatever – just to escape initiating an awkward or attention-drawing scenario. This might be just garden-variety habesha ifret too, I don’t know. It’s all muddled up.

2) At the same time, I have learned that I also really really hate physical discomfort. I mean a discomfort different from the type that any sane person would shun. I mean the type of discomfort that supposedly intrepid types are meant to shrug off or even welcome. Travelling with a backpack, hopping from town to town, staying in grungy “homestays”, sleeping with the fluorescents on because two monster cockroaches slipped into hiding under my mattress, changing into bikinis behind the bushes, ordering food I had no idea of, getting lost, being smelly, the list goes on. None of it has been memorable. It all left me one class act cranky biatch, every time.

3) On that note, the next sacrilegious one: I’m fed up with travel, with constant newness. It’s all starting to look the same. I want to stay put for a very, exceedingly, immensely, abundantly, supremely, terrifically, hugely long time, in a place I know like the back of my hand (which I know about as good as anybody knows theirs). I want to create something of my own and stay in it. The world’s great cities and sites and landmarks and whatnots have done and will do just fine without me. I want to stop packing, unpacking, packing, unpacking, learning new routes, hunting for fares, haggling, navigating cultures, bla bla b.l.a. There’s a place that I can do all the “travelling” I want and still be back in my cozy cove by nightfall or next morning. It’s called T.dot!

4) Add to that, I am also cross-eyed from being interested. In other cultures, foods, ways of talking, ways of dressing, on and on and on. Maybe I’m getting old. Yes, I’m pretty sure this is a definite sign of getting old. Don’t care, I want what/who I know and like and I want only that/them on a regular basis. Life’s too short, yes. But it’s also too short to try and cram everything in. Time to pick and choose and stick with it. This goes both ways too: I’m double-cross-eyed from being interesting. Brings me to the next episode on this Unhappy-Facts-About-Me series:

5) I love to watch and observe but hate having that kind of attention directed back at me. The skin-melting intensity with which the Chinese practice that art only makes this aversion of mine all the worse. But even the little incidents threaten to turn into Close Encounters With The Class Act Cranky Bee of earlier mention. Yes I did do my own hair. No, I don’t know why I can do my hair many different ways and you can’t. No, I don’t know why I’m black but I suspect it’s for the same reason that you’re yellow. No, I don’t know why my hair is curly but, again, I suspect it’s for the same reason that yours is straight. Yes, I cooked this myself. No, I’m not eating a snake, I’m eating a snack. I don’t know why I write my sevens that way. No, not all Canadians write their sevens that way. No, I don’t speak Chinese. Yes, it’s cold in Canada. No, only in winter. Yes, there are many people in Canada. I get around the way you imagine I get around: with difficulty.

Wow. Homesick much? I would say, except “home” is a whole ‘nother can of wormy worms.

Here’s where it gets strange. For all that, for all that, it took me all of two minutes to come up with a Bucket List, sitting in Wenzhou’s one and only Starbucks the other week with some friends.

1)    Skydiving. But only strapped to the back of a professional.  No preference in which skies. From up there, I don’t think it matters. But not over water. Need some variety in the view below.

2)    Australian Walkabout. I think it was Lost that put this idea in my head. Wandering alone in the desert, hoping to meet visions, maybe get some answers.

3)    Native American Sweatlodge. That what they’re called? Where you sit in a steaming tent, hoping to meet visions, maybe get some answers.

4)    Buddhist Silent Retreat. Sit in a meadow or a Himalayan nook, only om-ing allowed. Hoping to meet visions, maybe get some answers.

(Suddenly it’s not so hard to understand why the idea of being alone indoors for 48 hours is so supremely exciting for me. My record to date is 72 hours. Yes, I am definitely not the traveling type.)

5)    Also would like to stay in an isolated cottage in the woods for a few weeks, preferably on an island, with piles and piles of books. Hoping to meet characters, maybe get some answers.

6)    Cross a desert. Like with the skydiving, no preference for which desert. Sahara would be ideal…ish. They have mirages there, don’t they?

7)    Go camping. Anywhere. Not in a war zone though.

8)    For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to watch a surgery. Any surgery. I want to see what it looks like on the inside.

9)    More recent: watch a baby being born.

10) Try arranged marriage. I think anyone can grow to love anyone else, given sufficient time and an absence of abnormal or cruel tendencies in either party.

11) Go hunting or just shoot a gun in a shooting range.

12) New Zealand. Looked pretty on LOTR.

13) Drive cross country Canada and U.S.A and zigzag country Ethiopia.

14) Sand-boarding. Have only a vague notion of what that is. Sounds fun. If I don’t like it I can just lie aside and tan. Get browner so I can get more questions about my color.

15) Antarctic cruise. Also not my idea, like #14 above, but I’d be up for it. Excuse to get some expensive sunglasses.

16) Go fishing. Simple sit in a canoe and watch the water fishing.

17) Learn to play the piano. (Not a snowball’s chance in hell.)

18) Learn Chinese. Take a year  to do nothing but learn and practice Chinese full-time. This item is on my list only on the good days, and also on the days when it does really feel like they’re taking over the world.

19) Stay in a five star hotel for a week, or a in seven star for an afternoon.

20) Rather vague: tell some people exactly what I’ve always wanted to tell them for years or, as an alternative, tell at least one person every damn thing about myself.

(Here’s where a nice little button sentence or two would be written in to tie it all together and bring the entry to a clean close. But who am I kidding, might as well face the facts and just leave it for what it is: all over the place.)

WELL, SO MUCH FOR THAT! (or, About an Hour Later…)

There goes my two days of planned hermit-hood! Gas man rolled up to my door with new tank without me having to do the dreaded follow-up call. Installed it. Tried small talk. All I could contribute was dui bu qi, ting bu dong: I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Turns out the cost for the new tank is 125RMB, not 100RMB. And buddy didn’t have change for me, so I had to call my person and have her talk to him for me. He suggested that he go down to the street with the two 100RMB notes and come back with change. She said she didn’t know him so it’s up to me whether I wanted to take that chance. I said ok let’s do that. Then after I hung up the phone he started having second thoughts, none of which I understood of course, but I got the gist. Gist being continued repetition of ni: you. As in, why don’t you go down and get the change. Hella no to that. Only God and I (and now the gas man) should know what I look like when I’ve done nothing about my appearance since rolling out of bed six hours ago. So, tried the next best thing. Knocked on my nice neighbour’s door and asked if she could break the 100. She couldn’t so she just paid the difference. So now I owe her 25RMB. Yeah, there goes my silent retreat. On the upside, I can make my coffee the old-fashioned way now.

 

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