1/25/10: Xian, China
Last night’s overnight train ride was everything Kevin dreamed it would be (and more). So we were actually pretty well rested when we arrived in Xian this morning, which was a nice change of pace. We checked into our hostel (Han Tang Inn, which wins my vote for Nicest Hostel Bathroom EVER!) and settled in before heading out to grab some lunch.
Now, it should be stated here that for every meal we’ve had so far in China, either a) the menu was also in English, b) somebody who could read Chinese was there to help us order, or c) both of the above. So today was our first real day on our own, which meant we would have to rely on my first-grade Chinese reading level to find some food or else eat at an over-priced tourist place with an English menu. Fortunately, I can recognize the characters for “beef,” “chicken,” and “noodles.” Unfortunately, there are usually a lot of characters that I don’t recognize stuffed in between the few that I do. We did our usual 15-minute search for food before finally deciding to go to the first place we had passed. (This has happened to us so many times that we really should just always go to the first place we see.) We doubled back and sat down at a table near the front. It was one of those typical, local, hole-in-the-wall places where there are only six tables, almost all of them filled with people – some smoking, some eating peanuts or sunflower seeds and tossing the shells onto the ground. The menu was pinned up on the wall, and the only words I could recognize were “big,” “small,” “tomato,” “noodles,” “beef,” and “hand.” I deduced that the noodles were handmade, because why else would there be the characters for “hand” and “noodles” in the same dish? But I couldn’t really figure out anything else. I decided to swallow my pride and just ask the old man running the place what kind of food they served.
[Note: the following conversation did occur in Chinese.]
Old Man: What do you want to eat?
Z: Um… I can’t read Chinese. Can you explain to us what you serve here?
OM looks at me blankly.
OM: It’s up on the menu. Points to the menu.
Z: I can’t read Chinese.
OM: You can’t read the menu?
OM: Oh. Do you want two bowls of noodles then?
Z: Yes please.
I guess with the whole looking Chinese and being able to speak Chinese thing really throws people off. The old man was really friendly though, once he realized that I wasn’t playing some kind of strange and useless prank on him and that I really couldn’t read Chinese. He called me back into the kitchen and asked me if the green noodles were ok, because they had run out of the white kind. He may have tried to explain to me what the green noodles were made out of, but I was so giddy over the fact that we were finally going to eat that I wasn’t really paying attention.
Final grades – noodles: B, Zhou’s navigation of Chinese menu: A-, man chain-smoking at table next to us: F.
To avoid having to explain the not-reading-Chinese thing, for dinner we decided to make the walk over to the Muslim Quarter, which is famous for its street food. Point-and-eat is much easier than ordering off of a menu. On the way there, we passed by the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower and stopped to take a few pictures.
Z: Should I do the Asian pose?
K: Only if you want to be frowned upon.
K: Take a picture of me in front of the Drum Tower.
Z: Ok, but you have to do the Asian pose.
Z: I’m not taking it until you do it!
We walked down Muslim Quarter and stopped to sample a few of the different foods. I never had to explain to anyone that I can’t read Chinese, leaving at least some of my pride intact. On the way back, we stopped inside a convenience store to pick up some toiletries (namely deodorant) and a bottle of water. When we stepped inside the store, the lady at the register immediately asked us (in Chinese), “What are you looking for?”
I froze. How does one say “deodorant” in Chinese? I had no clue.
[Imagine the following conversation in Chinese.]
Z: Um, well, I don’t know how to say it in Chinese.
L: What is it used for?
Z: Well, you put it here – points to left armpit, like this – mimics the motion of rolling on deodorant.
L: Oh, you mean a razor.
Z: No, no, not a razor.
L: Shaving cream?
Z: No, not shaving cream.
L: Does it have anything to do with hair?
Z: No, no, nothing to do with hair.
L: You don’t know what it’s for?
Z: Well, you put it on, and you won’t be smelly.
L: Ohhhh! Deodorant.
Z: Yes, deodorant!
L: We don’t have that here.
Oh well. You can’t have everything. Not in China. And especially not odorless armpits.
Puzzles for Postcards
Rhyme Time! Solve three of these four war-related rhymes.
To dampen the sound coming from a long-barreled gun
War combatants belonging to the makers of a home-brewed coffee
Part of a war between members of Old McDonald’s farm
The most smug of the five branches of the military
Picture of the Day: Meat-filled pancake things from the Muslim Quarter.