Last night I was invited to dine with the campus English Club at one of the small restaurants located outside the college's South Gate. It was dark and dimly lit when we arrived, so I went back and took this picture of the place this afternoon; believe me, it's a lot more lively on a Friday night.
The first of the evening's many toasts. Hard-working Chinese students have little time to devote to extracurricular activities, so it's no surprise that the club supplements its weekly early-morning English-reading sessions by the campus lake and other academic endeavors with social outings like this. The tall fellow with the Beatle haircut is the group's chairman; seated next to him is his girlfriend, whom the others joshed by calling her his "wife."
Make no mistake: Even though the restaurant looks none-too-impressive compared to the elaborate ones I've been taken to in Zhuhai, the students eat very well when they come here. The first dish was chicken and mushrooms in broth with wide translucent noodles.
It was followed by very tender pieces of beef cooked with hot red peppers. (The first two courses led me to guess, correctly, that the restauarant specialized in northeastern fare.)
This dish is called "fire fish," and it's cooking in the foil after it's been put on the table — although you can't see them in the picture, it's enveloped in flames.
Unveiled, it turns out to have a crisp crust flavored with a slightly spicy sweet-and-sour sauce.
A mild dish with green veggies, unseasoned pieces of chicken, and I forget what else. (I should have taken notes, I guess, but my constant photographing makes me seem eccentric enough without jotting down recipes as well.)
Shrimp on skewers, and plenty of them.
Breaded, deep-fried squid, almost as common on tables here as those small boiled shrimp.
Batter-dipped fried bananas. This dish is usually prepared with sweet potatoes, or occasionally apples; but considering the plentitude of bananas in these parts, this version makes sense.
Of course, there were all kinds of toasts going on while we were noshing down. Defying their club's name, the members didn't always converse in English, so I often didn't know whom or what we were drinking to — not that it mattered. (Their English actually tended to get better the more they drank; it loosened their inhibitions without appreciably lessening their vocabulary.)
Fried tofu, creamy-soft on the inside. Another mild dish.
Chicken with celery.
Moo shu pork, eaten wrapped in the accompanying pancakes. I haven't had this dish in a while; I'd forgotten how tasty it can be.
Just like the grown-ups, the kids keep ordering long after everyone's hunger has been slaked; I thnk we barely touched this final chicken dish.
The chairman challenges me to gambei — Bottoms up!
The girls keep up with the boys — And, by the way, I explained to them that in America you were considered to be an independent adult once you're in college, so it's insulting to be called a "girl." They saw my point and took it under advisement, but I don't think my little English-usage lesson is going to alter anyone's vocabulary. And truth to tell, most of them are so girly-girlish that it's hard to call them anything else.
The evening's winding down, but there's still pijiu left to finish.
One final toast, and it's back to the dorms. Even though I was sober — Honest! — they insisted on walking me back to my apartment to make sure I got home safely. I found their solicitude sweet (if maybe just a wee bit cloying). The evening was tremendous fun: I was flattered by the rapt attention the students paid my every word and touched by their gestures of friendship; I'm certain I'll remember that long after I've forgotten how delicious the food was.