Who’s on first?

Thursday, October 20th, 22 days left

Another 10am language lesson.It was raining on my walk over. Almost slipped twice. When the stone sidewalks get wet they’re as slick as ice.

Following the example of others, I left my umbrella out in the hallway while I went into class. Notice the motorcycle parked, too, and this is the 3rd floor!


Good lesson today! My pronunciation is definitely improving. But this teacher, like all the rest, quickly learned of my “z-c-s” disability.


Waiter/waitress (fu wu yuan) and customer (gu ke)


Menu (cai dan) and picture menu (tu pian cai dan)

Lots of “c” practice today, with some good success. Not 100%, but over 60% correct. My teacher, an older student, I’d guess 45 years old, was very helpful. She spoke with a slight English accent. I find out she is married to an Englishman. She became a Chinese teacher because she is retired and bored. When I asked her how she could retire at such a young age, she told me she was over 60 years old!

The lesson was about ordering food at restaurants, a repeat lesson. When we got to ordering specific dishes, she started with a famous Sichuan dish, “gōng bǎo jī dīng” (Kung Pao Chicken). I told her, “bù yào ròu” (must not have meat). I am a lacto-ovo vegetarian, so we could skip all the meat dishes.

“Oh no,” she said. “Just go to a Buddhist restaurant. They don’t serve any meat.”

She went back to the teaching me the name for Kung Pao Chicken, “gōng bǎo jī dīng”.

“But what do I ask for in a Buddhist restaurant?” I asked.
“Gōng bǎo jī dīng,” she said.
“But I don’t eat chicken.”
“They don’t serve chicken at a Buddhist restaurant.”
“Right, so what do I order? Is it ‘mock’ chicken, or ‘gluten’ chicken, or something else?”
“You order ‘gōng bǎo jī dīng’.”
“But doesn’t ‘jī’ mean chicken?”
“I can’t eat chicken.”
“It’s a Buddhist restaurant. They won’t serve chicken.”

Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” drifted through my head… I took a deep breath.

“So,” I said, “if I’m in a Buddhist restaurant, I can order ‘gōng bǎo jī dīng’ and I won’t get any chicken?”
“Yes, I will? Or Yes, I won’t?”
“You won’t. It’s a Buddhist restaurant. They don’t serve chicken. It will be something that is supposed to taste like chicken.”

I remember when I first became a vegetarian in Portland. I was 19. I went to a Chinese restaurant. On the menu was ‘mock duck’. “What’s mock duck?” I asked. “Look like duck, taste like duck, but not duck.” I guess it’s the same here.

“So, in a Buddhist restaurant, I can order meat dishes, but they won’t have any meat in them.”
“Yes,” she said.”So if I want bean curd skin filled with mashed potato and bamboo shoots for bones, I should ask for fish?”

Good to know. Might explain why I can’t find my “mock” fish dish anywhere on the internet. Maybe I’ll try searching for Buddhist fish?

After the lesson I went back to the apartment. Just as I came in the door, the phone started ringing. It was Jeremy.

“I finally got you,” he said.
“I’ve been out at my Mandarin lessons.”
“I’ve called several times. Don’t you pick up?”
“I was out,” I repeated.
“But I called several times.”
“The phone is in the apartment. It’s a VOIP land line.”
“It’s not a cell phone?”
“No, it’s a VOIP, Voice Over Internet Protocol, phone.”
“But it’s a 707 U.S. area code.”

Ever have one of these days?

Jeremy invited me to a free concert at 7pm over near his place. He gave me instructions on how to meet him at the Starbucks near the big bridge. I sent him a confirmation map showing where I thought he meant. He didn’t respond and I finally needed to be on my way. I walked through campus, cut over to the big bridge. I searched up and down the boulevard for 1/2 mile and didn’t find any Starbucks.

[A sidebar comment: I did pass the 2-block construction site for a new concert hall complex. On the construction site temporary walls were large posters showing a full classical symphony, presumably playing in the new hall. It looked very grand indeed, but I had to do a double-take, then a closer inspection of the members of the orchestra. There was not a single Asian member. Now what orchestra in the world, especially in China, would have no Asians?]

Back to my search for Jeremy, I thought perhaps I had misunderstood and he had meant the next bridge. So I hiked the 3/4 mile up to the next big bridge, searched up and down that boulevard for another 1/2 mile. Still no Starbucks. Funny how you can never find a Starbucks when you need one, eh?

I was supposed to meet him at 5pm. I gave up trying to find him at 6:30pm. Tired after walking for two hours, I took the subway home and made myself a multi-course comfort dinner, including a dish of fried bean curd skin, mushrooms, and bean sprouts topped with cilantro, a side dish of sweet and sour cucumbers sprinkled with sesame seeds, a bowl of steamed rice, and a pot of hot jasmine tea.



Bean curd skin, mushrooms, bean sprouts, topped with cilantro



About jamescmarch

A child of the '50's in rural Pennsylvania, an adolescent of the '60's in southern California, and a political activist of the 1970's in northern California, I have been a husband, a college graduate, an expert witness, a banker, a father, a software entrepreneur, and a philanthropist. Today, I follow my heart by writing.
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