The other evening I took my team out to dinner. One of my guys, who’s quite a dab hand at picking the eyes out of Shenzhen’s culinary diversity, proposed a few different restaurants close to work, so I chose something from the far north east of China. This was quite appropriate as two of my team members are from that area of China. All bar one of my team members managed to make it along for the night. To compensate, my Swiss colleague managed to pull a fellow countryman out of his hat for the evening.
The floor area around the table at the restaurant was raised in typical north eastern Chinese style. To get in and seated we first put our shoes into little cubby holes at the front, under the floor. We then slid/walked around the table, finally dropping our legs in and under the table. In a traditional setting the area that we were sitting on would be made of brick or fired clay and would be hollow, called a Kang. The smoke and heat from the fireplace in the home would be channelled through this structure warming it up. At night time this would be where the family would sleep, kept from freezing by the warmth retained in the structure.
What’s wrong with the middle picture? It’s not plugged in! Oh, and the small detail that someone has felt the need to cover this emergency light with bright colours typical of the north eastern provinces of China! They probably felt that it complemented the green chopsticks!
The Chinese really do enjoy their meal times. The whole mood during the evening was loud, jovial and fun. There were lots of toasts and ‘gan bei’ moments, meaning ‘bottoms up!’ Literally translated it means to “dry the glass”. Fortunately the Tsing Tao, one of the Chinese beers, is quite good. One thing, however, that I’ve never quite figured out is why the Chinese feel the need to do the peace sign every time their photo is being taken!
The evening banter was predominantly in Chinese however it would break into English every once in a while, particularly if one of the three foreigners (ahem!) kicked off the current thread of conversation. I would catch a word here or there. At other times those sitting nearby would translate for me if something that had been said was worth repeating.
Partway through the meal the doors to our private room were drawn back and one of the restaurant staff, surrounded by some others, started to recite a poem or song. The other restaurant staff all joined in, cheering and clapping and finally a new dish arrived. All that fanfare for a plate of food! One of the guys took a video (4.23 MB). It turned out to be a very delicious toffee-covered something or other. I was unable to get a straight answer as to what it actually was. The best I could determine was that it was a white style of sweet potato. Still, most of my questions of ‘What’s this?’ were usually responded to with ‘I don’t know how to say it in English but…’
Here’s the table at the end of the meal. It’s in a pretty typical state for the end of a Chinese meal, definitely in a mess but far from being a disaster zone. The remaining dishes in the centre represent about half the number of plates that were brought to the table during the evening. It was a wonderful Chinese experience.