At the end of my fall semester last year, my Chinese tutor xiao Pan invited me to visit her older sister’s family in Shenzhen!
“That’s in the south,” I thought. “It’s getting cold up here in Changsha, time to follow the sun. Besides, it’s in Guangdong province–home of dim sum. Civilization!”
I also had wild dreams of making a run for it into Hong Kong, before my January trip to America. Xiao Pan wouldn’t be able to come with me, since she was a mainland Chinese citizen, so I’d have to brave the trek across the Luohu land boundary alone.
Xiao Pan and I took an overnight train to Shenzhen, and I was not groped-while-sleeping, kept-awake-all-night-by-curious-passengers, or subjected to any of the other inconveniences I’d been warned that foreigners suffer on Chinese trains. I was kept awake part of the night by giggling with my good friend xiao Pan, pictured above on the right with her little nephew. But that was another matter.
Shortly after we arrived in the sooty, chilly town of Shenzhen (it was snowing in Changsha by then, so I couldn’t complain), I broached the idea to xiao Sarah.
“Where is the dim sum?” I asked.
“Dim sum!” I said, making hand gestures in the shape of small fried rolls stuffed with unholy parts of the pig. “Sum dim. Dim sum?”
She stared blankly at me, and we spent a few minutes Googling things. Then, after a few image searches, realization dawned.
“You mean yum cha.”
“Tea tasting. I’ll find a place.” So that was settled.
Meanwhile, we went out and bought ourselves a rock-hard mattress that was placed in the loft next to her sister’s bedroom. I called it our marriage bed. It was cold at night, we didn’t have sheets and there was no heating. During the day, my favorite thing to do was cuddle up in our blanket with xiao Pan and watch Merlin. That’s right–we were classy.
One day that week we decided to be classy, and go on an expedition. Xiao Pan had never seen the ocean before, and Shenzhen has a coast, so we made our way down to the seaside.
When we got there, it was about 50 degrees and windy as shit. I tried to explain to her that the homeland of my people–San Francisco and/or Oregon–was exactly like this, and that it was traditional to buy a commemorative sweatshirt and have fish and chips while staring into the grey and angry waters. But she’d apparently had her heart set on LA surfer-type weather complete avec shirtless copper-skinned men (okay, I might be embellishing slightly) and was extremely disappointed.
And so it was that the normally Pollyangelique-xiao Pan grew to detest the chilly, smoky city much like most of us jaded foreigners do. She cutely stamped her cute foot into the pavement of the sidewalk, saying, “I hate Shenzhen! I hate Shenzhen!”
Hopefully when she finally visits me, San Francisco will be having its one sunny day that year.
Sarah's nephew eating dinner with his grandpa!
After an extremely frustrating and unpleasant 3-hour trip across the city via public transit our dim sum trip turned into dim NONE (haha see what I did there), and we reassessed our options. It turned out we were staying not in Shenzhen proper but in a suburb, which is like staying not in the armpit of China but in an orbiting sweat-covered dust mite. So we decided to cherish the fact that we were in a shopping mall that had, like, stores in it, and restaurants not-serving-Changsha-food.
“That restaurant serves Thai food,” said xiao Pan helpfully, pointing to a facade in a small food court. I was sorely tempted, but I hadn’t yet given up on the dim sum idea.
“Let’s go look for dim sum, and if it doesn’t work out we can come back.” At this point in life, I had figured out that pad thai can solve almost any problem, even those caused by six hours of public transit for basically no reason.
We spent about twenty desperately hungry minutes searching, and then wandered back to the original restaurant.
“I can’t believe there’s Thai food in this place, I haven’t had any since coming to China.”
“There’s Thai food in Changsha,” said xiao Pan helpfully. “It is tasty, I like it.”
We sat down in the restaurant, and I looked at the menu. I looked at xiao Pan.
“I like Taiwan Province food,” she repeated. “Have you tried it?”
“Thai…thai-wan?” I said, staring blankly. “Not Thai-LAND?!”
“In my opinion,” xiao Pan said, misusing the phrase, “Thai-land is Thai-wan Province.”
And then I did not kill one of my best friends for the sake of lost pad thai. I’d say it was big of me.
This baby cried whenever I looked at him for more than 2 seconds. The grandmother, luckily, thought his fear of foreigners was HILARIOUS.
Next time: HONG KONG, THE PROMISED LAND, WHICH WAS FLOWING WITH MILK HONEY PAD THAI AND INDIAN FOOD.