Saturday, April 20, 2013

Yang and Yan

Had a little quasi-fight with Ma Lei today — probably our first one, depending on how you count.

We went to a fantastic little restaurant down the hill from us, where they serve beautiful lamb dishes of all sorts (yang rou, meaning "lamb meat"). The gist of it is this phenomenal soup of lamb, with various lamb bits (including fresh congealed blood, which is much better than it sounds). Then on the side, you can order yang rou pai,  which I think translates as "breast of lamb." It's pan-fried delicately, along with garlic and green onions, and it's truly worth dying ten years early just to get a dinner or two of that type of lamb. The combined bill, for the two of us, typically comes to about $5.

Therein, I think, also lies the problem, because that kind of cheap restaurant is where the ruffians go with their countryside manners (or lack thereof).

So we'd no more than sat down, RIGHT NEXT to the "Please do not smoke" sign (written in Chinese, of course), when the table next to us all lit up like West, Texas. I tried to be polite, but when our food came all I could taste was the nasty cigarette stench from my left flank.

I went over and asked them, to Ma Lei's great embarrassment, if they could please defray their cigarette smoking. I told them I'm a weak foreigner, so my lungs aren't as strong as Chinese lungs, and they all smiled and put out their cigs. Later, I tried to buy them a round of beers, but Ma Lei put the kibosh on that. It would have cost a combined six dollars, more than our combined tab for lamb soup and a side of lamb breast.

Those guys shut off their chimneys, and I was absolutely loving our dinner for fifteen minutes or so. Ma Lei had suggested I buy a Qingtao beer, which goes especially well with lamb meat, and the soup and the breast meat were out of this world!

Then a table near the window, at Ma Lei's 5:00, all lit up. It's a small, enclosed space, and I couldn't avoid the disgusting gutter stench of the stuff, not to mention my asthmatic lungs sending "please run away" signals to my brain.

I'd had enough, by that point, so I was okay with leaving Ma Lei money for the bill while I fled for cleaner air. I took my half-bottle of beer over to the smoking table and told them it was my gift to them. I went outside and waited for Ma Lei.

She came out a minute or two later, livid. "Why did you do that?"

I told her that I couldn't take being there with all that smoke, and I didn't want to waste my half-beer. She didn't buy that for a second. "You should have just taken it to the trash," she said.

"This is a cheap restaurant. They aren't supposed to be polite, they're poor. If I'd done something like that in America, what would you have said?"

Well, she wouldn't have done something like that in America, because we didn't go to any such low-rent joints. And if she had, and she'd bitched someone out for being impolite, I'd have been right there with her egging her on. But I don't think that exactly flew. "China is not America," she said in a huff, "and you can go back there if you don't like it here."

And you know, I can't actually argue with her on that one. I love my life here, I love how much I can buy with my relatively low-end salary, and I'm amazed at the cultural experiences I get. So really, I ought to drink in my bile and shut the hell up. But don't tell my wife that, because to her I swore that I had been 100% in the right!

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