What Do Good Fences Make

Maybe you remember our neighbor that grabs my nose and brings us fresh ears of corn. Still our neighbor… So yesterday my wife and I see him on the way up the stairs to our apartment; he invites us over for dinner with him and his wife the next day. He’ll come get us at three and take us upstairs to the his place on the seventh floor.  

And he shows up at three. My wife and I were pretty anxious about it because, though we’ve been here for almost nine months now and have lots of friends here, they’re almost all students. So we don’t often end up in a home with a Chinese family. All day long I racked my brain trying to remember all the stuff that’s polite and rude to say and do as a guest in someone’s home.  

First of all, we brought a gift – it’s pretty traditional to bring the host some flowers or candy or some souvenir-ish thing. He held my hand and walked me up the three flights of stairs to their house. We got into their home and donned our rubber house sandals which is the Chinese standard procedure. And there was a bunch of people there. Neighbor turned it into a family get-together. They were still cooking food and waiting on the oldest son to get back from the airport, so they took us into the living room where they had a coffee table spread full of snacks (fruit, nuts, candy) to keep us occupied until dinner was ready. So we sat there with our neighbor – who’s probably in his late 60s and talked about everything that I could possibly think of and remember the words for. He poured tea for us constantly – but only half a cup at a time. And we noticed that, though they make a big deal out of guests coming over, they’re all just kind of chilling in their pajamas. Pajama pants or thermal underwear was pretty much the attire.  

Family obviously has a little bit of money. Our neighbor has three kids, but only two grandkids because of the one-child policy. And they are interested in money. Wanted to know how much we were paying for rent, where our money comes from, and who makes more money, my family or my in-laws. Bottom line, they think I’m paying too much for rent, and he’ll move out and let me move into his house when the lease runs out if we want. How’s that for a good neighbor? 

Food was by far the best Chinese food I’ve ever had. Dumplings, shrimp, fish, and a bunch of vegetables. Again, the biggest difference between a Chinese meal and an American meal is the corporate dishes. You just get a little bowl and your chopsticks and grab whatever you want out of the middle. I’m not real sure if there’s a definite purpose for the bowl – if there’s rice, you put your rice in the bowl. If there’s soup, you put soup in your bowl. If there’s no rice or soup, it’s kind of like your scraps holder (I didn’t go to a class or anything, so I may have observed wrong somewhere along the line). Often, nothing goes into the bowl at all – it’s just right out of the middle and into the mouth.  

Kinda strange, and leaving my wife feeling a little uncomfortable, was that me and my wife, my neighbor, and his two sons ate in the living room at a table they set up, and the two kids and the women all ate in the other room. I don’t think that’s really standard by any means, but families all have relatively small dining tables (the market for big tables isn’t real big when most families have three people in them). So the guests are going to sit at one table accompanied by the people that, in their estimation, are most important to sit there, too – a.k.a. the men. 

So lots of fun today. All in all, a little over two and a half hours at the neighbors.  

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