Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving jiaozi and noodles

By Kevin

She called at 3:30 to ask if we were home and if she could come to see Juliana. The woman we affectionately refer to as the “Bike Lady” (because I met her last year while riding my bike back from a supermarket in the old city 40 minutes away) wanted to bring some instructions for making Chinese medicine for Juliana's cough. She used to just show up at our door without any notice (like a typical Chinese person), but after coming a few times while we were out, she's started calling to make sure we'll be home. I almost said that we were busy because I knew Ayi was about to arrive and take Juliana outside to play. But this was the only day of the week we didn't have tutor time. I was looking forward to a little bit of a break in a busy week, but it was really the best time for her to come.

Twenty minutes later, just after Ayi arrived to watch Juliana and Ruth returned from class, The Bike Lady knocked on the door. We invited her in and she started playing with Juliana, excitedly recounting to Ayi the story of how we met. She marveled at how far along our Chinese has come since we met last spring. She laughed as Juliana sang and danced. “She is so clever,” she said as Juliana sang the words for “Are You Sleeping?” in English, Chinese and French. “It is difficult for adults to learn, but very easy for young children.”

Within twenty minutes, the conversation turned to food. The Bike Lady was asking if Juliana likes to eat Chinese food. “Of course,” we said. “We all love Chinese food.” She made up her mind. “Do you like noodles?” she asked. “Yes.” “Then I will cook you some noodles. I make some good noodles.” Before we could say no, she began making a list of things for Ayi to go and buy at the vegetable market, running down the list of things we had in our kitchen and things that were missing. “They usually don't have many vegetables at home,” Ayi said.
Then she wandered into the kitchen, spotted the dirty dishes leftover from lunch and went straight to work cleaning them. Ruth tried to get her to stop, because she was our guest, but the Bike Lady would have none of it. “We are all a family,” she said. “I want to help.”
We were overwhelmed by her generosity. I couldn't help but be reminded of the ways we are called to care for one another. And I was challenged. How often do we go out of our way to help those around us, even just with a simple thing like washing the dishes for them or offering to make them a meal? Even more, how often do we in turn let someone else serve us? How easy it is for us to get so busy and schedule our time so tightly that we have no room for hospitality. How easy it is for us to feel inconvenienced when someone shows up at our door and miss out on both the chance to bless them and give them an opportunity to bless us.

When Ayi returned, the Bike Lady started going through our cupboards, trying to find the right ingredients for the noodles she wanted to make. I pointed her to the salt, the vinegar and the soy sauce. “Do you have ?” she asked. Since generally means “sauce, I asked,”“What kind of ?” “ 酱”she replied. Clearly I was missing something. I told her I wasn't sure. She said it didn't matter. Then she shooed me out of the room and set to work on making the meal, making everything from scratch.

 She laughed at our miscommunication and smiled, “You have both made a lot of progress, but one day we will all be able to understand one another very well.”

With us, Ayi is generally not very talkative, but with the Bike Lady she opened right up, marveling at the way everybody adores Juliana and communication difficulties with us. She eagerly noted how she thought Juliana was “像洋娃娃 (“like a foreign doll”) - a phrase Chinese people often use to describe particularly cute babies.

In think I found out more about Ayi in 10 minutes than I had in the last six months.
The Bike Lady smiled as she placed huge bowls of noodles in front of us. We invited her to join us and she reluctantly agreed, constantly suggesting that Ruth hadn't eaten enough and marveling at Juliana's attempts to use chopsticks.

When the clock struck 6:40, she blew right back out the door. She'd made plans to visit another friend who also lives on campus. A day that began with the strong jolt of an earthquake (4.7 on the Richter scale -- thankfully no damage) ended with a whirlwind.

Perhaps inspired by the Bike Lady, yesterday, Ayi insisted that she make us jiaozi. I hesitated. I told her she didn't need to. It was too much trouble. But she insisted. “You don't eat enough Chinese food,” she said. So tonight, we'll celebrate American Thanksgiving in style with – what else? – Chinese dumplings Saturday with other foreigners in town, we'll eat 火鸡 – fire chicken – turkey). Tonight will be our little version of the first Thanksgiving, with the locals showing the outsiders what to eat. I am reminded that I need to cultivate a heart of gratitude. I need to be thankful for these blessings and so much more.

1 comment:

Candy said...

Great post, Kevin! Some important lessons that I need to remember. I'm thankful to have you for a son-in-law!!