Eye of the Chicken
A journal of Harbin, China

5 delights
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Thanks for the support after my last entry . . . the beauty of homesickness is that, like pain after seeing the dentist, it subsides. Here's what's chased it away for me this time:

1. I had dinner and a good conversation with a person who may well become a friend. At fortysomething, she's older than our usual faculty-students, so there are more points of connection between us. She's building her life back up after a divorce (not so easy to do here), and although I don't have any experience with that, I do have experience with life not handing you what you thought you ordered (which is something the younger faculty don't always understand). She's also a passionate opera fan, and a fan of the arts in general, so I foresee outings in our future.

2. Another friend took me to a hot pot restaurant


and got an extra menu for me. Over the weekend, she came over to my apartment and helped me study the menu. This may not sound like much, but this is what the menu looks like:


(Her glasses are fogged up because we've just come in from outside. I dunno what it's doing where you live, but here it's going down to zero tonight and -17 F tomorrow night. The glasses thing is perpetual.)

Anyhow, this kind of menu is pretty standard for low-end restaurants; you get a sheet of paper that lists the things you can order, and you're supposed to indicate the quantity you want of each thing. In this circumstance, if you can't read, you're pretty much dead in the water.

Then, last night, Lara and I went to that restaurant and between the two of us and my cheat sheet, we were able to get EXACTLY what we wanted - and we knew EXACTLY what we ordered. Now, hot pot is a pretty simple meal - you just dip things (thinly-sliced meat, potato pieces, spinach and other green veggies, mushrooms, live crabs, that sort of thing) into a pot of boiling broth:


. . . and then, when the pot boils again, you pull out whatever you put in, dip it in sauce, and eat it.

(That broth isn't boiling yet. But notice that there are two kinds - spicy and not spicy - and that the whole pot sits on a burner that's built into the table. Also, behind the bowl of broth you can see a silver cup - that contains the sauce.)

The simplicity meant that we didn't have to engage in conversation with the wait staff (as is usual in restaurants here; even the locals don't know how the food is going to be prepared much of the time). But still. I felt pretty good about the whole experience. I think it was the first time I've ever gone somewhere in China and ordered and known for sure what I would get.

3. I played badminton with yet another friend and her troupe of graduate students, which is always a joy. She really wants them to speak English with me - and she thinks I need to get out and hang with Chinese speakers as much as humanly possible so my grasp of Chinese improves. She's started speaking to me only in Chinese. That really, really helps me learn rapidly.

4. The same friend sent me and one of her students off to get a key to their office so I can come and go as I please. Again, that's really nice; I have a place to go besides my dorm room at the times when I'm not doing anything else. Plus, I now have three keys on my keyring. Funny how a little thing like that can make me feel settled.

5. I found out, finally, what my duties will be as a visiting scholar. They will be minimal and pleasant. Now that I know this, I can plan what I want to do, in addition to my own sabbatical project and the project of learning Chinese. I'm feeling a lot more relaxed about being here now. I'm also thinking up ways to collaborate with Chinese colleagues - and therefore have a way and a reason to come back.

6. My next-door neighbor helped me solve the video problem. Any thirteen-year-old would have known what to do: I just downloaded u-torrent and have been downloading tv shows at night when the students log off and the network has decent speeds. Makes a bi-ig difference to have something to knit by!

7. Speaking of knitting, I made a pom-pom today. Affixed it to the top of a hat:


(You can't see the color properly; it's a really nice sort of purple heather, almost - but it's nighttime here and I just took the picture under the fluorescent light in my room. For purposes of pom-pom display, the color didn't seem essential enough to hold out for natural light.)

I've never made a pom-pom before; I don't think I really thought that something so simple could really work. Ok, it's a little raggedy and not as full as it could be, but I think, actually, that it looks like a bona fide pom-pom and any flaws I see can be put down to Knitterly Perfectionism. (This is an affliction that doesn't trouble me much, I do have to say.)

8. And the poodle-skirt sweater looks like [a] it might possibly get finished and [b] it might possibly fit.


(Note that there is a ball of yarn in the picture. It's a freshly-wound ball - the first I've used in this particular sweater incarnation. Woo, hoo, progress!!)

So things move along. Life is good. Even when I'm complaining, I realize I have nothing to complain about.

(Yes, I know that's more than five things. It's the Chinese five. Haven't you been paying attention??)

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