Sunday was my first experience hailing a cab by myself in China. It really shouldn't have been a big deal. Even though I'm from Iowa, I'm no stranger to cab rides. I've gotten cabs in different countries around the world, and never had a problem. I didn't figure this would be any different.
It was 5:30 on a Sunday. I assumed that finding a cab would be no big deal, because we've never really had an issue getting a cab on our street. I walked outside our building, and BAM!, traffic jam. I don't think I've ever seen that many cars on Wenyuan Street. Ever. I called Lauren, assuming I would find a cab soon and she could hand the phone to Jack so he could give my cab driver directions in Chinese. Again, I assumed. Again, I was wrong.
I walked all the way down our street, to the main road. Still no open taxis. I turned left, and kept walking toward the highway. Cabs kept passing me, but they were all full. I was getting irritated, because I was wasting both of our minutes, and it was getting closer and closer to the time we were supposed to meet for dinner. Of course, no one in China (or Shiijiazhuang, at least) has seen the beauty of a cab stand. Nope. Instead, you have to stand in the street and wave frantically, while hoping that the incoming bicyclists don't hit you.
I was on the phone with Lauren for at least 25 minutes before finding a cab. Once I got one, I climbed in and gave him my cell phone for directions. Then, I relaxed in the front seat. And, by "relaxed", I mean, "prayed that I would survive the cab drive". Seat belts aren't exactly a thing in China. Cars have them, of course, but most of the time, they're broken. That was the case with this cab.
After the driver dropped me off outside this really pretty black building, I called Lauren again to tell them that I was tehre. All that worrying I had done earlier about being late for dinner was completely unnecessary. They weren't there yet, either. Jack told me his friend would be coming down to get me.
Soon, I was being ushered onto the elevator by a man who spoke only one word of English: Mary. We walked through the hallway into a beautiful room with a crystal chandelier, and I was shown to my seat. Upon sitting down, I was able to take in my crowd: four Chinese men who didn't speak a lick of English. Jack's friend kept looking at me and repeating things in rapid Chinese. I met these sentences with blank stares and a stuttering, "Uh..um..I..I..I don't...wo bu ming bai?". He would shake his head, say no, and continue on with his conversation. I kept hearing them say laoshi (teacher), but I have no idea if that is a good or bad thing.
I continued to stare blankly around until I noticed something quite odd. The man across from me was laying back in his chair, arms dropped to the side, and head lolled back and to the side in what I can only imagine was his best attempt at playing dead. Jack's friend then called the waitress over. As she poured milk that more closely resembled syrup into my glass, I quickly realized that I was in my own personal hell. I leaned up in my ornate velvet chair, back stick straight, legs crossed at the ankle, and proceeded to do my best impression of a refined British lady drinking her tea. Because, really, what else do you do in that situation?
My mental rendezvous was quickly broken apart by one of the men offering me a Marlboro Red. I declined politely...at least, as polite as I could be while only communicating with hand signals. I choose to believe that, as long as I smile, I come across as somewhat polite.
Jack, Emily, and Lauren finally showed up at ten to 7. The final count for dinner was: me, Lauren, Emily, Jack, and 5 of Jack's friends. The reason for dinner was to celebrate one of his friends' brithday. The five of them had brought FOUR tins of bai jiu to dinner, which they proceeded to drain. The three of us opted for the much less potent pi jiu, as it was a school night. That ended up being the best choice, as the men kept on saying, "Cheers!" and wanting to drink with us all night. Yikes.
At the beginning of the meal, the waitress brought us a menu with pictures, and Jack told us to pick what seafood we wanted. We thought we had picked clam strips and squid. Nope. They were chicken fingers and cauliflower. That explains why Jack looked at us funny and said he would just do it. Oh, well. Story of our lives in China!
The dinner was extremely delicious. I don't think I've ever seen one table order so much food! We probably had at least 25-30 dishes. There were dishes we recognized, like shrimp, cauliflower, spinach, chicken, and beef. Then, there were the adventurous dishes. I had both locust and shark fin. Pictures to follow. But, they actually weren't too bad. The locusts had a bit more meat than the grasshoppers I ate in Uganda, so that was nice. They were roasted in seasoning, and actually tasted a little bit like peanut butter. The shark fin didn't really have a strong flavor, at least to me. It was bright orange, though.
Dinner was good, until around the end, when two young girls showed up. And I mean young. They were 17. And boy, were they wearing some crazy outfits.
Girl one: grey zip-up sweatshirt, huge bow headband, heels, and BLACK TIERED LACE UNDERWEAR. That's all.
Girl two: cream colored short dress, pink trench coat over it, heels, overdone eye makeup, and the worst wig I've ever seen in my life.
At first, we misunderstood Jack and heard that these girls where girlfriends of two of his friends. This would have been quite disturbing, as his friends were at least in their mid forties. We spent the rest of the meal mortified, thinking that these underage girls were dating these loaded old men. The pi jiu flowed.
(Note: we did find out later that they are not their girlfriends. Apparently they're just young girls who come and hang out with them sometimes, and go sing karaoke with them. I still think that it's extremely sketchy.)