Friday, March 18, 2011

Plans With a Stranger

Every Wednesday night, I have a get-together with some local friends. We chat, hang out, talk about life, etc. It's fun, and I usually come home with my head still buzzing from the past two hours of non-stop Chinese. The two girls who first brought us all together just happen to be my two best friends who recently moved to Australia (who, by the way, BOTH called me last night just to say hi!). In their absence, guess who was nominated to take the lead? Yup, it was me.

Two weeks ago was supposed to be my maiden voyage as the organizer of our little soiree. But unbeknownst to me (because no one told me!), two of the girls had training at work and another one had to work late. I biked for half an hour only to show up and find only half of our friends were there. In my opinion, Chinese people are notoriously bad planners. Or maybe I should phrase it in a more positive, complementary way: they are extremely flexible with their time. Regardless, after last week's disaster, I figured out that I was going to have to be the one to contact people to make sure if they were coming or not.

This past week, I vowed to do a better job at communicating to everyone. I texted a friend who works with some of the other girls and asked her to let me know if everyone was planning to come. When I didn't get a response, I took it a step further and tried to contact them myself. This was the text conversation that ensued:

Me: can you come tonight?

Alice: come where, my friend?

Me: to the coffee shop where we always meet

Then the phone rings. I guess Alice was as confused as I was. But before I go into that conversation, I just have to ponder why is it that it seems like everyone has the English name Alice? Can we get a little variety here, people? But maybe that's how my Chinese friends feel about so many Americans being named Rachel...

Anyway, this is how the phone conversation went:

Me: Wei? Ni hao?

Alice: Wow! Your Chinese is so good!

At this point, I start wondering, Why is she complementing my Chinese? We've been speaking Chinese together since September and all I did was answer the phone...

As we talked, it became all the more apparent to me that I had contacted the wrong Alice. The conversation went on in an incredibly awkward manner, as she told me that she would check with her husband and son to see if we would be able to meet this week.

So skip to Thursday...

Kevin & I headed to the designated restaurant, still without even a clue as to who we were meeting. "How will we recognize them?" Kevin asked me. "Good thing we're foreigners," I replied. "They'll just have to be the ones to recognize us!"

It turned out that our evening with Alice & her family was surprisingly enjoyable. It also turned out that Alice is a woman I met at an English corner nearly two years ago. Her husband, 11 year-old son (whose English name is Tom), and her son's classmate (whose English name is, appropriately enough for an 11 year-old girl, Silly) joined us for dinner. The kids provided wonderful fodder for conversation with stimulating, soul-searching questions such as my favorite juice, my favorite season, and my favorite fruit.

With his trusty tea pot sidekick, Tom pulled off his role as host without a hitch. Kevin kept knocking back his tea over and over again, probably because most tea cups here hold about the same volume as an over-sized shot glass. Not very helpful if you're thirsty. Since it's bad manners for a guest to have an empty tea cup, Tom made his rounds at least ten times during the course of the evening in order to meet all of our Kevin’s tea needs.

Maybe I need to learn a valuable lesson from my Chinese friends about how to be more flexible with my time, plans, and routine. After all, it's not really my time, my plans, or my routine. Relinquishing Chill Day to spend unexpected time with a friend and having dinner with practical strangers with whom I haven't spoken in years usually ends up being a blessing to my soul and (I hope) to theirs. And, if none of those things, it is at least quite an entertaining affair!


Chris & Sarah Peek said...

Oh my, this would never happen in America! We're all too scheduled and would think it was weird to just schedule dinner with an almost complete stranger. Did the Wednesday group actually get together at all?

Kevin and Becky said...

SIL, we finally got our act together and met with no problem on Wednesday. Well, the only problem might have been my chinese but we can deal with that...

Susan/Mama said...

One more cultural lesson. Loved it. Thanks for sharing again.