Today has been my second favourite day in Shanghai, only to our three year ‘meet-a-versary’ on the 26 of May. I spent my morning at the Chinese Cooking Workshop near Hengshan Road, and had an absolutely wonderful time.
I learned, in meditative silence due to the language barrier with the friendly and helpful ayi (auntie), to make two different types of Dim Sum: sesame-covered red bean dumplings and black sesame dumplings. They are both so tasty!
The workshop is in a residential building with an extremely Chinese network of alleyways behind it. The kitchen where I learned was in a garden, with the rain falling on the roof and making atmospheric noises. I felt so at home and so very much like I was in China at the same time.
My compatriots were Japanese and had much better Chinese language skills than me. I watched in silence, extremely attentive to the ayi. we made a paste on the counter (that freaked out the Japanese girls) and then kneaded sticky rice flour into dough for the Dim Sum. My dough was apparently the best, better even than the ayi’s! She made a small ball of hers and of mine, and pointed at mine to say, “Very good! Mine’s got a little too much water, see?”
It was brilliant to be immersed in Chinese as well, while I cooked. I find myself remaining silent a lot here. Silent grocery shopping. Silent refilling of mobile phones and metro cards. Silent shopping. Charades is very important. I feel as if my language skills have all been stripped away and I am a small child. Still, I pay my dues every single day at work. I am compassionate to my students in English, in the hope that they will learn well and the hope that I will garner some language karma that can be put to use outside class.
I spoke the most Chinese I ever have today. Full sentences. I answered questions and understood when the ayi told me to sit down (if only because I hear ‘SIT DOWN, MIAOMIAO’ in Chinese in my lessons constantly). She said to the other girls that I was really good at cooking. Made my day.
Our landlords both spoke to me in Chinese today, about our gas bill I think. The woman, in her 60s, came up to our apartment and talked to me for about 15 minutes about everything from how I should definitely buy some cling film (hilariously motioning dire diarrhea and vomiting if I don’t cover our leftovers) to when my husband gets home. She spoke very quickly and I tried my best to keep up, repeating everything she said as close as I could with the right tones. She slapped me repeatedly in a good-natured way on the arm if I messed up.
I managed, after practicing in my head all day, to ask her what her name is.
‘Ni de mingzi?” (Not really right. I forgot the question particle and it’s like a two-year-old asking…)
She explained to me that she has a long name, three syllables. She only uses the first two, though. No point in using a last name, she said.
I’m trying so hard to learn Chinese. It’s coming, slowly. Slowly. As she left, my landlord instructed me in how to say bye-bye in Chinese.
Da I Jie!
I’m so happy. Happiest when I’m learning both language and cooking. Absolute bliss. I signed up for five more classes. Can’t wait!