Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Dinner with Mr. Jiang

Eddie had the good fortune, this year, of being placed in class again with his best friend, Tao Tao. This evening, Eddie wanted Tao Tao to come over to play after school, so last night I called Mr. Jiang and asked if he would send a note to the school so his son could come home with Eddie.

When I got home, Eddie and Tao Tao were playing in the cul-de-sac, and having a great ol' time. Then Eddie decided he wanted to give a concert for the neighborhood (Tao Tao was less enthusiastic). A "concert" by Eddie means he dresses up in his Harry Potter robes, grabs two fallen cherrytree twigs, pulls out his CD player, puts on some Mozart, and proceeds to "conduct" the music, making wierd faces of concentration with his lips.

Mr. Shaughnessy and Mr. Giglio were his unfortunate captives... I mean... audience. Tao Tao was relegated to beating two drumsticks together--a job that Eddie thought Tao Tao was suitably talented for, and one that Tao Tao barely tolerated for the sake of his friendship with Eddie.

Then, after these shenanigans, we ran over to Mr. Jiang's farm. Mr. Jiang told us that his wife was home from work today, and he absolutely insisted that we come over for dinner. I could hardly refuse, since he's asked us numerous times before. Even though we had a cub scout meeting at 7pm, we went over for dinner.

And what a dinner! Mrs. Jiang made about eighty (no joke) pork and leek dumplings, a big dish of pork with bok choy and mushrooms, beef stuffed breaded peppers (Chinese style), and some chesnuts and cookies. I ate until I could eat no more, and there was still enough food for three more meals for four on the table. It was incredible! I asked Mr. Jiang how many dumplings he normally eats, and he responded, "About twenty or thirty." Gosh! That's a farm-hand for you!

As I sat there, stuffed and sated, I soaked in the friendliness of this family, and how happy Eddie and Luke were to be enjoying this "cultural" experience. It's funny how kids make friends so easily. You can take your kids to any playground in any city in the world, and within five minutes, no matter what language they speak, all the kids on the playground will be playing and bonded and in some kind of organized make-believe game.

And yet, as adults, we lose this somehow. Our maturity gives way to reservedness and polite distance-keeping. We don't want to invade people's space. Don't make eye contact. It's a real shame. Because this one night, despite the language barrier, I found myself sitting with my family and Tao Tao's family, at the kitchen table on their farm, eating the best darn Chinese food I've ever had. And we were laughing and having a great time.

Luke would rattle off at the mouth like he always does, and Mrs. Jiang, who speaks no English, and Mr. Jiang, who speaks a very little English, would smile at him and laugh at his jokes, though I'm sure they were just being polite. They didn't understand a word.

I was able to convey to Mr. Jiang the story about Eddie's Mozart concert, and, after a quick translation by Mr. Jiang and Tao Tao's sister, everybody got the biggest kick out of Tao Tao's performance. He doesn't much like music.

We could only stay a short while, but I was glad we did. Mr. Jiang's job at the farm is not going very well, and the family may have to move away. I hope they don't, because if they do, we'll lose some friends. And Eddie will be devastated by losing Tao Tao.

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