And the electric hotplate goes to…

26 Sep

This is the story of how I found myself, at about 10 o’clock at night, walking home over the Guangzhou Da Dao bridge dressed in high heels, a skirt and dress shirt, and toting this eclectic bunch of things: an electric hotplate, a pair of Louis Vuitton g’s (probably knock-offs), and a gift package of spa-quality shampoo and body wash (I love those packages that don’t include as much conditioner as shampoo because goodness knows I don’t need any more conditioner with this short ‘do I’ve been sporting these days).

Let’s backtrack about 5 hours.  A friend of mine had invited me to a traditional Cantonese after-moon-festival dinner that her father (a former vice-mayor of Guangzhou and retired national team badminton coach) was attending.  It was also a special function because the most famous traditional Chinese landscape and calligraphy artists in the city or province (I’m not really sure which) were hosting the dinner.  So, after a semi-typical workday, I was picked up, with my friend, in the private car of her father’s friend, one of his former players (and evidently, last year’s “Mr. Guangzhou” – assuming that means he’s a local celebrity and all-around stud).  The ride across the city was adventurous both because I so rarely ride in a private sedan these days (although I put in my fair share of van time at my previous job), especially one so plush, and because Mr. GZ was quite a chaotic speed-demon.

We arrived at a very traditional, famous dim sum restaurant after we picked up another man, an elderly gent whom my friend called Mr. Dale.  Mr. Dale lives in San Francisco and imports wine from Germany to the U.S. and China.  I thought immediately that it would be nice to have another person to speak English to besides my friend, and Mr. Dale, with his zany, colorful worldview, didn’t disappoint.  The restaurant we went to was, coincidently, one I’d been to before, for a welcome luncheon with my former company.  It’s quite old and full of traditional decoration inside, including glass windows with hand-chisled designs of flowers and things, a wall of embroidery, and a wall of pictures from decades ago depicting all the momentous events that took place there, like contract signings and even a visit from a former German chancellor and Henry Kissenger.

When we got there, the artists were painting calligraphy and landscape scenes on tables all across the front of the room.  After a while, this slowly ended, and a host stood up and said a bunch of welcoming things and then ordered that raffle tickets be passed around.  Well, they were more like door prize numbers than raffle tickets.  The prizes were announced, and the first few lucky numbers drawn.  The first recipients got some of the new paintings.  Then a toast and the meal began.

As I remember from the first time I went there, the dim sum didn’t disspoint.  By now used to many of the traditional Cantonese dishes, I still managed to try a few new things, like the aforementioned duck feet.  But, I must admit that unlike in the psat, I didn’t let my desire to be open-minded trump my embarrassment at the clumsy and awkward task of gnawing on a giant bird foot; I gave up after the first small taste, but not before I admitted to myself and to the entire expectant table watching me that it tasted good (it’s no lie).  I also had some delicious shrimp dumplings, and too many other dishes to describe (there must have been 12).  The table I sat at had several badminton players, along with me, my friend, Mr. Dale, and a woman I know very little about except for what my friend told me (that she lived in France for over 20 years, where she made a fortune exporting wine to China, and that her ivory-looking bracelet cost around 600,000 RMB (that’s about 100,000 USD).

Throughout the dinner, the always-present Chinese toasting occurred as usual.  The host toasted the room.  Table members toasted each other.  The guests of honor, including my friend’s father and the artists, all of whom sat at a table in the front, made the rounds, toasting every single table individually.  During this time, I made a major faux paus, as I toasted the more famous artist there with the tip of my glass higher than his (here, it’s a sign of respect to put the tip of your glass lower than the person you’re toasting if you respect them, they are your elder, or they hold a higher position in society or at work than you do.  More raffle prizes happened steadily throughout the night; I think that out of about 200-300 people present, about 2/3 of them received presents.  After the first round of artwork, large items like cell phones and my electric cooker were given out (yes, I was one of the big winners, and my ridiculous, exuberant “thank you!” in response to being given a microphone and asked a question in Cantonese – while on stage on front of a few hundred people – turned me beet red).  Then, about 100 pairs of LV sunglasses made the door prize agenda, followed by the spa goodies and more artwork.  I wished so badly for some artwork, but unfortunately, I got stuck with just about every other kind of prize instead.

Finally, the dinner ended and we left, dropping of Mr. Dale on the way.  I had to walk over the GZ Da Dao bridge due to where I was dropped off by maniac-driver Mr. GZ, and I laughed all the way home over the absolute randomness of yet another one of my colorful Chinese experiences.

Click on the pictures below to see descriptions.


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