Diary 2013/08/04 – Nongjiale

Moved into my hotel room today. Jack came to pick me up, then asked if I was doing anything. I said no, since I wasn’t, and he whisked me away on a family adventure! We went to the 三圣花乡Sanshenghua xiang area of Chengdu and spent the day at a 农家乐 nongjiale, which I’m not sure has an English translation, but was traditionally when farmers would open their homes to outsiders so that they could enjoy a day in the countryside, eating peasant food like they were family. Now it means a specific type of restaurant in a quiet, rustic locale where there are spaces to drink tea and play mahjongg, and food is served for lunch and dinner. The gathering that I joined was to celebrate the successful acceptance of one of the family to university. She was forced to sit next to me at lunch so that she could practice (show off to the family) her English. She was to study Chinese medicine as a major, and was generally pleasant to talk to. However, I spent the afternoon with Jack’s daughter (also called Annie!) and two other young girls and an adorable poodle puppy. We wandered around Sanshenghua xiang, which was full of greenhouses and pet shops. It was a very hot day, but we kept cool with water and ice cream, and a Sichuan drink called 冰粉 bingfenr, which was a kind of jelly in water with 红糖 hongtang, or brown sugar. Aside from the cicadas and occasional car driving by, it was very peaceful on our walk. We went into a greenhouse, and Annie bought some goldfish to put in a bowl they had at home which the family had been meaning to buy fish for. She struck me as a very intelligent and bold little girl, taking initiative and constantly asking questions. She chimed in at dinnertime when the adults were talking about a recent piece of news, which I could only partly understand.

The adults spoke in a mix of Sichuan dialect and Mandarin, depending on who was talking and what was being talked about. The children mostly spoke Mandarin, which is probably why I wanted to hang out with them. Slow slow come! (I’ll pick up Sichuan dialect in due course, but for now I’ve got to take it slowly, or 慢慢来 man man lai!) One of the girls I spent the day with started off our friendship by asking if I liked One Direction. I told her I did, despite the fact that they’re too young for me. Which is totally true, I am not ashamed to say it!

Today I also learned how to play Sichuan-style mahjongg (麻将 majiang). It is actually WAY easier than Hong Kong-style, because the dragon (red 中 , white ▯ , and green 發) and flower tiles are all missing. The hands are still the same amount of tiles however, which means the game ends much more quickly. It’s harder to get a straight hand, but at least you aren’t waiting around for too long. Once you get majiang, you wait until the tiles run out while the rest of the players also try to get majiang, and then I stop understanding what happens: points are counted in increments of ¥5, and ¥5, ¥10, ¥20, and ¥50 notes are passed around the table according to a significance I don’t quite comprehend. I got to play a couple of hands myself, but just as we were about to begin playing for money after letting me try for “free,” dinner was called. Whew! I got the feeling that I would have lost money rather than won it with beginners luck.

I regret that I didn’t take any photos today, but I really just wanted to enjoy the day, which felt a lot like the family reunion picnics we used to have at Boulan Park. There were about 40 people in our party, which diminished by half by the evening. You could come and go as you pleased, and hang out with whichever family clique you felt most comfortable with. Back to work tomorrow, so I’d better get some rest!

Finally, an apology for inundating my readers with all of these posts! Only just got access to the site 😦

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