One day last week, Li Ayi, our wonderful landlady, sent me a text message, asking me if the kids would be interested in going to an international martial arts competition on Saturday. Now, this festival is not something we would have decided to attend on our own (let alone even known about), but our general decision rule in China is to follow wherever the road leads us. So, naturally, I replied that the kids would be really happy to go along (which they were, by the way).
Now, here is the part of the story where my "work in progress" Chinese may have handicapped my understanding of some pretty important details. Li Ayi indicated that she would be happy to treat the kids to this outing. I took her words to mean that she herself would be taking the kids to the competition. It was only when Li Ayi started telling me how the kids could get from our house to the stadium (i.e., bus and subway) that it sunk in that the Julie and Z would be on their own that day. My initial instinct was to tell Li Ayi that Desi and I would accompany the kids to the stadium and then hang around in the surrounding neighborhood. This parental admission ended up further muddying the cultural waters, as I was to later find out.
The next day, Li Ayi informed me that a woman by the name of Fu Laoshi (Teacher Fu) was in possession of two tickets for the martial arts competition. I should head up to Nongda (an agricultural university) to meet Fu Laoshi and pick up the tickets. Now, exactly what the relationship between Li Ayi and Fu Laoshi is, I don't have any idea. Nor do I have any sense of why it was that Fu Laoshi was holding the tickets. No matter. I jumped on the bus after work that day and headed out to Nongda, which actually is relatively close to where we lived last year.
Arriving at Nongda's west gate, I called Fu Laoshi and informed her that I was waiting to meet her and pick up the tickets. A few minutes later, out pedaled a woman on a bicycle and I had the tickets in hand.
Now, taking advantage of my location near our old neighborhood, Desi, the kids, and I arranged to meet for dinner in one of our favorite haunts. As the three of them were still haggling in the markets when I arrived in Saoziying, I decided to head over to Pang Shifu, drink some tea, and work on my laptop while waiting.
Walking through the plastic flaps, my loud, English voice startled and woke up two guys who were sleeping on chairs that they had lined up. The lights were off and there were no customers. Hui Min's mother brought me over some tea, and there I was, the unusual sight of a waiguoren sitting alone in an alleyway restaurant, working on a research project.
When the gang arrived, we enjoyed a long dinner, sitting outside at the mala tang place. And so it was that it was kind of late by the time we jumped on the bus to head home. Sitting on the 106, my phone suddenly rang. It was Li Ayi.
Have you picked up the other two tickets?
Other two tickets?
Yes, I left them with the wuye [property management office].
No, I haven't returned home yet.
I think the wuye may be closed for the evening. You'll have to pick them up in the morning before you head out to the competition.
So there it was. The unintended outcome of my off-the-cuff reaction that Desi and I would not allow Julie and Z to spend the day on their own. Li Ayi, in her generosity, had gone ahead and provided us with four tickets, so that the family could all go together.
An unusual (from my