Published 2007-01-10

For Michelle’s pen-penultimate day in Xiamen, we had a big ol’ Chinese-o-rama. Jenny was “sick” and stayed home with Michelle, they visited the big local temple and had lunch with the monks, which was apparently a really great experience. Michelle had a signature chop carved for her boyfriend, Otto. It read 奥特 (Aote, the e is pronounced like “uh”), which is kind of meaningless. That first character 奥 appears in a lot of foreign words, like Oreo, Australia, and Aomen (Macau). It has a vague meaning kind of like “mystery”. 特 means “special”. This is the problem with foreign words in Chinese: Chinese people don’t regard them as meaning anything, but you can look up the characters in a dictionary and give yourself a pretend meaning. Like “Mystery Special.” My name is 保罗 (Baoluo), which we can pretend means “Defend Talkative.”

That night we ate at what is fast becoming my second-favorite restaurant in town, Revolution. On the one hand, they serve pretty straightforward “Northeast” style food, which is close to “Chinese” food in the U.S. But Revolution is done up in Maoist kitsch. The staff are all twentysomething kids who wear Mao hats and shoulder bags and shout slogans about comadreship. The place is decorated with old Communist propaganda, and they play stirring anthems. It is insanely popular. They have five branches in town and they are always packed. I think Maoist nostalgia is like 50s nostalgia in North America. So Revolution is Xiamen’s version of Jack Rabbit Slim’s.

After that we stopped at a ceramics gallery Jenny and I noticed some while ago, to buy some you-wouldn’t-believe-how-inexpensive decorations for the apartment. Of course, you can’t just buy some ceramics and walk out...please, sit, have some tea. Sit here, at the antique millstone we’ve remade into a tea table. The tea is pu er cha, fancy black tea from Yunnan. Hard to get in Xiamen. It will take at least half an hour to drink, because the first three flushes are no good. That’s why we pour them onto the table. And the next three flushes are still not that good, but you can drink it anyway. And where do you live? Do you come from America? Do you have children? What are your jobs? Do you like it here? Where is your sister from? Does she have children? What is her job? Have you met my daughter? She’s five years old. Isn’t she cute?

This also happens when we go to the vet’s office.