Following my impromptu lunch with Sun Ayi, her husband and her father-in-law, I really should have paid more heed to timing my visits to Beijing’s locals. However, once again I neglected to organize myself and arrived at the chosen location for my next local meet-up well before lunchtime.
On an assignment to explore a pottery studio I again mistakenly wandered in too close to noon. I thought I would be walking into a shop with a backroom studio. Instead I found myself in a property that was both workspace and living space for a small commune of potters. It felt like a little farm, with a U-shape of brick structures all around a vegetable garden. The weather being pleasant that day in early autumn, a group of six people were setting up for lunch on the patio by the garden.
After patiently attending to me and answering my questions, the young girl who had welcomed me and taken me around invited me to join them for lunch. I did not want to impose. This felt even worse than the invitation extended by the Sun family. Ayi had already been working for us over a year by the time we went to see her. These people and I, however, were strangers to each other. And yet their invitation was so warm and the situation again so surreal that after a few minutes of repeated insisting and declining, I went with my gut feel and accepted, because at that point, turning down the offer to eat with them would have been more impolite.
So, again, my driver and I found ourselves dining unexpectedly in a small village. The fare was much simpler this time. Four dishes, mostly vegetables with a bit of meat for flavor, and eight steaming bowls of rice. Everything served in beautiful bowls that the potters had made themselves. No two were alike. That alone made me swoon inwardly. No matter how incredulous I was to be eating with people I had just met five minutes prior, I already liked their lifestyle.
Again, during the course of the lunch, I felt inhibited by my limited knowledge of the language. But they were all patient and encouraging. Introductions flew fast around the table and talk soon turned to the food in front of us. One topic led to another, and so by the end of the meal, they had thoroughly interviewed me, I knew about how their studio and commune was run, and we all laughed at how each person liked their food seasoned differently. The master potter and the young girl then prepared tea and chatted even more with us as if we were guests they had really planned on welcoming. They spoke of how important it is to slow down once in a while and return to simple things. I marveled at the uniqueness of each piece of pottery and they took pride in explaining how they make their ceramics. Thank goodness, this time around, I didn’t have to give a toast or stand on ceremony. But just as with my lunch with Ayi, I was happy to be there too.
I was humbled by both experiences: one with a biological family who wanted to treat us as a way of saying thanks, one with a family by choice who wanted to welcome us to their home. One meal was lavish and the other simple, but both were offered with sincerity. I enjoyed the experience of simply being myself, the outsider who will never quite fit in, but who tries to know a little more about the local life. The lady who has no extended family here, but who by extension has been honored to have a glimpse into two family meals. I will always fondly remember lunching with the locals.
Photo courtesy of hpaich (Flickr)
Dana is the beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent. Originally from the Philippines, she moved to Beijing in 2011 (via Europe) with her husband, two sons and Rusty the dog. She enjoys writing, photography, theater, visual arts, and trying new food. In her free time, she can be found exploring the city and driving along the mountain roads of Huairou, Miyun and Pinggu.