“Hello, Jon-a-sin!” Cia Nan greets me with a large smile and a friendly wave.
“What do you want?” she asks. Her husband looks up from his wok and also smiles and nods.
I take a look at their menu, which is all in Chinese, and like most days, am unsure of what I am in the mood for. The dead spiced fish in the pan below stare up at me, always seeming to give me a questionable look, wondering if I will eat them…but I’ve never been brave enough. Though, the students who visit the restaurant seem to love the fish and demolish most of the them when they are chosen.
In my broken Chinese, I ask, “我要什么”, basically saying “I have no idea what I want today, can you suggest something?” She understands my meaning, and is quick to suggest something new to me, saying “Oh, today you want this ______.” I go into the next room and sit down, waiting for them to bring me my dish of whatever it is they decided to cook me this time.
We call this place “Greg’s House”. A few years ago, we noticed a sign on a building nearby with a picture of rotini noodles on it. Living in the small city of 四平 (Siping), where things like pasta are quite a novelty, we were quick to check out this restaurant. Cai Nan’s husband used to work for one of the few western restaurants in the city, and has since started his own small place where they cook. Much to our surprise, they actually did serve the rotini noodles with some tomato-like meat sauce. But, the noodles aren’t why we return multiple times every week.
Though it is good food, this small, slightly dingy restaurant is filled with a lot of love and kindness. Always greeting us with a smile, the family loves having us in the restaurant.
Their middle-school son, who we named Greg, likes to practice his English with us and listen in on our conversations whenever we come in and he is there.
Amidst all of the stares, pointing of fingers, and comments that many of the people in our city give us for being the exotic foreigners, Greg’s family is a place where we can feel somewhat normal and accepted.
They are just another typical Chinese family who are working hard to provide for each other, yet through our broken Chinese and English, we have begun to build a friendship by simply choosing to put ourselves in the same place and interacting with one another.
Another day, another meal, another smile.
After I finish, I get up, pay, and leave with an English “thank you”. Cia Nan responds in English with “you’re welcome!” and her and her husband wave goodbye.
Until next time.