Thursday, November 13, 2014

Weird Barbecue

Since I've started riding a bike I've gotten much stronger and my endurance continues to build. When I first started riding I was embarrassed to invite anyone along because I couldn't manage more than a few kilometers without gasping for breath and aching all over. All that is in the past and now I'm ready to ride in a group.

One of my former students, Gabriel is also a bike enthusiast. He said: “Next time you want to ride, ask me to go.” Our first ride as a group (6 of us) was to a lake about 10km from our campus. The boys were delighted! Gabe confessed that, for the 3 years he'd been at school he'd never ventured that far and was pleasantly surprised that such a serene location lies not so far from our home base. I was unpleasantly astounded that these boys, who all have bikes and love to ride, would not simply take off and chase roads, just to see where they lead and what there might be at the end of it.  

I should mention that this was an all-boy group. None of us could get any girls interested in riding for the joy of riding.

The gang further averred that it might be fun to have a barbecue lakeside. I agreed, and we hatched a plan for the very next weekend. I told Gabe to get our English club interested and let me know how many would come. I would go to Metro for the meats. Veggies and snacks could best be bought closer to home, and everyone could bring a little something to share.

This is how I had it pictured: a group of English club biking enthusiasts would each take a bit in their backpacks, I would strap most of the stuff to my bike rack – mine is the only bike that has one, and we would ride to the lake, barbecue, maybe play some games and generally have a great time.

On Thursday I got the call that we could go shopping together the next day. “No need for you to spend money and carry everything” this most considerate Gabe said. The next day, 7 of us took off for Metro where all manner of outdoorsy things can be had. From there, things just kind of spun away from what I had imagined.

At first we contemplated a 3-pack of disposable grills. Being as the barbecue would most likely be a one-time thing, I thought that would be reasonable. However, Leona, our English Club president was with us and I suggested that the club could spring for a regular-sized grill so that we might have more cookouts in the future. Everyone seized on that idea and a grill made its way into our cart. And then came the debate over charcoal. I advised to buy the self-lighting kind so that we would not have to  transport and store flammable liquids. Someone else had the bright idea to combine self-lighting and regular coal, so we ended up buying 3 different types.

At this point I thought: we're going to have to carry all that home. When I voiced my concerns, Gabe said: “We are 6 people. We can carry it.” OK, but how would we get that all to the lake?

The shopping went on. Soon the cart was full. We bought 2 extra large handle bags to carry it all. Silly me: I had brought my backpack and ONE shopping bag, thinking we would just buy a few things. Of course, some things ended up in my pack and bag. One person carried the grill and the other the large bag of charcoal. The other 4 lugged the oversized shopping bags.

I thought we were done shopping but after a relaxing bus ride we next headed to the farmer's market close to our school, still burdened with everything we had already bought. I had ridden my bike to the bus stop and thus allowed for partial unburdening by strapping the grill and charcoal to the rack and riding home. And then, back to the market. The kids had bought a ton of veggies! The large shopping bag I had emptied out by loading my bike up was again full, and there were several plastic bags to boot!

Just how many were going to attend this barbecue? And what size caravan were our bikes going to make?

All purchases complete, everything stored at my house and the warning: the gang will ring my doorbell at 9AM to pick everything up.

Leona showed up in a short dress with tights: not exactly appropriate riding gear. She assured me she would be fine. The others, more appropriately dressed, grabbed everything and left me with the instruction to meet at the school gate at 10. So far, other than Leona's outfit, there was nothing to spoil my idea of all of us riding to the lake besides the improbabability of biking everything there. At the school gate, anticipating a crowd of bikes and jubilant riders. I found only Gabriel. Everyone else had gone ahead. Darn! I missed the caravan!    

There was no caravan. Everyone else had gone by bus, walking the last few kilometers, carrying everything. Only Gabe and I would ride to the lake, after another trip to the farmer's market. A bit disappointed, I reasoned: not everything has to turn out the way I imagined it. Besides, Gabe is a great riding partner. Using that time to reflect on my barbecue experiences, I reminded myself that I don't always have to be a teacher. Most likely these kids have an idea of how they will cook all that food because I couldn't see how they were going to grill everything, and cook rice. Yes, there was rice.

When we got there the party was in full swing. Some were slicing and skewering veggies, others were tending the grill. It seems a great time was being had by all, and the blanket I had brought was spread out for snacking and playing cards. Some were taking turns playing with the badminton set I had thought to pack. Leona had brought our club's amp and some microphones; some were regaling us with (sometimes not so well sung) songs.

Some were disappearing over the hill, toward a structure I had previously assumed was a caretaker's hut. It was actually someone's home, and the dwellers had rented their kitchen to our party for the sum of 20Yuan. There, amidst steam and sounds of frying, little Stephanie – nicknamed Scrappy-Doo for her diminutive size and feistiness was cooking in a wok whose diameter was as long as her arm. Another participant was feeding the fire under the wok chunks of wood. Outside, others were chopping and preparing veggies. As Scrappy turned out one dish after the other, the plates piled up outside on a small card table.

Hmmm... this is a first in my barbecue experience. 

Meanwhile, lakeside, around the grill: people were cooking and eating food straight off the fire. Seems the order of the day was to select what you wanted from the raw ingredients, put it on the grill and then eat it as soon as it is cooked. Heavens knows there was plenty to go around, so why did people keep telling me they were so hungry?

It seems that grilling and snacking were just appetizers before the main course.  

Two boys crested the small hill that partially concealed the kitchen Scrappy-Doo had been laboring in for hours. Between them they balanced that small table with steaming plates piled high. Another boy trailed behind, lugging a rice cooker, also borrowed from the rented kitchen. Everyone fell into the food as though starving. There were so many of us that it was difficult to get to the table. Everyone jostled and fought for position. One particularly lanky boy snaked his arm through the maze of bodies to snag whatever his chopsticks could grab. He was found out when a girl shrieked. Apparently he had touched her inappropriately. It was an accident, of course.

I was given a bowl of rice and repeatedly urged into the center of the pile. I kept backing out because my larger size would keep others from partaking. In the end, I got a little bit of everything. Soon, everyone was groaning and holding their stomach. Our bellies were full and our hearts overflowing with joy at this fun time.

In that particularly Chinese way that I've noted before, as soon as the feeding frenzy was over, so was the party. We cleaned up – let me thank those who complied with my anal retentive demand to pick up every scrap and separate recyclables, and swept the pavillion down. And then came the requisite posing for pictures, which will comprise the next blog entry.   

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