Wow. We’re sitting here in the Intercontinental Hotel in Wuxi and it has just dawned on me that it has been almost three weeks since we left Sydney. THREE WEEKS?! Where on earth has the time gone?!
It’s all been such a blur. We hit the ground so over tired, and we sure as hell didn’t get a chance to catch up on sleep when we arrived! There was so much new information to take in, new smells and tastes to get used to (China smells VERY different to anywhere else we’ve ever been!).
Mum’s first mission when we landed was to head straight to Ikea. She LOVES Ikea. And not just for the flat pack furniture. Actually, not much for the flat packed furniture. Mum’s love for Ikea is totally and utterly due to the meatballs and mashed potatoes that she can get in the cafe area. Yup, meatballs and mashed potatoes. But the day after we arrived in China, it wasn’t the meatballs and mashed potatoes calling her name at Ikea. It was the desks. We were all going to be working from home and we needed desks. We weighed up all our options and settled on two styles of desks. And an office chair each. And a bed for Nick and I with drawers underneath (the Chinese bed in our bedroom was barely more than a king single!). That was the easy part. Then we had to negotiate with the Ikea staff, who spoke only a little more English than we spoke Chinese. Nick did so well! Between the photos that he took of the combinations we wanted, the catalogue and emphatic hand gestures, we managed to confirm all the pieces that we needed. Mission one accomplished in China! And as the cherry on top, we managed to arrange delivery of the items to boot. Booyah! Pretty good start to our Chinese lives, we thought.
Second mission: Metro. This was a tad confusing for us, since the (mostly) underground city train network is called Metro. But this Metro was way more fun. A HUGE one-stop-shop type place. You can get ANYTHING at Metro. Glassware, cookware, paper products, appliances… And food. SO MUCH FOOD. And western food. Kinder chocolate, Corona beer, Chilean red wine ridiculously cheap, real cheese, minced beef (ridiculously expensive! I think about $30 for 500g) and, this made Nick and Dad’s day, tortilla wraps. And so much more. And since Mum had invited a Chinese family for a ‘Kiwi style’ dinner later that week, we needed to stock up. So we filled two suitcases with food and carted them home from Metro the supermarket on the Metro trains. HA! We must have looked even weirder and more foreign than we usually do. Four Westerners, two of them wearing toe shoes, carting two suitcases, going in the opposite direction to the airport or train stations. Yup, thats us!
Dinner was a huge success. Mum and Dad had invited Leo’s family. Leo is a young guy they met when they first came to China. Mum taught him English at the English School she first worked for in Nanjing. And then he adopted them. HARD. Kimbo and I teasingly call him our adopted brother. Mum and Dad had been adopted by the WHOLE family, grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins included. They had been invited to exclusive, family only events. And Mum had promised that when Nick and I arrived, she would return their hospitality. And cook up a FEAST. And so that’s exactly what we did.
We cooked ALL DAY. Here’s a list of what we made:
- NZ salmon and cream cheese on potato fritters
- Marinated NZ mussels
- Chips and dips
- Cheese and crackers
- Chicken, proscuitto and mushroom creamy pasta
- Homemade baby burgers
- Chicken and potato curry
- Garlic bread
- Coleslaw with almonds
- Cauliflower and cheese sauce
And last, but certainly not least, banoffi pie with a biscuit base.
They were hilarious. They arrived and brought their own house slippers. For all 13 of them! As soon as they arrived, they promptly took themselves on a tour of the apartment. Mum and I looked like… Well, like we had been cooking all day! And we were STILL cooking because they turned up at 4pm! We served the fingers foods first. And they were very unsure about it all. Leo’s cousin loved the mussels, and his Aunty was gracious enough to try every starter at least once. Leo’s mother LOVED the cocktails that Nick was making. And Nick! She is a beautiful, sociable woman and was having a ball learning new English words and practicing on Nick and Dad. Who Mum and I sent out to entertain while we finished the food. I don’t know who was working harder!!!
Dinner was served and we asked Leo to translate for us all the dishes that we had made. It was so funny watching them eat pasta and nacho’s with chopsticks! We actually had to push all our new desks together with the table and cover the whole thing with a big blanket to make a ‘table’ big enough to fit everyone around it. Everyone was buzzing, trying all of the foods we had cooked. Leo was demonstrating to his Uncle and young cousin how to assemble a burger. Nick was still making cocktails and the grandparents were asking for tea. It was awesome, listening to them talk about the food in a language that we didn’t speak but still picking up on some of the unmistakeable gestures and facial expressions. They knew the odd English word, like “Very good!” or “I like!”, we knew how to say thank you in Chinese, and the rest was up to Leo to translate or to convey through hand gestures. Like the grandfather teaching Nick how to play cards. Talk about a Kodak moment.
Watching them try the banoffi pie was funny. I made a huge tinfoil dish of banoffi pie. And yet we only served them a tiny pieces each. Chinese people just don’t seem to have the same kind of sweet tooth that we seem to be born with! They politely tried their little piece and then left the rest in their bowls. And asked for more alcohol!
It was hilarious coming up with the menu. A Kiwi Feast. And yet our Kiwi style cooking was made up of dishes that we grew up because we pinched them from other countries. Thats our version of Kiwi! A hotch potch of the various cuisines that we love. And it worked a treat.
This was how Mum and Dad welcomed us to China. By taking us grocery shopping and inviting 13 people around for us to cook for and entertain. Typical. And so perfect! We felt right at home.