Our first meal at a local Beijing restaurant brings more challenges. Reaching the restaurant means crossing several busy roads, and we’re not yet sure how seriously the locals take traffic lights or pedestrian crossings. We find out that the rules are, at best, flexible. A Chinese colleague at work had warned me, “You will be scared.” I wasn’t sure if it was an instruction or a prediction, but he was right. The golden rules are to stay with the pack and keep at least one person as a buffer on all sides.
Given that we had been relying on hotel instructions that were more like a game of charades, I’m not confident of success and mentally preparing for McDonalds. But here we are, and even better – the restaurant seems to be popular with locals. The kitchen seems to be located on the street, but the chef has been lucky enough to find a handy park for his bike.
Our arrival is greeted with a sudden silence – they clearly didn’t think we’d survive the crossings either. We appear to be tonight’s entertainment, and are shown to a table allowing everyone an unobstructed view.
Most of the waitresses quickly take a step backwards, leaving the slowest, and possibly newest, assigned to our table. She hands us two menus the size of a fridge door, and we expect that we’ll be given some time to review our options, but she’s still here. Is she waiting for us to casually order “our usual”? Even when we suggest that we’ll need a bit of time, she nods but stays put. She clearly has nowhere else to be, so we let her share in our elimination of various body parts. It’s not an easy process with a menu the size of a windscreen, but we can smell beautiful meals at other tables.
At this point another family arrives and, seeing us, they freeze in the doorway. After a moment, they realise they haven’t made a huge mistake, and unloading this week’s shopping under a table next to us, they are shown to their seats. Clearly we may look odd, but at least we are seen as trustworthy. For some reason our waitress decides that the large bag of kitty litter should not be underneath the table, but rather placed as a centrepiece on the top. I’m not sure how to interpret the kitty litter tower, especially when I haven’t seen any cats. Is it panda litter?
Eventually we give our order and when our food arrives, there’s another moment of silence. Murmurs of approval and the Mandarin version of “I told you so” spread around the room, as we prove our ability with chopsticks. Our meals are delicious, as is the well-earned Chinese beer. We notice that the beer is the sponsor of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program, and I can’t help but wonder if they also sponsor the domestic airline that flew us to Beijing. It might explain the landing.