About a half hour ago I had an interesting experience.
I was sitting downstairs at XiJiaDe, the dumpling restaurant I mentioned a few days ago, by myself with my back against the wall eating boiled peanuts and celery, delicious. It was about 3:15pm, Becky was out, we had foregone lunch because neither of us was hungry, at least until 3:15pm.
XiJiaDe is usually pretty busy during meal times, but it wasn't meal time, there was a young woman sitting a few seats to the left of me, also with her back to the wall, and two other tables occupied in front of her. The wait staff wasn't quite as bubbly and friendly as they usually are, but quite helpful and otherwise pleasant. I had a plate of boiled peanuts and celery within just a few minutes and dumplings within ten.
From where I sat I could see most of the restaurant, the sidewalk fifty feet directly in front of me, and everyone walking in towards me through that door. To my right, much closer, was another set of glass doors that led into the grocery store that XiJiaDe is attached to. A man in his thirties was standing on the other side of those glass doors holding a small white puffy-furred dog in his arms, apparently he was waiting for his wife because she was standing by him a few minutes later.
I made a rough estimation, while I was sitting there, that about half of the people coming in from the sidewalk were using XiJiaDe as a shortcut to get to the grocery store. It's about half the distance as going around to the front door. Personally I didn't like doing that, walking past all those smiling XiJiaDe employees, with their little white caps, makes me feel sad, like I'm showing up at their house at dinner time but not staying. Other people are more callous I guess.
As I was sitting there wondering how I was possibly going to finish my last three dumplings, disliking the attitude on the face of that small white puffy-furred dog, and wondering how many people actually used the dining room of my beloved XiJiaDe as a short-cut an old woman with most of her front teeth missing appeared from my right, she must of quietly come in through the glass doors past the self-righteous white puffy-furred dog.
She dressed normally enough, but she had a blank but wide-eyed stare, where you can see the white part of your eye all around your iris, a little scare, and she some sort of pamphlets in her hand. She came closer to my little table and said something quietly in Chinese that I didn't understand. I thought she was about to ask me for something or try giving me the pamphlets in her hand but instead she mumbled something else and reached down nonchalantly and snatched one of the slippery dumplings off of the serving plate in front of me with her bare hands and popped it into her mouth.
It took me a few seconds to recover from this. I might live in a strange and fantastic far-away land, but this sort of thing has never happened to me before. I don't think I had much of a visible reaction, confusion mostly, I think I was pretty relieved that I didn't have to finish all three of my dumplings. In retrospect I should have offered her the rest, which I never ate.
After realizing what had just happened I looked around me. The woman to my left didn't seem to notice, I was hoping for an astonished look. I'm not sure how she missed it, there wasn't much else going on. The old woman wandered around the dining room for maybe 20 seconds and then left.
Was this just a normal part of life here? Or did nobody notice? I looked over at the man holding the white puffy-furred dog with an attitude problem, he and his wife were talking to each other and smiling, for a second I suspected they were smiling about me, but they never looked at me. If they were laughing at me I doubt they could have avoided looking at me. So it's just me, the old lady, and my blog who know about this so far.
When I was dating my wife she was surprised at how many people would approach me on the street, or while I was pumping gas into my car, and ask me for change. Apparently I have a look. Do I look like a guy who freely gives away dumplings and change? I never actually give away change. But if you're quick you can probably score a dumpling from me. I'll probably just look confused and slightly relieved that I don't have to eat it.