Ma La Tong

Went out last night for a leaving party, one of our students is going to university and one of the teachers is finishing his contract and leaving for a new job. I’d forgotten how much of expat life is leaving parties for people moving away. I was slightly disappointed, because the teacher who’s moving on seems like a great guy, I feel like we just got past how-was-your-class office chitchat, and started getting to know each other, and I enjoyed his company.  And our student, Sean, is a sweet kid who’s not shy about his love for James Franco and geography. Sometimes conversational classes turn into groupthink, so having Sean in a class is always a delight.

Anyway, I was glad my coworkers didn’t hold my drinking game analysis against me. Coworker James, who’s come to China to work on his novel, said he knows a good Florida drinking game called Shots in The Kitchen. To play, go in the kitchen and do a shot. I did not overanalyze that one.


raw ma la tong

Ma la tong is a make-your-own hot soup. Each person grabsingredients from a fridge, most of them are on skewers that might be mistaken for barbecue, and then it’s cooked into individual soups bowls. Prices are between 5 jiao and 1.5 kwai (that’s 8-23 cents, for everyone playing along at home) per stick. I didn’t choose any of the raw meats, but let’s be realistic about these baskets and the cross contamination going on. Actually, let’s not think too much about that. Everything’s getting boiled, it’ll be fine. (James: That C from the health inspection? It just stands for Cool With Me!)

I’d tried ma la tong with coworker Rob a couple weeks ago, but our student, Sean, says the place we went to last night is the best ma la tong in Yangzhou. I did enjoy last night’s more, but I also knew a bit more about what I was putting in my soup this time. That’s basically the summary of this trip to China. Is something in Yangzhou 2015 objectively nicer? Or do I just know myself better, have more Chinese vocab, more reasonable expectations, and I’m actually making it better? Life pondering for another night. For now there’s beer in paper cups.

finished malatong

We walked from the soup place to have drinks, a small crowd of laowei men attracting a certain amount of stares on the way, and wound up drinking wine at a cafe. Walking across town, I had a good moment. This is where I am supposed to be, this is what I am supposed to be doing. It was the wonderful familiarity when another old China hand joked about sitting on stools in the street, throwing back warm beer, and the wonderful strangeness of a long-term expat’s story of scorpion bites in foreign countries. Living in Chapel Hill, I spent a certain amount of time pretending an interest in things other people talked about, and it was really nice not to pretend.

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