On Saturday I spent the day with Vivi and Lily, two of my students from class 6 (my first Tuesday class). Today’s destination was an excellent Korean restaurant downtown near the walking street. What made this one unique was not just the high quality of the food, but also the fact that it was an all-you-can-eat buffet. As common as such places are for Chinese food in the States, it’s pretty rare to see them here, as the general cultural attitude here towards them makes me wonder how they can ever stay financially afloat.
It’s 48 yuan for all you can eat, and Vivi made sure we were the first ones to arrive when it opened at 11 am, and checked repeatedly with the workers to ensure that we were allowed to stay until 4 pm. After all, you have to get your money’s worth! The game plan was to eat eat eat until full, then lounge around and play cards with a deck she had specially brought until we were hungry again, then eat some more before they finally kick us out.
The food was stunning, just from the sheer amount of meat available. I’d like to think I inspired the choice after showing my classes a Food Network video all about Kansas City barbecue. Like many Korean places, you order up some raw slices of meat and fry them up on a central hot plate on the table. The only thing that probably keeps parties like our own from devouring the place out of business is that you’ve got to wait around for each set of slices to cook, giving your body time to tell you that no you don’t actually need to eat everything in sight.
Beyond the meats, there were all the typical pickled Korean vegetables and kimchi, and a host of little muffins and little fried sweets. In a nostalgic blast from my past, they had drink machines that served Grape Kool-Aid.
During our conversation a question was raised that I couldn’t fully answer, about what was the “traditional clothing” of America. Beyond tuxedos and formal wear, and things like Scottish Highland clothing, I couldn’t really think of anything that we would consider “traditional clothing” and yet wear it in a way that showed that it wasn’t forever locked in the past. Maybe graduation caps and gowns, too? Any ideas about American/Western “traditional clothing”?
After filling our bellies, they taught me a card game. Now I’m not much of a card player at all, so I’m not going to pretend like I know if this is a Chinese game or not. If it sounds familiar, let me know — I’ll list out the rules since it was new to me:
First, you draw 13 cards, and the objective is to lay down patterns to get rid of all cards before anyone else. There’s a sequence of higher and lower values:
spades > hearts > clubs > diamonds
3 > 2 > 1 > A > K > Q > J > 10 > 9 > 8 > 7 > 6 > 5 > 4 (4 is lowest, 3 is highest)
The kinds of patterns are:
triple + pair
sequence of 5
5 of 1 suit
4 of a kind + single card
The player who goes first is the one who can play the lowest-possible 4 (4 of diamonds if anyone has it). The player must play a pattern of his choice that involves that 4 (either a single 4 of diamonds is OK, for example, or something as complicated as a set of 2 4′s and 3 7′s). Then, each player takes turns placing cards of the same pattern, of equal or greater value. If a player is unable to place something fulfilling that criteria, he passes. When all but 1 player pass, the last player to place something gets to put whatever he wants down, establishing a new pattern rule and base value for everyone to work up from. The winner is the first to place all cards.
In retrospect, the rules were quite simple, but it took me a few rounds to stop making elementary mistakes in strategy. It didn’t help that Vivi felt a need for the game to have a “punishment” for the loser. Sarah will remember this well from our time at Ye’s house in Beijing, where the sweet-tempered and meek-looking Ye became ruthless at mahjong, with a punishment (in absence of money or alcohol) that the loser must drink a specific amount of water and thus have to go to the bathroom in utter defeat more quickly. Vivi had the same idea about drink as punishment, and ordered up a huge bottle of Sprite and then Coke for the loser to quaff.
It should go without saying that this downtime after the buffet did absolutely nothing to rest my stomach and make me ready for a round two of eating. My belly far too full of flavored sugar water, I was not about to consume a single slice of Korean bacon, while the strategist Vivi happily munched away in victory, both over us and over the restaurant at which she had gotten her money’s worth.
Thankfully at the end we took some time to walk it off by wandering around the parks and river downtown. It’s times like this that I really enjoy living in a tourist city like Guilin because there’s such a push to keep things beautiful, preserve green space, and make the air stay clean. Yangshuo may be a contrived hell for backpackers with thousand-yard stares, but downtown Guilin is a little more laid-back. With literally only one month to go, it really makes me think about how I’ll miss this place.