Most Friday nights a group of foreign teachers go out for dinner, but this week we had already been because one of our number is leaving the college and two others were away for the weekend. As it turns two other teachers were taken to Xinchang for some event, so I found myself all alone on the Friday evening.
I had worked all afternoon on a variety of things, so decided to go to English Corner at Dio Coffee. Dio is a chain of coffee lounge/restaurants around China and we have several in Shaoxing, but one has an "English Salon" or English Corner on a Friday night.
As English teachers we know that the best way to learn a language is to practice and these events are held every Friday night in Dio. Many Chinese business people, teachers and students appear to talk English and they welcome "foreigners" for practice.
I had been the previous week, and have been on other occasions too. So I knew a few people. So around 6.30 pm I left my apartment and headed for the bus station. Students stopped me to chat on the way. They always ask "Have you had supper yet?", "Where are you going?" "What are you going to do?"
One group I told that I was going to KFC. Horror!!! "Junk Food" I was told. I explained that if you only ate at KFC occasionally there was little problem. We all nodded and I went on my way.
I love the city at night - I should go more often really. It is of course crowded and very noisy. Most of the big stores have loud thumping music on their pa systems, the traffic chaos continues, and the air is full of mist as the clouds and pollution dance together giving an eerie feeling.
The many peddlers have set up shop on any space that is not taken up by the thousands of bikes of all shapes, sizes and propelling power. Around the city square the air is thick with the smell of what we call "stinky tofu" a local delicacy that does little to impress us - with either its aroma or taste. Junks of tofu cooked in oil on a cart in the street.
I made my way to KFC and ordered just a small serve of nuggets. Enough to "fill the gap". It is a big KFC and very busy on a Friday night, but I managed to ignore the stares and find a little table and eat my small meal in peace.
Then it was to Dio. These places are quite luxurious by Chinese standards. A curved elaborate stone staircase sweeps up to the next floor from a foyer lined with wine bottles in cellar like racks. There is usually staff to greet you - in Chinese of course at the door - and I noticed before I entered the sign on the footpath "English Salon".
The main restaurant is quite ostentatious. Booths with comfortable lounge seating, and tables, many of which overlook the crazy traffic below, and others in glassed cubicles. The staff is always very attentive - and few speak any English, which always causes great mirth when we come here for coffee and cake (actually there is none of the latter), or a meal. Some meals are OK, but others are - well, strange.
There is a special room at Dio where English Corner or English Salon is held, and as it was fine weather, many people came. Some I remembered from previous visits. Last night there were only 3 foreigners, myself and another English Teacher from Shaoxing University, an English lady whom I have met many times before. Her mother was visiting from the UK - and they looked just like sisters.
And so it is fast and furious as the many Chinese try and get as much opportunity to talk as possible. There were several students too - and some from our college and I came home with one later. I like to leave early as the last bus goes at 9.20 pm, so if I am on my own it is best to leave with students as they must be in their dormitory by 10 pm, and that gives me (a) company on the bus and (b) an early night.
The student I travelled with not only paid my fare home, but bought a huge "orange" in the supermarket and gave some to me. These huge fruit that are the size of small watermelons, are in season at the moment - they are like big grapefruit, with very thick skin, which the fruitman will peel off for you, and put the peeled fruit in a bag to take home.
I made my way safely to my apartment, with my gift.