China 1985

The bearded stranger was my teacher’s brother and had come to stay at the university in Beijing for a few days, after travelling around China. I went with him to the kitchen and showed him what to do. He learnt to roll out circles of dough of just the right thickness and size, place the pre-prepared stuffing on top and then pull the dough round the stuffing and squeeze with fingers to close them up. There’s no great skill in making jiaozers, Chinese dumplings. I left him to get on with it.


As one of the senior Chinese students, I was helping the English teachers with the New Year’s party at the University, and food was an important part. The Chinese academics arrived in their mao hats and suits and sat around at the tables. The classes had all prepared a song: Jingle Bells from the forestry students and a solo from a Mongolian graduate. Then we started eating the food and playing the games. We don’t agree with playing games in classes but at this party we loved fizz-buzz, pinning the tail on a donkey, pass the parcel etc. We danced to the Carpenters and to waltzes. The Mongolian started a song, which required deep draughts of spirit after every verse: a lot of people joined him! Jokes were told: my favourite was about the man who gave his friend a rope and told him he’d hold the rope while the friend climbed up it. The friend refused, saying he thought the man might walk away, leaving him to fall off. Hahaha.

At the end of the evening I looked at the food table. There was some food left over, including the noodle dish decorated with the characters for ‘long life’ in sliced carrot. I saw the bearded stranger looking at the table too, a bit unhappy. Earlier, in the kitchen, I hadn’t gone back to supervise him: he’d made twice as many jiaozers as had been needed.

 (and you have to throw them away because they stick together).