After being inundated with Chinese vocabulary for a whole week, my friends and I heartily agreed that we needed to have a BBQ on Saturday to rest our tired brain cells. Unofficially, it would be a Russian BBQ since my Russian classmates would supply the meat and grill it. I decided to be the unofficial purveyor of drinks and being the upper class connoisseur that I am, I purchased a two-liter bottle of Coke and Sprite. Can’t go wrong there.
Around 7pm, we all met together near the school campus and walked to the Russian’s apartment. We were quite the eclectic group. One American, one Chinese, one Brit, three Koreans, and about 10 Russians. Conveniently, almost everyone spoke English as their second language, but that doesn’t mean it was convenient for them to speak it. With my poor Chinese, I could weakly attempt to speak with others, but once the speed increased and vocabulary expanded, my comprehension nose-dived dramatically. As of now, I can usually pick out bits and pieces of a Chinese dialogue, but piecing the parts into an intelligible whole is quite the challenge. And if I think I’ve discovered the meaning, it’s usually the opposite meaning or another topic altogether. Ah, the joys of learning a language.
After arriving at the apartment, we were greeting by booming music and a blue tub of raw meat. Behind the apartment, there was a small backyard surrounded by ivy-covered concrete walls and a trough of glowing embers and branches, otherwise known as the grill. My vision of a Weber grill with the tripod design and propane tank was a bit off. The Chinese “grill” consisted of a stone trough where you could dump charcoal and little ridges to place skewered meat over the fire. Unfortunately, our fire went from a mini bonfire to a few glowing embers after 10 minutes. Hence the skewers of meat took an agonizingly long time to cook. After about 1 hour, the first batch was nearly done, and our patience was diminishing. Someone finally decided to cook some meat in the oven, which I thought was a brilliant idea.
So our Russian BBQ became more of a slow-cooker, oven-grilled hybrid, but at least the meat was tasty. During our time at the apartment, some of us tried to improve our Chinese with my friend, River, and some relatively fluent Russians. With my vast knowledge of the Chinese language, I thought it best to be silent and quietly listen to the dialogue. I may have picked up a few new words, but I also discovered many more words that I don’t know. Sometimes I wish that I would magically wake up one morning and speak Chinese fluently. But once I get to Chinese class, my teacher welcomes me back to reality. Apart from the Chinese dialogue, I did learn that Russian doctors are one of the lowest paid workers in the Russian economy. You would think heart transplants and brain surgeries would be more appreciated.
Toward the end of the grill fest, one of the Russians picked up a guitar and began strumming some popular Russian tunes. Others joined in, and I had a front-row seat and free admission. Even though I didn’t understand the words, the ballads were enjoyable to hear. Every country seems to have their own unique musical flavor, unlike anyone else. Music has the enviable power of crossing cultures, ignoring social divides, and moving your heart. As the night progressed, River and I decided to head out after most of the meat had been consumed, of course. It may not have been a first-rate BBQ, but it was a good time spent with friends.
As we headed to River’s house, River realized that his parents didn’t know we were coming for the night. Unfortunately, they never answered the phone, which gave us three options: sleep in a cardboard box, waste money for an overnight hotel stay, or sleep on a couch in the office. The third choice won by a majority of 2-0. We headed to the office, where I had an air mattress for a bed and River had the couch. In the morning, I had a deflated mattress and wood floor as my cushions, but it was still much better than curling up inside a refrigerator box or spending money for a hotel room. With the Russian BBQ and office accommodations, Saturday had been an eventful day. Better yet, it was time spent with friends and learning how much of the Chinese language I still don’t know.