One of Floyd’s and my favorite little restaurants here in Taichung is called the Orange Grove. At least, we call it that, because much of it is painted orange, and it has big round orange lanterns hanging out front. Maybe someday when we learn to read Chinese well, we can figure out what the sign out front actually says.
Although we love the food at this place, unfortunately, they have no English menu or pictures. Usually in the past we’ve gone there with friends who can translate and order for us, but this time we were on our own… but we figured somehow we’d manage.
Well, we stood there looking dumbly at the unintelligible menu and waiting for inspiration to strike while the three or four employees and one other customer watched us expectantly. One of the ladies remembered us from the last time we had come and asked in Chinese if we wanted the sweet and sour fish again (at least, I’m pretty sure that’s what she was asking; I saw her look of recognition and heard the word for “fish”).
However, we felt like something different this time. Finally Floyd asked for “gung bao ji ding”(kung pao chicken), which, as one of the few dishes we know how to say in Chinese, has become our standby for such times. Then I decided I wanted some cashew chicken, which we’d had before and knew they fixed really well. But I couldn’t remember the word for “cashew”, and all I managed to communicate was that I wanted a different chicken dish. They seemed to think I meant instead of the gung bao, and I tried to explain that we wanted both, and they kept trying to guess what other kind of chicken I might want, but of course I couldn’t understand most of what they said.
Finally the other customer stepped in to help, announcing that he spoke a little English. So we told him in English what we wanted, but he didn’t know what “cashew” meant. Finally, in desperation, I took out a piece of paper from my purse and drew a cashew. The results were instantaneous! Immediately, every face lit up, and they all exclaimed, “Oh, yao guo! Yao guo ji” (a phrase which I have since carefully memorized).
We all laughed in relief, and nodded, and they ushered Floyd and me to a table. Well, we were delighted when the cashew chicken arrived, and it was just as good as we remembered. But the gung bao ji ding hadn’t come by the time we finished, and we wondered if they had gotten mixed up after all and thought we’d changed our original order. So Floyd caught a waiter’s eye and said “Gung bao ji ding,” and he said something and walked away. We thought maybe he was telling us it was on its way, until we heard him repeat our order to the cook. We had to wait awhile longer while they cooked it, before our second dish finally came. And then, to our surprise – it was more cashew chicken! We managed to hide our reactions from the restaurant staff, but needless to say, we were somewhat confused! (They were too, obviously.) The best we could figure was that they must have thought that we thought “gung bao ji ding” meant “cashew chicken” all along. And the worst of it was, we assumed they’d remember us again, and next time we came, if we tried to order kung pao chicken, they would remember that we really meant cashew chicken, and that’s what they’d give us from then on!
Oh well, at least it was delicious!
Well, the sequel to that story happened the next week, when we went to the Orange Grove again, but with our friend Elaine this time (who speaks almost fluent Chinese). Not only was she able to order several different dishes for us, but she also talked to the serving staff and explained our last time’s misunderstanding, which she had gotten a big kick out of when I described it to her. She had a long conversation with them, parts of which she translated for us as it went along. Apparently they told her how we’ve been in several times and that the last time especially was a communication disaster because they have no English menu. The main lady asked very seriously if we had liked the food we had just eaten, so that she could remember it and serve it again every time we come, to avoid further misunderstandings. Floyd and I got a kick out of that! We ended up settling on three particular dishes which the staff assured us they would remember, and agreed that unless we brought a translator or found some way to tell them otherwise, they would serve us those same three things from then on whenever we come.
Is that funny, or what?! But so practical! It was touching how concerned they were for us. And I think it’s fun that for the first time in my life I’ll be able to walk into a restaurant and ask for “the usual” and they’ll know what I mean!
As we were leaving, I turned and said, “Yao guo ji hun hao chi” (the cashew chicken was very good), and they were all excited that I could say that (and say it correctly, apparently, tones and all). I was quite proud of myself! I know it sounds silly to make a big deal over such a small thing, but honestly, our language learning is progressing extraordinarily slowly, so I have to take my little triumphs where I can get them. And knowing we can go to the Orange Grove any time we like and to get a meal we’re guaranteed to love is definitely a triumph!