I had agreed to teach a primary school class on Sunday morning at nine forty. The building that it was in is, Jane Li told me, probably the oldest still standing in Baiyin. It looks it. Inside the corridors were dirty and the plaster peeling. The classroom was cleaner but very basic. About twenty kids were sitting waiting for the lesson. For these I had to teach only twenty minutes before another group would replace them for a forty minute session. We ran through some animal vocabulary games, sang Old Macdonald had a farm and I gave everyone an orange*. I was a great hit. The second group were weaker but we did the same thing again and then for the last ten minutes I let everyone demonstrate their individual party pieces that they had learned in class and once again I was a great hit.
It was only as we were leaving that Jane Li said that we would now go to another wedding meal. This was a different wedding, another of her friends named Wendy. Or more precisely this was a different pre-wedding feast. This time it was in a hotel and was the standard Chinese feast where dozens of different dishes – sweet, salt, sour – arrive one after another at the table.
Before it began there was a ceremony – which , I was told, was not the wedding – on the small stage. The bride- and groom-to=be stood looking rather nervous while the bride's father and mother sat on chairs. Initially the groom addressed them, in Chinese, as "uncle" and "aunt" but after much bowing and exchanging of gifts changed his address to "father" and "mother".
There was more bowing – to the parents, to each other, to the guests – and then the meal began.
It was delicious but I was starting by now to wonder how I could possibly eat more. I seemed to have spent almost every waking hour recently either teaching or eating. The cold dishes came first – bean shoots, cucumber, assorted vegetables, cold rice noodles, cold meats, gelatinised pork fat cubes – the usual selection.
The hot dishes followed in a bewildering array. One arrived, containing what looked like a joint of pork. Jane Li moved it around with her chopsticks and I realised that it had a snout. What we were looking at was a pigs head, boiled and sliced but easily reassembled. Eventually the meal was done and we left the restaurant. Surely now we were done.
Not a bit of it.
Jane Li had spent the meal arranging for us to go to the actual wedding ceremony and another meal. She couldn't come but had roped in another teacher – Jill – to escort us. And more, she and her husband wanted to invite us for a meal at their favourite dumpling restaurant tonight.
The meal at the dumpling restaurant had been fine though I was filled near to bursting by the end of it having been fed half a dozen vegetable dishes, a similar number of plates of assorted dumplings and a large bowl of spicy french fries. Fortunately it was still early when we finished because the wedding tomorrow involved being picked up at 7:20.