I am now at Peking University finishing up my last rounds of research in preparation for my program’s closing ceremony, in which I will present and discuss my research on geophysics and geothermal energy.
Amid programming on MATLAB and reading about China’s endless geologic stories, I thought about my brief dinner at a Russian restaurant in Harbin.
On a street filled with Chinese chatter and the sounds of shuttlecocks making an impact with rackets, there stands a building with a sandstone facade and a large, red neon sign. “Around the World” was the only red neon sign depicted in the Latin alphabet on the street. “Yep, I found it,” I thought to myself.
Upon entering the restaurant, the sounds of Chinese conversations grew louder and louder. Families and friends were gathered for a good Saturday night dinner. Within a few moments, a Russian waitress appeared to my left.
“Здравствуйте (Zdravstvuyte – Hello)!” she said with a smile.
I looked left and right. Do I speak English? Chinese? Do I ask what language she prefers to speak? What do I do?
“一位 （Yi wei – One person),” I slowly replied.
The waitress continued to smile, yet this time she raised her eyebrows. And she did not raise them out of excitement.
“好，一位。请进请坐 （hao, yi wei. Qing jin qing zuo – Ok, one person. Please come. Please sit.).”
I sat in front of a stage covered with a curtain. Another waitress shortly approached me with pen and paper out. She did not say anything. Not a greeting. No menu in hand. She waited.
I realized she, perhaps, came by to find out what drink I wanted. “中文 (Zhongwen-Chinese)？English?” I asked.
“中文,” she quickly replied.
I asked for water and some bread. No questions were asked. My broken Chinese ended up being sufficient, I think?
A few minutes later, the curtains opened. A Russian lady, outfitted in a red dress and some jewelry on her fingers, was revealed on stage. With a large smile, bright eyes, and one hand on her hip, she began to sing a slow rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. Never before had I been so impressed by a Michael Jackson rendition.
While her soothing sounds disseminated across the Russian furniture and Russian cuisine, Chinese families and friends watched with smiles and grins. The Russian waitresses were busy in the background handling large and small orders alike. I sat there trying to absorb the whole scene around me.
“I will come again,” I thought to myself. “And next time I hope to speak at least some broken Russian.”
The food came. Lamb and vegetables cooked in a tasty stew with a side of bread and, to my surprise, some free garlic toast.
I pointed it out to my waitress.
“为什么 (weishenme – why)？” I asked.
The waitress pointed to the Russian lady that greeted me at the door. Whatever I did, I did enough to make an impression worthy of free garlic toast made Russian style in Harbin, China.