I have never been so thankful for noodles.
I lift some lamb into my mouth and look at the smiling people around me. It is the end of a local festival. There are ten of us in total sitting in the closed noodle-shop; the women on one side, the men on the other. It is a feast of good food, kindness, and opportunity for George and I to get to know an entirely new people group.
‘What do you recommend we do with our free time?’ One lady asks me across the table. She is speaking in Putonghua (Mandarin Chinese), translating from their usual language, Salaryu. Another kindness. I remember that this is a rare day off in their usual seven day working week, so I suggest that they go to the wen quan, the hot springs. But it is met with a spread of sweet laughter.
Of course, they wash at home, I blush. It is another reminder that I am a newcomer in the midst of a people group I know hardly anything about.
I think back to the moments that got us here, from the moment that we first walked into the noodle place because it just happened to be the nearest to George’s office. We had befriended the youngest member of the family first: an adorable three-year-old boy with slight cerebral palsy. We ended up coming almost every day to play with him or read him a story. And from there, George had met the grandfather and I had met the women, who were initially reserved but incredibly sweet.
Within a few weeks, we had the beginnings of a great friendship with these new people. And now here we are, eating together.
All because of noodles.
I feel a tug on my top and our three-year-old friend beams up at me. In his hands is the bubble machine I had just given him.
‘Would you like me to show you how to use it?’ I say. His mother translates for me, and he nods, his hair falling over his eyes. I take it from him.
Soon we are all watching the glassy bubbles soar from his hands and fill the room. I catch George’s eye and smile. I know we are thinking the same thing. That there are some things that go beyond language and culture that bind people together. Things like bubbles, and things like noodles.