The Noodle Joint

Just outside of the gate of the apartments where I teach was a noodle joint.

At least three days a week for the last 18 months, I have gone to this noodle restaurant. I have ordered a bowl of tomato and egg noodles from the manager, a pretty and alacritous women who spat words like they were a snare drum solo and slung noodles almost as fast. I have sometimes ordered a bowl of tofu soup, too.

I have learned how to order noodles, how to order soup, how to ask for them to go, how to ask what else they’ve got but never order it. I have learned how to have a conversation in Chinese.

I have seen the price of a bowl of tomato and egg noodles go from 10 to 11 yuan. I have quit having to actually order, smiled and said thank you, and just handed over the money, again and again and again. I have become a regular.

I have sat at one of the four plastic stools that surrounded each of the 20-odd wooden tables that ran down the sides of its long and narrow interior, shivering far from the closed doors in winter and sweating next to them in summer.

I have pulled the brown plastic chopsticks from the metal can on the table. I have used them to mix, then eat my sticky, chewy, gravy-slathered noodles. I have struggled to learn how to eat noodles with chopsticks, and I have forgotten how hard it used to be. I have shaken my head at the noodle juice splattered on my sweater. I have picked up the bowl with two hands and slurped down the last bit of cooling tomato slurry sprinkled with cilantro leaves and chives. I have watched myself do this in the half-length mirror that ran down the left side of the plain white walls.

I have listened to the Chinese customers bicker and spit and cry and joke and lecture and laugh and live.

I have studied Chinese characters during my lunch and dinner breaks with the spring-blue sky and the pink plum blossoms waiting outside. I chatted with friends about Beijing while hiding from the dark and smoggy night. I have sat with Jordyn when she was a fellow teacher and sat alone when she wasn’t anymore.

I have read a book and tried to take a deep breath on days when teaching threatened to overwhelm me, or when my relationships got rocky, or when it was just hard to be in China and I wanted to be home.

And now without even a prior hint, I have seen the interior go dark, the voices quiet, the pretty manager disappear, and the tables and stools and chopsticks and cans and half-lengthen mirror ripped out and tossed to the curb.

Eighteen months. One more change. But sometimes a noodle joint is more than a noodle joint.

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