• Alexandra Sieh / Colorado Daily

    I found this gorgeous lunch spot nestled in one of Beijing's glitziest malls.

  • Alexandra Sieh / Colorado Daily

    We feasted on a Thai spread, but there were no curry puffs on the premises.





Today, I share a cautionary tale, all about an unfortunate meltdown in a Thai restaurant.

Let’s call it the Curry Puffs Caper.


It all started with curry puffs.

Prior to running a few errands, Manfriend and I needed lunch. It was time for curries and Thai teas, and this spot was a gorgeous one, nestled in one of Beijing’s glitziest malls.

Things began simple enough. Hailing the waitress over, I asked the same question I’d asked dozens of times: “Does this have meat in it?” To which she stuttered something, called over a coworker, and repeated the question. (She was clearly new.) A third colleague arrived, too, as I re-inquired.

The verdict: “Don’t have.” (In Chinese, the phrase they used is extremely multi-purpose. And unfortunately, a few pronouns were left out here.)

I was thrilled — no meat, no problem! Curry puffs were eminent in my belly’s future.

But no, wait, people were shaking their heads. So I asked again, and again they said, “Don’t have.” Smiling, I was set to order. But then, Manfriend was shaking his head, too.

A long, confusing story cut short: There were no curry puffs. Whether they have meat is, to this moment, unknown. They didn’t have any puffs on the premises.

Hence the wait staff’s confusion as to why I kept saying, “Oh great!” with a big ol’ smile.

I’d misunderstood everything.

And as embarrassment settled in, I felt the tears.

I wish I could say my first reaction wasn’t one of a toddler, but this is one of my great insecurities abroad. After all the time and money spent on learning Chinese, it gutted me to be bested by curry puffs.

Could I really be so bad at this language?

Manfriend’s answer (while I pulled myself together): No. It wasn’t that at all. It was simply a matter of practice.

That interaction had him confused, too, at first.

“So how did he riddle it out?” you … definitely didn’t ask, because the answer is painfully obvious.

It’s because he talks to all sorts of people in all sorts of circumstances. There are a dozen ways to say things here, and he’d heard a lot of them before.

Manfriend had the practice.

Go figure that hopping from one English-speaking environment to another didn’t further my spoken Chinese skills. Who’d have thought you have to use a language to understand it?

I know, folks. Brand new information.

Now, I wish this story ended with a dramatic anecdote featuring me shocking the pants off all of you by negotiating some sort of business deal or handling a crisis with perfect poise and diction.

But that would be a load of crap.

It ends, instead, with a couple of promises.

The first: I will do my best to avoid unnecessary blubber fests in public spaces. (Especially over crispy appetizers.)

The second: I will get my ass out there and start talking. Step aside, Manfriend. This woman’s got it from here.

… Probably.

We’ll see.

Read more Sieh: coloradodaily.com/columnists. Stalk her: wildeyedandwandering.com.

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