13 October 2005

The Garden Kitchen and Adventures with Crazy Man

To start off, a little context. I teach until 6:30 every weeknight and I've picked up a routine to occupy my evenings. Monday night I take Chinese lessons at the house of a friend. Tuesday, the team has bible study together. Wednesday, more Chinese in a group of foreign teachers, taught by some national teachers at Concordia Middle School (Heretofore referred to as CMS). Friday nights, the springboard for a lot of our work here: Friday Night Bible Study, or FNBS. Held at Salvaiton Lutheran Church in ChiaYi, it hosts Christians, seekers and random invitees for praise songs and bible study in three different levels of English proficiency. But this entry was supposed to be about something different.

All this leaves Thursday nights in the hands of my fancy. Last night, this meant furthering my efforts toward becoming a regular at my favorite restaurant, the Garden Kitchen. By the grace of God, it's within easy riding distance from the Practice Hotel. However with the waning health of the majority of our bicycles, one can't expect a trip without incident. Sure enough, about 50 meters from my destination, I derailed the chain of the bike known as Crazy Man (mostly because that's what the decal on the side says) and the pedals stuck fast. I decided to leave it in front of the restaurant and deal with it later.

What makes the Garden Kitchen so appealing other than proximity, you ask? I myself find it trying to give just one answer. For one, the owners of the Garden Kitchen seem to be the only ones in all of ChiaYi County with a gift for creating an aesthetic casual dining atmosphere. One can look out the glass walls at the thriving layers of green in trees, palms, potted plants, vines and mosses all nestled in a homey garden. One can even sit outside in said garden and enjoy the sounds of the little waterfall, so the restaurant is exactly what it says. Though this was the first appeal for me, others now rival it.

The wait staff, whose names I don't even know yet, always give a warm and charming welcome. I know they recognize me and make every effort for accommodation, sometimes to the point of comedy. Anyway it's apparent that they appreciate patronage of all the foreign teachers, and they're always endearingly curious about us. Last time I went with Anna Banana and when the waitress served her a honey waffle, she had written "HONEY" on top with the whipped cream. Then, from the counter, they all watched her reaction to the "hidden message".

They're also delighted that we're trying to learn Chinese. Last night when I was there with my workbooks, the waiter told me that he could help me with any questions--and made good when I asked him how to phonetically write the name of the restaurant.

He also asked why I had decided to come to Taiwan, so I told him the standard answer--teach English, talk to people about Jesus. I did not get a chance to talk gospel last night. That's why I want to be a regular.

Finally, the menu is dynamite. Last night, I ordered the swordfish and the hot tangerine tea, and I didn't know exactly what to expect. The tea was bright, opaque yellow, and in the steeper were three miniature, peeled tangerines! I think it was the cutest drink I've ever drank.

By the time I finished my pot of tea, I had learned enough to write "Garden Kitchen is my favorite" in the chinese phonetic alphabet (BoPoMoFo--don't laugh) and leave the note on the table. As I was positioning Crazy Man's kickstand outside the gate, I could see the waitress collect the note, and after puzzling over it a little she looked up and smiled at me.

Crazy Man gave me problems all the way home, but I wasn't bothered. First I had to stop near a taxi stand, where there was light, and try to put the chain back on the cogs. Lucky that it's a loose chain, so it was possible, but I kept slipping up until one of the cabbies approached and pointed out the bike shop across the street. I tried to assemble the words along with some gestures to let him know that I didn't have money*, but ended up just blurting in German, "Ich habe kein Geld!" A foreign language is a foreign languag, right? Somehow I got the point across and he held the back wheel of the bike up off the ground so I could get the chain working again.

I repeated this process once more, alone, in the dark, on the 5-minute ride home. During this encounter I noted, additionally, that the space between cogs and chains is no place for fingers, and Crazy Man's kickstand wasn't worth a bean after all. Didn't bother me, though. Really didn't bother me. As long as I had the Garden Kitchen, all was right in the world.

*This wasn't really true, Mom and Dad, I just didn't want to pay for something that I knew I could do myself, even if awkwardly.