There’s nothing like a good Chinese meal on a cold damp winter evening.
Twenty years ago I partook in this dinner out in the Jiangsu countryside with my friends the Chens and their extended family.
Mr. Chen’s father is the gentleman facing my camera, wearing the furry hat and blue padded jacket. We spent the afternoon and evening in his house.
Here were are eating in Old Chen’s living room, dining room, and family room all rolled into one. It’s brightly decorated with red posters of couplets celebrating the new year.
That little wooden hutch was a place to keep leftovers. During the hot months, the screens in the hutch prevented flies from contaminating the food. Old Chen didn’t own a refrigerator, but that wasn’t an issue when the temperature indoors remained in the low 40s Fahrenheit.
At one point during dinner, I asked Mrs. Chen if she could point me in the direction of the bathroom. Mentally preparing to pull down my three layers of pants (jeans, knitted long underwear, and silk long underwear), I choked on hot green tea when she told me Old Chen didn’t have a bathroom.
“Just go outside, but be careful,” she said. “It’s dark out there.”
I stopped drinking tea for the night, even though it was the only way I could stay warm after we finished dinner. I didn’t want to make another trip outside in the dark if I could help it.