Sunday, December 4, 2011

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner

This is EXACTLY how I feel when my in-laws come over but they seem more than a little overjoyed to have us in their hovel of a home.

During the week, when I get home from work, all I want to do is enjoy my time with Raelynn. After dealing with screaming Korean kindergarteners all day, nothing brings me greater pleasure than to hold my favorite person in my arms. And of course, I am always more than delighted to see my handsome husband too, if he's home when I get home. The person I don't want to see is MIL with her two long and winding silver chin hairs, in an obvious competition to see which can reach the floor first before she finally figures out that no woman has to live with unwanted facial hair and gnaws them off with her old rat-like false teeth. Yes, I am happiest when my husband gets there first and sends her back to her home of improperly stored food stuffs so that he and Raelynn are all I see and hear when I walk through the door. I treasure my MIL-free weekends and late afternoons/evenings as dearly as my most expensive family heirlooms. But something has recently tarnished these special times for me.

Lane had told me that now that his parents have moved to their other property close by our home (about a 10-minute walk), he would like for us to go to their home one night each week for dinner. I looked up at him incredulously. He promised it would never be during the weekend. Still, I sat there feeling betrayed. His sow of a mother gets to spend all day with my adorable daughter and now I must forfeit another evening of my free time to allow this woman to spend MORE time with my baby?!? AND we have to go to their crusty-ass house and eat things SHE cooks? Gag.

But it was important to Lane. I love my husband very much. He makes so many sacrifices for me to make me happy. I have to compromise too, don't I? Sigh. "Will this make YOU happy?" I ask him because you know I totally don't care if MIL is happy. At. All. "Yes, it will make me very happy," Lane says and I let out a loud, defeated sigh. What can I say except for yes?

So, on Wednesday, a particularly cold and windy day, we bundle up the baby and make our way through the insanely busy intersection at Harbin Road and up the outdoor market street (which I like to call "Chou Lu" which translates to "Smell Road" because it totally reeks of fish guts, rotting vegetables, urine of the feline and canine variety, urine of the human variety, fecal matter of every variety and the stench of garbage in general). If we'd kept walking straight, we'd soon wind up in a nice neighborhood with a clean and civilized shopping mall complete with Starbucks and an adjacent swanky Le Meridien hotel. But we didn't. We turned somewhere in the midst of the vegetable kiosks and weaved our way around apartment buildings that looked even grittier than ours. And just like ours of course, no elevator. Up 5 flights we climbed as the smells of dinner from each apartment we passed swirled into the hallway.

My FIL greeted us boisterously at the door. He's not so bad though I don't like him very much lately after how he's been treating my husband. According to Lane, he's also kind of a dick to MIL too which is upsetting to hear. I can't stand her but it doesn't mean I want anything bad to happen to her. Or him for that matter. All I wish is that Lane, Raelynn and I lived VERY far away from them and only had to see them 2 days out of every year, if that. That would be paradise. Funny how my idea of paradise has shifted from soaking in the sun on a sparkling white sand beach with endless rum runners to not being in the same geographical region as my in-laws. Anyway, as we enter I look around at this property and I thank God that this was not the home they gave us to live in. I'll try to discreetly take photos next time but let's just say that even they deserve a home with a better bathroom than this place. The one and only bathroom has a door that is more like the kind you'd find on a stall in a biker bar bathroom. Actually, it's more like an indoor outhouse, if such an oxymoron exists. The toilet has a bucket of fresh water with a large plastic ladle next to it. If I hadn't lived in China this long, I would not know that this was to use to flush the toilet. Even worse is the sink. There is a large bucket underneath it to catch the water that runs down the drain. That's right. No pipes out. It is one step above MIL's sister's bathroom which I wouldn't have used if I weren't pregnant at the time we were forced to visit her home.

MIL starts bringing out plates of food and gestures for us to sit down while FIL busies himself opening the bottles of Tsingtao beer we've brought along to share. It's at this time that my husband urges me to let his mother hold Raelynn. "But she held her ALL day," I plead. Lane begs me and I, frowning noticeably, hand Raelynn over to MIL who has at least just washed her hands in our presence. Lane insists it's just so I can eat with my hands free. I want to scream but instead, I force a smile and attempt to be gracious about the food that's been served.

If you've read my blog before, you know MIL can't cook worth a damn. She makes about 5 decent dishes. The rest are over-salted and absolutely disgusting. I was pleased to see the old gal had tried something new. She'd whipped up some dish that was quite similar to the Thailand's famed Pad Thai. She also made one of her 5 decent dishes, her steamed whole fish in sauce. The other 3 items were questionable: some weird potato and noodle dish that was far too salty for me; a chicken and pepper dish which I steered clear of due in large part to how peppers tend to cause me great gastrointestinal pain ever since the onset of my mid-30s; and a plate of small conch-like creature in a vinegar and ginger sauce. I didn't want to eat the last dish, not because I don't like seafood, but because when not properly handled or stored, it can give you the runs. Knowing that someone with absolutely no sense on how to correctly handle and store such a food stuff was serving this, I tried to politely refuse it but my husband made me eat it, insisting it was safe.

Meanwhile, MIL had my baby and try as I might to eat more quickly, I kept getting thrown more food or FIL would make an attempt to speak some English to me. Like clockwork, someone knocked on the door. MIL ran up to it like a desperate girl waiting for her hired prom date, with my daughter in her arms. It was a neighbor "returning" a tupperware. Oh sure. Hannibal Lechter would have referred to this as ham-handed in the worst way. It was beyond obvious this woman had come over to gawk at my baby. And MIL held onto her like she was HER baby. She is a horrible braggart. Honestly, she's got balls. As if this wasn't diarrhea-inducing on its own, BOTH Lane and I wound up with the runs from her stupid shellfish dish, thankfully long after we'd returned to our home with a functioning bathroom.

This week, we'll have to go back again. As you may have guessed, I'm not looking forward to this newly developing weekly ritual. I am not going to eat. I'm going to PRETEND to eat. And I'm going to find as kind a way as I can to say in Chinese, "Thanks but I'll be holding my baby now since you have spent enough time with her today," instead of telling her to stand in front of an oncoming bus. Or pushing her in front of one. I'm more inclined to say something of the sort but for my husband's and Raelynn's sake, and so I don't piss off Santa Claus, I'll do my best to be nice.

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