Friday, 18 September 2009

Our Chinese neighbour

came in with bread yesterday. Robert gets large quantities of leftover bread given to him. They come from the owner of the bakery. The bread is almost always square, white, squashy and tasteless. We accept it politely and I pass it on to the local retired vet. She uses it to feed hungry animals. I suspect our neighbour knows this but we maintain the fiction because what he really wants to do is chat with my father.
So, I accepted the bread, told Robert that my father was in the back garden planting the rhubarb and left them to it. Later my father came in and said, "He didn't know what rhubarb was. He wanted to know if you could eat it, whether you ate the leaves. I have told him if this lot grows then you will cook some for him to try."
I will do it but I doubt our neighbour will like it. His diet is very different from ours. They eat rice every day next door. His wife shops in the Chinese supermarket in our Central Market. Helen, as she calls herself in English, can talk to the staff there. Coming to Australia late in life and trying to learn English is not merely difficult, it is almost impossible. She is not happy here. I try to communicate but she prefers to use Chinese. I can only say "How are you?" and read a few characters. We smile and gesture and, sadly, leave it at that. I wonder if she would be happier being called by her Chinese name but her husband insists on Helen.
Helen taught Classical Chinese Literature in Taiwan. I think her interests are more academic than practical, although she does occasionally do a bit of gardening - usually after a trip back to Taiwan. The weeds will have grown again because Robert does not garden. Gardening is foreign to him. He grew up in a flat. There was no garden.
Helen cooks Chinese style. I do not think she is a particularly good cook. Robert complains. They eat a great deal of rice, pork and chicken. If they have a second course it seems to be a very sweet, sticky 'cake' wrapped in cellophane which comes from the Chinese supermarket. We were offered some the day we were invited in for afternoon tea. There were tinned lychees in syrup to go with it. The tea was made with hot water from a thermos.
My own Chinese friends prefer plain, not too sweet shortbread. I know. When I gave one of them the recipe it was passed around her group and on to others.
When Helen goes back to Taiwan, as she does each year, the recycling bin fills with empty pizza containers, with cartons from Kentucky Fried and Hungry Jack's. I wonder what Robert will make of rhubarb.

1 comment:

Rachel Fenton said...

I know a couple called Bob and Helen! They are not Chinese but they could be.