Happy Accidents


Noah S. is currently a senior at SYA China and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. He comes to SYA from Robert Louis Stevenson School in California.

I’m really bad at ordering food. On multiple occasions, I have caused a storm of plates to arrive at my table, one after the next. Each time the plate comes, it screams out to me looking delicious, but also guilty for laying itself in my presence. During SYA China’s trip to Shanxi province in early November, two of such instances occurred. 

After arriving in the old city of 平遥 (Pingyao) the day before, the group was assigned to venture throughout the old city in smaller groups for the majority of the day. I, along with a fellow SYA peer, strolled through the narrow, dirty alleys of Pingyao. We arrived at a restaurant where a man ushered us in and set us a seat. A large menu was passed to me. I was given the responsibility to order a meal for the two of us. After ordering a Pingyao fried noodle specialty, the waitress asked a few questions to which I said 对 (yes). 

About ten minutes passed when the plate came. It looked great. I hadn’t messed up yet. A few minutes later another plate came. I thought, “Oh, this must be that other thing the waitress asked about. Okay. Sure?” Soon, a giant hotpot bowl exited the kitchens as two waitresses carried the bowl like an emperor’s litter. They set it down on the table and smiled as they saw the looks on our faces. The only thing we could do was eat it. After around an hour of simply eating and talking, almost all of it was gone. We held pride in our stomach capacities reaching their maximums. The waitresses were completely surprised. Often, customers would order huge sums of food, yet leave without touching entire halves of plates. They laughed together and we traded a few words over the bill being paid. On the way out, I asked my peer “Are you full?” To which she responded, “No you didn’t order enough.” Feeling accomplished of her sarcasm, she smiled.

Restaurant etiquette in China is something I am still learning, but from my experiences over the past two months I believe I have come a far way. Mistakes much like the one I explained above create learning experiences. Through accidentally ordering double the amount of food needed, I enjoyed an intangible profit of experiential learning. I successfully deepened my grasp of China through its food. If you ever find yourself in a restaurant ordering, don’t be afraid to order too much. There’s always room for learning. 

Like Bob Ross once said, “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.” 

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