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2005-12-10 - 8:28 p.m.

..."Chi Buffe "...

Oh my goodness, how I wish that K had been with me this evening. My adorable little landlords just exposed me to the strangest, strangest culinary experience. Reiko woke me up at 7am this morning to invite me to dinner with her, her husband Ralph, her sister, and brother-in-law Stanley. They have been trying to get me to go with them to dinner for so long, that in a sleepy haze I said yes.

The restaurant was called "China Buffet" except that some of the neon lights were out and so it was "Chi Buffe " to the uninitiated.

We went in to a place that looked like an old Greek diner that took a boat to China. The lights in the ceiling were made out of spiralling faux crystal chandeliers. Framing the ceiling (and therefore also the faux crystal lamps), in the shape of a square, was a bright green neon lamp, set up to offset the neon pink lights that framed every window. The decor was typical Chinese restaurant - oil paintings of tigers and waterfalls and dragons...We sat down at our cafeteria table which was surrounded on two sides by a wall, and glass etched with pictures of bamboo. Next to the ladies room was a party room - full of silver and green shiny paper hanging from the ceiling, and people there to celebrate some birthday or anniversary or something...Truthfully, I had not been in a room like this since I visited Nanjing in 2000. It was so authentic, and yet at the same time, not.

Back in the main room, the green neon lamp lit up the EIGHT cafeteria-style buffet tables - the kind with glass on the top to keep tall people from sneezing in the food (we short people just knock the tops of heads on the glass) - full of the strangest mix of food.

At the first table there was an attempt to cater to folks not "into" chinese food, and it truly reminded me EXACTLY of what the hotel restaurants in China tried to serve up as 'western food'. Cocktail wieners wrapped in cornbread, french fries, roast beef, paella. There was a salad table with fruit, iceberg lettuce, and a mix of greek salads (old tomatoes and cucumbers in sweet vinegar sauce - a GErman mensa visitor would have felt right at home). There was a soup and dumpling table, and a seafood table. And just an abundance of the weirdest mixes of foods I've seen.

I started off with the worst raw oyster I've ever been forced to swallow in my life, and I am hoping that I don't die from it. Most of the food was typical fastfood chinese restaurant fare - chicken and duck lacquered in red sugar sauces. There was one table of desserts - rice pudding, chocolate pudding, three types of jello, five different types of cake, sugar cookies, and of course what would the dessert table be without sushi rolls (I'm not kidding!).

Luckily there was a batch of edible food: whole crabs, steamed green beans, and mustard greens...But my god what a totally strange evening. I've never seen a place like this before in my life. And I sincerely doubt that I'll ever go back, and so I'm rather sorry that K missed it, because he would have been as awestruck as I was! He would have appreciated it as much as I did.

And the clientele was equally weird. A couple of Chinese Americans, and lots of overweight white people. I felt like I was on a movie set.

Well, I don't mean to be rude about it. My landlords are sweet sweet people. They went out of their way to treat me to dinner, and truthfully I had a great time.

Came home and decorated my beautiful HUGE Christmas tree. I love my Christmas tree. And so far the cats haven't discovered the 7-ft-tall scratching post in the living room covered with great cat toys....

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