Thursday was the start of Chinese New Year, so one of my colleagues Lisa, who’s Chinese-American, suggested that we got out and celebrate the year of the rabbit with dinner. It sounded like a good idea, so after work on Friday 7 of us found ourselves in a traditional Chinese restaurant. The tables and chairs made it look like a giant British greasy spoon, but it was full of Chinese people so it must have been a good place to eat.
The restaurant’s style was a kinda of “Cook it yourself buffet” which Lisa described to us as Chinese Fondue. It was a lot like the scene in Lost In Translation when they’re given some boiling water and raw meat for lunch. We were given 2 gas burners for the table and a pot for each one which was split in two to allow it to hold a spicy stock on one side and a non-spicy stock on the other. Once the stocks were simmering away we went to investigate the buffet. Most of the vegetables were easily recognisable, and they had some white fish, prawns and crab pieces, but the processed food was a little more difficult. I tried a strawberry ice cream coloured ball that was about the size of a chestnut, but it tasted like fish and had a really weird rubbery texture. After the rubber fish experience I decided to be a little less adventurous and stick to what I knew.
After we filled up our first set of plates we got cooking, which was a very social experience as there were 3 or 4 people around each pot trying to fish out something to eat. I tried cooking some pak choi on the spicy side and had to drink a whole glass of beer afterwards. Food in Paris is generally not spicy compared to in the UK, but this was a little too hot for me and much too hot for some of my French colleagues. The food prepared on the non-spicy side was good though, simple and apparently healthy. Preparing it was fun too, much more hands on than going to a regular restaurant.
Cooking our own food meant that we ate a lot slower than normal as the food wasn’t already prepared when it got to the table. We also spent a lot of time wandering around the buffet trying to decide what to eat, and once we had chosen and started cooking some things were cooked much more quickly than others. After a while it felt like we were slowly cooking too as all the gas burners in the restaurant were heating the place up, but for dessert there was a self service ice cream machine so that – along with the large bottles of Tsing Tao beer – helped cool us down again.
In total we spent around 3 hours at the restaurant which is a long time by normal restaurant standards, but Lisa was disappointed as there were supposed to be free karaoke rooms for the customers to use for Chinese New Year. Luckily (or so I though), they weren’t working but (unfortunately) the owner told us that there was a bar on the next street over that had karaoke rooms. And so began my Chinese karaoke night, and also my first ever karaoke night.
Most of the songs available were Chinese, but it was possible to select the language so that we could filter out anything that we didn’t understand. We tried choosing the US flag a few times until we realised that it was actually Malaysian. Oops! The English section had quite a lot of songs, most of them bad, but there were a few gems in there like National Express by the Divine Comedy which I hadn’t heard in years and had forgotten how funny it was. I particularly like the description of the hostess! I guess the person who transcribed the words didn’t know what Frisps were, so they were just crisps in the karaoke version.
Lisa gave us a rendition of one of her favourite Chinese songs before she went home, leaving 3 Frenchmen and me to drink more beer and try to find some songs that we actually liked and knew. A lot of the English songs were actually covers by Chinese bands, and this meant that they also didn’t have the the original videos. Many of them were videos featuring boy or girl bands covering classic songs, some of them with a different tune but the lyrics were generally the same. The video that really surprised me was a cover of Eric Clapton’s Tears In Heaven whose video had a scantily clad Chinese woman posing for the camera for the whole video. Not exactly respecting the theme of the song…
Eventually we ran out of songs that we recognised and called it a day, or night, at 1:30am. I took the Métro home after midnight for the first time, and it was fine. No very drunk people, no aggressive people, just people going home after a good night out which was nice to see. On the way home I tried to find anything on my iPod that would wipe the karaoke tunes from my mind. I didn’t succeed, but I came pretty close, however I still woke up with Love Is All Around in my head on Saturday morning.