I had a rather dull week. One coworker was traveling in Beijing for work, and another was away for her annual leave. My roommate worked late almost every night. Going out to restaurants and trying new food loses some of its appeal when you are alone, and I am ashamed to admit that this week my dietary routine sank far below boredom and into downright monotony.

Breakfast every day was 包子 bāozi (steamed buns) at the little place around the corner where the shopkeeper sits all day long buried in towers of bamboo steamers, sweat streaming down her face. I have now tried a total of four flavors: pork, green vegetable, spicy tofu, and red bean paste. For lunch, some bored and lazy part of me must have reverted back to elementary school, because I found myself reaching for yogurt, bananas, and peanut butter sandwiches. Yes, that’s right, crunchy Skippy on flimsy “whole wheat” Chinese bread. I am embarrassed to admit in front of the entire Internet that after just one week, my spoon has scraped the bottom of the peanut butter jar—and I don’t mean one of those little mini jars either. Dinners this week were usually homemade, and consisted of various tasteless combinations of cabbage, tomatoes, eggs, and rice, followed by Nutella on more Chinese bread for dessert. Okay, okay, I’m ashamed!

But what’s even worse is what I did in between meals. I should start by saying that yesterday and today, I have actually been working very hard. An unexpected change in personnel has left my boss with a whole batch of brand new students, which means that my workload has effectively doubled. But in the beginning of the week, I was sitting all alone in the office with almost nothing to do at all. If I had left the building and gone on a 48-hour drinking bender, nobody would have ever known. Believe me, I considered it—well, maybe not the drinking, but I did consider escaping through the parking garage and into the underground labyrinth of shops and restaurants buried beneath my office building, to spend the day drinking bubble tea and trying on cheap headbands with cat ears.

But my sense of responsibility (or maybe it was my laziness) got the better of me in the end, and I stayed in the office. What did I do? First, I watched American Horror Story on Netflix—a jolly good time for someone all alone in an office, who must climb six flights of pitch black crumbling stairs to get home at night. Don’t worry though; the show is more about fun horror than true under-the-skin perversion.

When I finished the first season, I decided to move on to a slightly more productive activity: reading the Chinese translation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The Chinese title is 哈里坡特与魔法石,which literally means “Harry Potter and the Magic Stone.” I think some of the magic was lost in translation, to be honest. Although I am only a couple of chapters into the book—I still need to look up a good quarter of the words I read—I can tell that some of J.K. Rowling’s genius has been sheared off, filled in, and smoothed over. Instead of He Who Must Not Be Named, the arch-villain Voldemort is referred to as 神秘人: Mysterious Person. Sirius Black is translated literally as 小天狼星布莱克 “Sirius [star] Bùláikè”, and Albus Dumbledore has become the unwieldy 阿不思•邓布利多 Ābùsī Dèngbùlìduō. I think it would be interesting to do a back-translation into English; it might belong to the same category of literature as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

So now, the week is over. I am officially sick of peanut butter. I am officially sick of home-boiled cabbage. I’m not sick of bāozi yet, because bāozi are amazing, but still—I’m ready for a little excitement, and I think I’m in luck. Last night at an expat meet-up event, I met a Chinese girl named Jessica and we planned to do an informal language exchange. She promised to show me the strangest, scariest, and most delicious delicacies she has ever eaten in Nanjing. I am planning to meet up with her this weekend, and I hope by next week I will have more stories to tell.

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