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sangria ... of course

I have two tests on Tuesday and neither course features a textbook that's any fun to read. So instead I'm going to share a story from 25 January. The problem with having been so busy at the end of last month is that it's hard to catch up with everything now that I do have the extra time to spare. The main event of the evening was a birthday party being held for Derek that involved a dinner at a Peruvian restaurant in Moscow named Sangria. Derek spent 18 months in Peru at the end of high school so it seemed like a fitting place for everyone to meet.

While making a list of people to invite Violet suggested that I call Wendy to see if she'd like to go, and after she agreed to join us our total list of guests was completed at nine. With so many people going at once we were forced to sit at two different tables, and the final breakdown saw Derek, his brother Wendell, Victoria, and John Kim (an international student from Korea living with Derek and Wendell) sitting at a booth along the wall while Violet, her high-school friend Katie, and Tsukasa sat across from Wendy and myself on the other side of the aisle. The restaurant's specialty is - no surprise - sangria and we ordered one carafe per table to go with our appetizers. The collection of strawberries, pineapples, oranges, and grapes was accented with pineapple leaves and brought to mind a quote from the movie Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels -- "You could fall in love with an orangutan in there."

I had volunteered to be the designated driver and didn't pour myself any of the sangria, but Wendy decided to try some on what we later found out was an empty stomach. During the small-talk that took place at our table she was introduced to everyone present and we quickly got involved in a conversation relating to language. Despite growing up in Hong Kong and learning Cantonese as a first language both Violet and Katie stayed with a Taiwanese host mother when they came to the United States and picked up a few words of Mandarin in the process, while Wendy had learned some Japanese after graduating from high school which she used with Tsukasa. This, however, brought up an interesting story concerning how Wendy came to know Japanese in the first place ...

When asked about it Wendy replied that while she was in high school her uncle was the head of a number of businesses in Beijing that were trying to establish a trade relationship with a similar group in Japan. After so many months of negotiations and meetings the head of the Japanese consortium mentioned to Wendy's uncle that his son (in Japan) had developed a romantic interest in Wendy. As a result, she flew out to Japan to spend time with him and he also came to China to be with her; there was even the hint of marriage in the air. Wendy was 19 at the time, and while I don't remember the details (or they were never shared in the first place) the marriage never materialized as expected. It makes me wonder if they were in love and something got in the way, or if maybe the affection was one-sided rather than shared between them both - but again this is a subject that's a little awkward to bring up from out of nowhere.

We continued talking as our food arrived and Violet had to ask for a second meal because her initial order included fava beans - an allergy of hers - that weren't mentioned in the menu. Tsukasa decided not to finish her sangria and, under pressure from Katie and Violet, it was given to me instead. Wendy reprimanded me for using Tsukasa's glass rather than my own and added that I should pour myself what was left in the carafe to finish it off. After taking a few sips I started talking to John across the aisle before some giggling from our table drew my attention back to what was happening within our own group. I later found out that Wendy had stolen a strawberry from out of my glass earlier without my noticing, which was what had brought on the humorous response from everyone else at the table. A few minutes after that I heard Wendy comment on how I was drinking my sangria rather slowly, so to escape further chastising I proceeded to down what was left in my glass. This brought an even louder round of giggling from the girls at the table as, unknown to me, Wendy had managed to sneak something else past my attention. This time however it was a small bowl of vinegar that she'd poured into my sangria -- and which I hadn't even tasted in my haste to get through the remaining half of my drink. Perhaps not surprisingly I was then teased for not paying more attention to her, since Wendy was my guest for the evening. Fortunately, it was all in good fun ... until my stomach started to ache a few hours later. Oh well.

Overall it was the perfect way to spend the evening - surrounded by good friends - and it was great to hear Tsukasa and Katie comment on how much they enjoyed spending time with Wendy. It was also entertaining to hear them try to guess Wendy's age after she left for home. They both thought she was 27, while Wendell suggested 24 when asked for his opinion. Considering most of the students here, both international and American, have thought my own age to be 20 or 21 there might be a natural tendency to round ages down to match the statistical mode of the student population when it comes to those of us over the 22 divide.