Jack and I ventured off to Luyi’s apartment on Thursday night with Junior to enjoy an evening of East Asian cuisine. I took up the task of making spring rolls from scratch (as Luyi says no one in China ever makes them; they buy them so they don’t have to) and Luyi made two types of chicken wings.
Junior was unfamiliar with the art of spring roll making, as he says spring rolls are more of a Chinese item than Thai, although they have them in his country. Nevertheless, he was keen on learning a new skill, as were Jack and Luyi, and yet again the white girl taught the Asians how to make something not even native to her own continent.
Junior was horrendous at it. Just like our dumpling making two weeks ago, he was sloppy and rushed with his rolling. Luyi and Jack, on the other hand, did well and we ended up making twenty for the evening.
I tweaked a recipe I had found, like I usually do, and made a filling of minced chicken (or as minced as it could get by whacking it repeatedly with a butcher knife), carrots, garlic, green onions, soy sauce and ginger. I left Junior to do the frying, as I figured he could at least manage that.
He always seems to prove me wrong.
Junior spent the majority of the time screaming and jumping back as he dropped the spring rolls in oil, at one point grabbing and holding onto the plastic bag on the ledge of the counter for what I could only assume to be a way of coping with the stress and/or fear of frying something two inches long.
Nonetheless, he eventually got the hang of it and it turned out okay only after burning a few.
I brought Thai sweet chili sauce for dipping, as that’s what I grew up with when having two Filipino best friends whose mothers would fry up egg rolls every weekend. Junior was appreciative because he loves the stuff as much as I do.
Luyi made Korean wings, basically chicken smothered in gochujang or a Korean fermented red chili paste, and another type of wing served with potatoes and rehydrated mushrooms from a recipe from her grandmother that she refuses to give me. All I know is the chicken starts out marinated in soy sauce and you cook it in oil until ‘dry.’ I wish I would’ve paid attention to how she made it but I was busy chaperoning Junior.
The best part about the night was that her flatmates are Taiwanese (plus Nasser who’s Lebanese) and they don’t own any forks, so the utensil of choice (by default) was chopsticks. Luckily everyone eating that night was experienced chopstick users so there was no issue with eating. However, I know a few people back home who probably would’ve starved to death or just eaten with their hands if faced with having to eat a meal with chopsticks.
We spent the night laughing and singing and discussing our plans for the next day when we would be going to Jerash. Jack and I left around 10:30 and I spent the rest of the night in Anfas’ room where he sang to me in his native tongue of Sinhala.
The next morning Jack and I met Tiziana and Asmeret, our Italian and Ethiopian classmates who double as nuns, who would be joining us on our excursion to Jerash for the day. Junior and Luyi pulled up in a taxi, Tiziana hailed a second one, we all hopped in and were on our way to the north station.
As soon as we pulled up a man started yelling “Jerash! Jerash! Yala!” but we noticed that the bus looked full. Jack said “Sitta?” which means ‘six,’ asking if there were six seats available. Urgently, the man responded “Aywa, aywa, sitta” which is ammiya for “yes, yes, six” and herded us onto the bus.
We had a slight predicament, though, that almost had me commit a big cultural no-no.
When boarding I’d noticed that the only seats available were by men. Speaking for Jordan, although it probably applies elsewhere in the Middle East, women are not supposed to sit next to men unless they’re related or if you’re left with no other choice but to sit there. Even then, men will stand before they have to sit next to an unrelated woman.
Jack and Junior had already sat down and luckily remembered how this culture works and quickly got up and rearranged our seats to where Luyi and Tiziana were together in a seat, Asmeret and I were in the back of the bus in a row separated from the man at the end of the row by Junior, and Jack ended up further up front in a seat next to a stranger. Thirty seconds later we were on our way.
For some reason we seemed to stand out a lot more on this bus than on our previous experiences on minibuses. The man at the very front of the bus spent the majority of the ride staring at me and Jack and the man at the end of our row stared at Junior, Luyi and I as we conversed in English, turning his head to each of us every time one of us spoke like he was involved in the conversation.
Regardless, an hour later we arrived and were dropped off in Jerash in the middle of the street.
Some man standing outside of his car yelled “Jerash! This way!” pointing us tourists where we needed to go. However, all we had to do was turn around and we were right where we were headed.
On our walk to the Roman ruins we were visiting for the day, we came upon grass.
You wouldn’t think grass would be such a big deal but when you don’t see grass in this country unless it’s dead or fake, you become really intrigued when you come across it.
We were all yelling “Is it real?!” to which Jack went to investigate. He went up, touched it and ran back saying, “Guys! The grass is real! It’s really real!” All I could do was laugh at the fact that something as minute and insignificant as green grass was enough to having us running around a park in Jerash, Jordan, yelling as the locals stared at us.
With the whole grass thing out of our systems, we made our way to the entrance of the ruins, paid the entrance fee and we were on our way.
I don’t really care much for the historical significance of the places we go to. I really just enjoy that I can climb all over history and no one tells me to get down or get my hands off of something. Like previous places I’ve been, this trip was no different and we did a lot of climbing.
Attempting to take a photo of the Arch of Hadrian, Luyi thought it was appropriate to throw herself in the frame.
Walking through the Arch, we were taken back in history — to 130 AD, to be precise.
We wandered around for a bit before we wandered into the hippodrome where chariot races were held. The practice is not lost, though, and there are recreations of the chariot races every Friday at 11am. It was 10JD to watch, though, so I skipped out on that.
We made our way into the stands, pretending to be ancient Roman spectators. Jack had something else in mind. He preferred to act as the dude from the movie Gladiator who decides who will be put to death in gladiator fights.
When in the stands, some little Jordanian kid came up to us with a box full of gum hoping to get some money from us. However, he dropped a piece in Luyi’s lap and said “gift” and walked away. This is usually used as a guilt trip strategy so the person receiving it will feel bad and give the kid money. It didn’t work, though. Luyi ate the guilt gum and we carried on.
I have no idea how spectators of such events could ever get out of the stadium. When getting down from the stands, we had to go down a staircase that was not even two feet wide. To put that into perspective, if 1,000 people filled the stands to watch chariot races back in the day and the event ended, it would probably take an hour to get everyone out.
To go further than the initial sites, we had to pass our ticket on to the police. One of them took my ticket, looked at me and said “Where you from?” As an American, I’m a little reluctant to say where I’m from just from the stigma that comes with the name in the Middle East. Hesitating, I said “America.”
He said, “The US?”
“Yes,” I said.
“The United States?” he said.
“Yep,” I replied.
With a brief pause, he smiled and said, “One thousand welcomes” and sent me on my way.
Confused and frankly dumbfounded, I scurried off to my friends and said “Oh my God, they’re gonna shoot me.”
Equally confused, Luyi and Junior asked why. I told them what I had just experienced and they were surprised. “What the heck. I didn’t get “one thousand welcomes” when they took my ticket,” they said. Jack chimed in and said that although it was interesting that I’d been told such a thing, Americans are surprisingly more well received in Jordan than one would think. Regardless, receiving one thousand welcomes from a police officer was interesting.
After the whole ticket thing, we made our way further into the ancient city, wandering into the Oval Forum.
All of a sudden Mustafa, the taxi driver from Jerash who took us to the Dead Sea last week, popped up. Turns out Luyi had been texting him back in the chariot stadium and he said he’d be down in 10 minutes to spend the day with us. She thought he was joking until he actually showed up. Turns out he lives about a two minute walk from the ruins. How convenient.
The gum boy emerged and approached Mustafa, now a fresh face in our group. Shoving the gum box in his face, Mustafa simply looked down at the boy and said “Kayfal hal” (what’s up) and smirked. The boy just smiled, looked at up at him, handed him a piece of gum, walked away and we carried on in our conversation.
He told us that the Oval Forum is used each summer for the location of the Jerash festival, filled up with little shops, food stalls and live music. Jordanians know how to party, ancient Roman-style.
We started walking when all of a sudden Mustafa said he had to show us something. “Hopefully the cops aren’t there,” he said as he lead us up a hidden stairwell. Twenty steps later up a steep Roman staircase, we emerged through a teeny tiny opening in some rocks about 30 feet off the ground to a view of the whole Oval Forum and a panorama of the city of Jerash.
How we managed to squeeze seven of us up on some rocks, I have no idea, but it worked out and we all had a great view of the city, both ancient and modern.
After somehow miraculously, and successfully, making it down the ridiculous stairway (which seems to be a running theme in ancient Roman ruins), Mustafa took us toward the sound of drums in the South Theatre.
Word on the street is (according to Mustafa) if you poke your head in a circle on one side of the wall of the bottom of the stadium, someone on the other side doing the same thing can hear you. For science and the chance of looking like idiots, we conducted the experiment. While there were some echoes, I think we looked like idiots more than anything.
Pretending like we didn’t just stick our heads in holes in a wall, we turned around to listen to the military marching band playing the bagpipe and the drum. At one point they played Yankee Doodle.
Turns out men who play bagpipes and drums like tips, and the drummer followed us around and said “tips please, yala. Shukran!” with ‘yala’ meaning ‘come, come’ or ‘come on.’ I gave him 30 qirsh (although Mustafa calls it piastres) which is close to 50 cents.
The gum boy emerged again and approached Mustafa for a second time. Asking him if he wanted gum, Mustafa looked at him, shook his head, muttered something in Arabic and pointed at the gum in his mouth. The boy laughed and went to find another victim.
On that note, we made our exit from the stadium and ventured on.
In all, we saw a lot of columns and cobblestone and dirt and the gum boy who followed us around the whole trip because we were nice to him and he thought Mustafa was funny.
Hungry and thirsty, Mustafa lead us to a nearby shop where he bought all of us water. Unsure where to eat for lunch, he took us to a local restaurant that turned out to be the oldest in Jerash.
Asmeret and Junior had salads, Jack had bread and hummus and Luyi, Tiziana, Mustafa and I had some traditional Jordanian savory pies for lunch. Mustafa explained that the thin pieces of dough with meat on them were called sfeeha and the ones that looked like boats filled with cheese were called fatayer jubna. The triangular shaped ones were filled with sauerkraut-like spinach and onions and are called fatayer sabanekh. There were also ones similar to the fatayer jubna that were filled with potatoes and they were my favorite.
We paid for lunch and handed Mustafa his money back when he tried to chip in, telling him he was our guest and that we were happy he joined us for the day.
We left the restaurant and went to go find a bus station only to be stopped by a man on the way who was headed to Amman.
It’s common in Jordan for people going to different cities to pick up people on the way for a price. I guess you could call it hitchhiking without sticking your thumb out. As sketchy as it might seem to outsiders, it’s cheaper than taking a taxi from city to city and sometimes your only way home when the buses aren’t running.
The man tried to make us a deal for 1.50 a person back to Amman. However, there were six of us and he wanted to squeeze all of us in his tiny car for a 45-minute ride. After fighting about it on the sidewalk with Mustafa as our translator, we declined and said we wanted to stay together on the bus.
We walked across town, with Mustafa shaking hands with everyone he walked by, getting yelled at by people he knew in cars, and kissing and hugging people he hadn’t seen in a while. The small town feel obviously applies in every country, because Mustafa literally knew everyone in Jerash, even people he’d come across while we were in the Roman ruins earlier in the day.
We continued down the sidewalk where Mustafa pointed out houses that belonged to various people in his family. “See this house? It’s my uncle’s house.”
“See this next house? It’s my other uncle’s house.”
“And the house after that is my grandfather’s house!”
“And the house after that is my uncle’s house.”
Baffled, we continued walking past the houses of Mustafa’s family tree. All of a sudden, he said “And this car is my uncle’s car!” which had his uncle, aunt and cousin sitting in it, about to leave. Mustafa then stuck his head through the window to give his uncle cheek kisses and to catch up with him for a minute.
After saying goodbye, we turned away from the car, walked 20 seconds down the sidewalk and a guy walked up to Mustafa and shook his hand. Turns out he knew that guy, too.
Arriving at where the buses usually pick up and drop off, we were told that the buses weren’t running to Amman. Out of nowhere, the guy that tried to get us to go with him to Amman popped up and tried again. Three more guys showed up to take us to Amman, as well. We spent the next few minutes discussing prices and debating on whether they were really telling the truth about the buses.
A couple, who I assumed were either Czech or Polish based on the writing on the man’s shirt, approached us asking what was going on. I told him that we were told there were no buses running to Amman to which he replied, “Yeah, right. There’s always buses running.” Mustafa then chimed in, confirming that there really weren’t any buses and that if they were wanting to go to Amman, these men would be their best bet.
Reluctantly, we made a deal with the man who tried to take us before and Junior, Jack, Luyi and I got into the stranger’s car.
Tiziana and Asmeret got into another car with the couple who agreed to take a car back to the city and we were on our way.
We arrived about fifteen minutes earlier than it usually takes to get from Jerash to Amman, attributed to the lack of road rules in this country and the strange man’s excessive speeding.
Regardless, we made it alive and at the same time as the others. It all worked out well and Tiziana and Asmeret made friends along the way.
Now I’m suffering through the last hour of fasting that I agreed to do with Anfas, as today is the Day of Ashura in Islam, the tenth day of the new Islamic year meant for atonement before Allah. However, Sunnis and Shias observe it in completely different ways. Anfas, as a Sunni Muslim, voluntarily fasts for two days. Shia Muslims voluntarily commit self-flagellation, though, or the act of whipping oneself to mimic the suffering of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Hussein, whom was martyred in Karbala, Iraq.
I’m only fasting for the experience….and it sucks. I don’t know how Muslims survive Ramadan, especially because the days are so much longer in the summer. Hats off to them.
Next weekend is our journey into the land of Indiana Jones, also known as Petra! Weeeeee!