In late August of 2014, I had breakfast at the 7 + 7 restaurant for the first time.
7 + 7 is a cafeteria style restaurant chain that is popular with the locals. Customers go in the restaurant, pick up trays and go along a line asking the servers to hand them various dishes just like they were in a cafeteria or a mess hall. 7 + 7, known as qi jia qi (七加七）to the locals, offers simple local fare, a lot of vegetables and meat dishes, at a reasonable price, or so the locals have said to me. I eat there sometimes, often for supper, but find it dull. If anything, it is a good place to get a big portion of plain white rice at a very cheap price.
One Thursday morning in August – Thursday morning is when I have an early shift at my school – I found myself having breakfast at the 7 + 7 that is near my school. I hadn't intended to do. What happened was this: I was getting off the train at the Metro station near my school when I ran a young woman with the English name of Sophia. I knew her from the bus I used to take back home in the days when there wasn't a Metro. Recognizing me and not having seen me for a while, Sophia invited me to have breakfast at 7 + 7.
I joined her but not before buying coffee at McDonald’s. In my over ten years in Wuxi, it has been my constant habit to have breakfast at McDonald's; and since I like to think of myself as a conservative reactionary, I needed someone, like Sophia, to get me to try something different.
When I walked into the 7 + 7 in the morning hours for the first time ever, I saw that Sophia had already gotten her food and had sat down. So I walked to the cafeteria line and picked up a tray. What I then saw was a revelation to me. 7 + 7 had a good selection of tasty breakfast food and so I had a big bowl of porridge, two youtiao (fried dough sticks), three fried dumplings, and two fried eggs. This all cost me less than a typical breakfast meal at McDonald's, and so I thought that I had found a new place to have breakfast every morning. I sat down and mentioned this to Sophia who also answered my queries about the progress of her pregnancy.
The next day, I returned to 7 + 7, and found that there wasn't as much breakfast food to choose from as there had been the day before. I figured this was because I went there at 9:00 AM instead of 8:00 AM as I had the first time. So I saw that I really had to get to 7 + 7 early if I wanted to have a big and satisfying breakfast.
I then tried to go to 7 + 7 a third time on Saturday and was thoroughly disappointed. There was no youtiao and no fried eggs and no dumplings. There was porridge, but eating it all by itself without any of my other favorite dishes, I felt like I was in prison, eating gruel.
But what really ruined that third visit was this loud, barbarous, wrinkly-faced, obnoxious, impatient woman who along with her friend barged ahead me and some others who were lined up and trying to get food from the cafeteria line workers.. She caused me to feel stranded as I stood waiting to get served and then to pay. Seeing her force her way to the front, I couldn't decide if it was good etiquette to move ahead of some people standing still in the cafeteria line. Were they waiting to be served? Or were they waiting to pay like I was? That loud ugly woman seemed to have not pondered that problem for a second. She had the single minded focus of a Wuxi driver or a Wuxi cyclist making a right turn without looking to the left to see if there was oncoming traffic.
Anyway, it was all enough to quickly dampened my enthusiasm for 7 + 7.
I may well go to 7 + 7 again, but the circumstances have to be right. I have to be downtown before eight and not on a weekend, and I have to hope that there isn't some man or woman hell bent on getting served before people who had come earlier.
So, I am stuck with McDonald's for breakfast for the foreseeable future.