Silent eating

Of the 15 people in the dining hall, I am the only Caucasian. Each place is set with a stainless steel bowl, chopsticks, a spoon resting on a brown sheet of paper towel and covered by a yellow terrycloth hand towel. The food - a slow cooker of rice, a large stainless steel bowl of a pink soup, a casserole containing pasta, a dish that may feature tofu, with a sauce containing rice vinegar and chopped nuts, a plate of something dark purple and shredded - seaweed of some kind? Bright green cabbage and carrots nicely sauteed. The lady in the pink sweatshirt urges me to help myself, points to where I should sit, asks, by holding up her stainless steel bowl, if I would rather have that than the ceramic bowl at my place, the only ceramic bowl. No, it's appropriate that the different one should eat from the different bowl. A spoon clinks against metal, there is chewing behind closed mouths, gazes are downward, inward; there is the rub of the wooden chopsticks against the bottom of the ceramic bowl.