No “dim sum” for me, thankyou

June 1, 2013 at 8:19 pm 4 comments

I don’t eat out often [it’s cheaper & healthier to cook, work at a restaurant that offers free fancy-food three times a day and been driven around and done that the first few months I came to America; resulting in an epic weight-gain that took 3 years to shade]. In the few ocassions-a-month I do eat out, I try to tag along somebody who does it more often than I. This is especially true with Asian food establishments, Chinese food for example. My fear isn’t just being judged for coming as a minus plus-one. But that they would spit in my food unless they see somebody with a slanted eye next to me, and felt kinder towards my shade of black. Plus politely asking for forks can only be cute while sitting next to, and conversing pleasantly with, somebody who knows how to work them chopsticks [is good in Maths and has atleast a black belt in one or more of the Martial arts]. Otherwise it would appear as rude as refusing to use your hand to eat Injera – it just isn’t done! All that, ofcourse, pales by comparison when, seeing the “quality” of their products and their inability to spell ingredients even on the most authentic-looking imitations, one stops to consider what one is putting into one’s “hod Eqa” by reaching for an Oriental cuisine.

Apparently, I am not the only one who view these folks, and their cheap, spicy, yummy treats with suspicion. David Sedaris, my favorite gay American [a never ceasing reminder that not all gay men have to be like my least favorite gay American, Dan Savage, who – according to South Park’s definition – is more of a faggot], has written a book entitled “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls”. It’s a collection of Essays in which he included one on the sanitation problem and eating culture of the people in the People’s Republic of China. He entitled it “#2 to go”. The number, I am afraid, doesn’t refer to the numeral on the menu. Which brings me to the “warning” part.

This story isn’t for the faint at heart; or the weak-stomach-ed. If you have a tendency to dwell on and are given to nausea at the thought of gross stuff that may find it’s way into your food; you’d wanna make sure you read it atleast two hours before you eat; and 4 after you did. That way your body has digested whatever you have consumed and isn’t likely to pound your chest and squeeze your throat muscles until you have ejected acid-covered bits of whatever you stuffed down earlier. And if you are planning to get a take-out from your favorite Chinese take-out place, or even plan to eat at one within the next 6 months; you would wanna skip reading this essay altogether. It isn’t pleasant, save for this blogger; who prides herself for being from a country where people don’t take a dump in the bushes unless they have to; and have the modesty to cover their mouth or nose before hocking a loogie. To think their kind finds my kind inferior continues to be a mystery to me.

If, by the end of this reading, you find yourself wanting to protest “but a China-man in America won’t surely behave like a China-man in China”, I say unto you “look at how the Ethiopian cabbies in your area drive”. Old habits die hard, especially when they involve the most private things you do in the most private of places. It has also not been lost upon me how publishing one of his Essays in full could be an infringement on Mr. Sedaris’ copy-rights. However, seeing how dozens of his short-story readings being posted on youtube didn’t seem to diminish his fame and fortune, hopefully this won’t either. I dedicate this story to that special friend who first brought to my attention the existence of Chinese dog-farms, the various discussions we had on “exotic” food, adventurous eating and the list of things we were willing to try. May you realize the moneky-brains weren’t the worst thing that could happen in/to a Chinese Cuisine next time you found yourself craving for a freshly-steamed shrimp dumplings!

#2 TO GO
By David Sedaris
From “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls. Essays Etc.”

“I have to go to China,” I told people, this in the way you might say, “I need to insulate my crawl space,” or, “I’ve got to get these moles looked at.”. That’s the way it felt, though. Like a Chore. What initially put me off was the food. I’ll eat it if the alternative means starving, but I’ve never looked forward to it, not even when it seemed exotic to me. I was in my early twenties when a Chinese restaurant opened in Raleigh. It was in a new building, designed to look vaguely templish, and my mother couldn’t get enough of it. “What do you say we go Oriental!”

I think she liked that the food was beyond her range. Anyone could imitate the twice-baked potatoes at the Pedler, or turn out a veal Parmesan like the Villa Capri’s, but there was no way a non-Chinese person could make moo shu pork, regardless of his or her training. “And the egg rolls,” she’d say, “Can you imagine!”

The restaurant didn’t have a liquor license, but they allowed you to brown-bag. Thus we’d arrive with our jug of hearty burgundy. I always got my mother to order for me, but when the kung pao chicken was brought to the table, I never perked up the way I did at the steak house or the Villa Capri. And it wasn’t just Raleigh’s Chinese food. I was equally disinterested in Chicago, and later, New York, cities with actual Chinatowns.

Everyone swore that the food in Beijing and Chengdu would be different from what I’d had in the United States. “It’s more real,” they said, meaning, it turned out, that I could dislike it more authentically.

I think it hurt that before landing in China, Hugh and I spent a week in Tokyo, where the food was, as always, sublime, everything so delicate and carefully presented. With meals I drank tea, which leads me to another great thing about Japan—its bathrooms. When I was younger they wouldn’t have mattered so much. Then I hit fifty and found that I had to pee all the time. In Tokyo every subway station has a free public men’s room. The floors and counters are aggressively clean, and beside each urinal is a hook for hanging your umbrella.

This was what I had grown accustomed to when we flew from Narita to Beijing Capital International, where the first thing you notice is what sounds like a steamer, the sort a café uses when making lattes and cappuccinos. That’s odd, you think. There’s a coffee bar on the elevator to the parking deck? What you’re hearing, that incessant guttural hiss, is the sound of one person, and then another, dredging up phlegm, seemingly from the depth of his or her soul. At first you look over, wondering, Where are you going to put that? A better question, you soon realize, is Where aren’t you going to put it?

I saw wads of phlegm glistening like freshly shucked oysters on staircases and escalators. I saw them frozen into slicks on the sidewalk and oozing down the sides of walls. It often seemed that if people weren’t spitting they were coughing without covering their mouths, or shooting wads of snot out of their noses. This was done by plugging one nostril and using the other as a blowhole. “We Chinese think it’s best just to get it out,” a woman told me over dinner one night. She said that, in her opinion, it’s disgusting that a Westerner would use a handkerchief and then put it back into his pocket.

“Well, it’s not for sentimental reasons,” I told her, “We don’t hold on to our snot forever. The handkerchief’s mainly a sanitary consideration.”

Another thing you notice in China are the turds. Oh please, you’re probably thinking. Must you?

To this I answer, “Yes, I must,” for if they didn’t affect the food itself, they affected the way I thought about it. Once, in Tokyo, I saw a dog pee on the sidewalk. Then its owner reached into a bag, pulled out a bottle of water, and rinsed the urine off the pavement. As for dog feces, I never saw any trace of them. In Beijing you see an overwhelming amount of shit. Some of it can be blamed on pets, but a lot of it comes from people. Chinese babies do without diapers, wearing instead these strange little pants with a slit in the rear. When a child has to go, its parents direct it toward the curb or, if they’re indoors, to a spot they think of as “curby.” “Last month I saw a kid shit in the produce aisle of our Chengdu Wal-Mart,” a young woman named Bridget told me.

This was the seventh day of my visit, and so desensitized was I that my first response was “You have a Wal-Mart?”

There are the wild outdoor turds in China, and then there are the ones you see in the public bathrooms, most of which feature those squat-style toilets—holes, basically, level with the floor. And these bathrooms, my God. The sorriest American gas station cannot begin to match one of these things. In the men’s room of a Beijing subway stop, I watched a man walk past the urinal, lift his three-year-old son into the air, and instruct him to pee into the sink—the one we were supposed to wash our hands in.

My trip reminded me that we are all just animals, that stuff comes out of every hole we have, no matter where we live or how much money we’ve got. On some level we all know this and manage, quite pleasantly, to shove it toward the back of our minds. In China it’s brought to the front and nailed there. The supermarket cashier holds out your change and you take it thinking, This woman squats and spits on the floor while shitting and blowing snot out of her nose You think it of the cab driver, of the ticket taker, and, finally of the people who are cooking and serving your dinner. Which brings me back to food.

If someone added a pinch of human feces to my scrambled eggs, I might not be able to detect it, but I would most likely realize that these particular eggs tasted different from the ones I had yesterday. That’s with something familiar, though. And there wasn’t a lot of familiar in china. No pork lo mein or kung pao chicken, and definitely no egg rolls. On our first night in Chengdu, we joined a group of four for dinner—one Chinese woman and three Westerners. The restaurant was not fancy, but it was obviously popular. Built into our tables was a simmering cauldron of broth, into which we were to add side dishes and cook them until they were done. “I’ve taken the liberty of ordering us some tofu, some mushrooms, and some duck tongues,” said the Western woman sitting across from me. “Do you trust me to keep ordering, or is there anything in particular you might like?”

I looked at her, thinking, You whore! Catherine was English and had lived in China for close to twenty years. I figured the duck tongues were a sort of test, so I made it a point to look unfazed. Excited even.

When I was eventually forced to eat one, I found that it actually wasn’t so bad. The only disconcerting part was the shape, particularly the base, from which dangled tentacle-like roots. This reminded you that the tongues had not been cut off but, rather, yanked out, probably with pliers. Of course, the duck was probably dead by then, wasn’t it? It’s not like they’d jerk out the tongue and then let it go, traumatized and quackless but otherwise whole.

It was while eating my second duck tongue that the man at the next tabled hacked up a loud wad of phlegm and spat it onto the floor.

“I think I’m done,” I said.

The following morning, and with a different group, Hugh and I took a drive to the mountain where tea originally came from. It was late January, and the two-hour trip took us by countless factories. Mustard-colored smoke drifted into the sky, and the rivers we passed ran thick with waste and rubbish. Eventually we hit snow, which improved things visually but made it harder to move about. By the time we headed back down the mountain, it was almost three. Most restaurants had quit serving lunch, we stopped at what’s called a Farming Family Happiness. This is a farmhouse where, if they’re in the mood, the people who live there will cook and serve you a meal.

One of the members of our party was a native of Chengdu and of the five Americans, everyone but Hugh and I spoke Mandarin. Thus we hung back as they negotiated with the farm wife, who was square-faced and pretty and wore her hair cut into bangs. We ate in what was normally the mah-jongg parlor, a large room overlooking the family’s tea field. Against one wall were two televisions, each tuned to a different channel and loudly playing to no one. On the other wall was a sanitation grade—C—the service grade, which was a smiley face with the smile turned upside down.

As far as I know there wasn’t a menu. Rather, the family worked at their convenience, with whatever was handy and in season. There was a rooster parading around the back yard, and then there just wasn’t. After the cook had slit its throat, he used it as the base for five separate dishes, one of which was a dreary soup with two feet, like inverted salad tongs, sticking out of it. Nothing else was nearly as recognizable.

I’m used to standard butchering: here’s the leg, the breast, etc. At the Farming Family Happiness, rather than being carved, the rooster was senselessly hacked, as if by a blind person, a really angry one with a thing against birds. Portions were reduced to shards, mostly bone, with maybe a scrap of meat attached. These were then combined with cabbage and some kind of hot sauce.

Another dish was made entirely of organs, which again had been hacked beyond recognition. The heart was there, the lungs, probably the comb and intestines as well. I don’t know why this so disgusted me. If I was a vegetarian, okay, but if you’re a meat eater, why draw these arbitrary lines? “I’ll eat the thing that filters out toxins but not the thing that sits on top of the head, doing nothing.” And why agree to eat this animal and not that one?

I remember reading a few years ago about a restaurants in the Guangdong Province that was picketed and shut down because it served cat. The place was called the Fangji Cat Meatball Restaurant, which isn’t exactly hiding anything. Go to Fangji and you pretty much know what you’re getting. My objection to cat meatballs is not that I have owned several cats and loved them, but that I try not to eat things that eat meat. Like most Westerners I tend toward herbivores and things that like grain: cows, chickens, sheep, etc. Pigs eat meat—a pig would happily eat a human—but most of the pork we’re privy to was raised on corn or horrible chemicals rather than on other pigs and dead people.

There are distinctions among the grazing animal eaters as well. People who like lamb and beef, at least in North America, tend to draw the line at horse, which in my opinion is delicious. The best I’ve had was served at a restaurant in Antwerp, a former stabled called, cleverly enough, the Stable. Hugh was right there with me, and though he ate the same thing I did, he practically wept when someone in China mentioned eating sea horses. “Oh, those poor things,” he said, “How could you?”

I went, “Huh?”

It’s like eating poultry but taking a moral stand against Peeps, those sugarcoated chicks they sell at Easter. “A sea horse is not related to an actual horse,” I said. “They’re fish, and you eat fish all the time. Are you objecting to this one because of it’s shape?”

He said he couldn’t eat sea horses because they were friendly and never did anyone any harm. This is opposed to those devious, bloodthirsty lambs whose legs we so regularly roast with rosemary and new potatoes.

The dishes we had at the Farming Family Happiness were meant to be shared, and as the pretty woman with the broad face brought them to the table, the man across from me beamed and reached for his chopsticks. “You know,” he said, “this country might have its faults, but it is virtually impossible to get a bad meal here.”

I didn’t say anything.

Another of the dishes that day consisted of rooster blood. I’d thought it would be liquid, like V8 juice, but when cooked it coagulated into little pads that had the consistency of tofu. “Not bad,” said the girl who was seated beside me, and I watched as she slid one into her mouth. Jill was American, a peace corps volunteer who’d come to Chengdu to teach English. “In Thailand last year, I ate dog face,” she told me.

“Just the face?”

“Well, head and face.” She was in a small village, part of a team returning abducted girls to their parents. To show their gratitude, the locals prepared a feast. Dog was considered good eating. The head was supposedly the best part and, rather than offend her hosts, Jill ate it.

This, for many, is flat-out evil, but the rest of the world isn’t like America, where it’s become virtually impossible to throw a dinner party. One person doesn’t eat meat, while another is lactose intolerant or can’t digest wheat. You have vegetarians who eat fish and others who won’t touch it. Then there are vegans, macrobiotics, and a new group, flexitarians, who eat meat if not too many people are watching. Take that into consideration, and it’s actually rather refreshing that a twenty-two-year-old from the suburbs of Detroit will pick up her chopsticks and at least try the char-pei.

I’d like to be more like Jill, but in China, something kept holding me back. In clean, sophisticated Japan, the rooster blood, arranged upon a handmade plate between the perfect tempura snow pea and a radish carved to look like a first-trimester fetus, would have seemed like a fine idea. “We ought to try making this at home,” I’d have said to Hugh. Here, though, I thought of the sanitation grade and of the rooster, pecking maggots out of human feces before being killed. Most of the restaurants in China smelled dirty to me, though what I was picking up on was likely some unfamiliar ingredient, and I was allowing the things I’d seen earlier in the day—the spitting and snot-blowing, etc.—to fill in the blanks.

Then again, maybe not.

While on our trip we ate at a normal, everyday places and sometimes bought food on the street. Our only expensive meal was in Beijing, where we went alone to a fancy restaurant recommended by an acquaintance. The place was located in an old warehouse and had been lavishly decorated. There was a wine expert and someone whose job it was to drop by every three minutes and refill your water glass. We had the Peking duck, which was expertly carved rather than hacked and was served with little pancakes. Toward the end of the meal I stepped into the men’s room to pee, and there, disintegrating in the Western-style toilet, was an unflushed turd, a little reminder saying, “See, you’re still in China!”

Back at the table I asked for the bill. Then I remembered where I was and amended it to “the check.” In France, you can die waiting to pay for your meal, which is something I’ve never understood. How can they not want me out of here? I’ll think. Ten minutes might pass. Then twenty, me watching as the waiter does everything but accept my god-damn money.

I’ll say that for China, though, offer to pay, and before you can stab a rooster with a rusty screwdriver someone has taken you up on it. I think they want to catch you before you get sick, but whatever the reason, within minutes you’re back on the street, searching the blighted horizon and wondering where you next meal might be coming from.

Entry filed under: Latest Posts.

I go to Heaven, when I come to u And here I go..

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1.  |  June 2, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    I don’t know whatever the hell this guy is talking about …is he saying the restaurants are not clean because they smell bad and he couldn’t eat or is it a moral judgment toward eating cats and dogs…as far as i am concerned no one that’s coming from a culture that lets McDonald’s operate the way they operate should have the guts to talk about other cultures eating habit ..the guys sounds flat out douche bag to me …

  • 2. Ch_ris  |  June 21, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    I bet Ethiopia has better Chinese restaurants, more authentic since it is more for the working Chinese fixing the roads there. Plus who else would go into a Chinese restraint unless they knew for sure no cats were in it. Bad joke I know.

  • 3. DaNegus  |  July 15, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    When it comes to fast food, the best policy is “don’t ask, don’t tell”. As long as they packed it nicely and I don’t see pubic hair, its good to go.

  • 4. Ebdu  |  July 19, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    But poo is the source of life, haven’t you heard? 😉 Plus.. I will take “segera lebleb” over synthetically fertilized poultry any day. That shit is destroying the planet.

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The blogger tries to think outside the box, or wonder why she sometimes can't.

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