Recently I visited China. Got a good deal on Groupon, 9 days in 4 and 5* hotels with 4 flights between cities and some of the food for $1.300 person. Not bad. On a request of some friends I am using this medium to give a short recapitulation of the funnier side of the trip. And also, to stay in the blog topic, the tasty, culinary side.
First of all I had the great misfortune to have had the Air China mess up our tickets, so I ended up sitting on a different row from my beloved wife. She got the seat behind me. I guess that is a custom of all backward countries – that wife should always go behind the husband (except Afghanistan because of all the land mines). This gave me the chance to contemplate my misery and to sulk in silence for the duration of the flight (14 hours).
I saw 5 movies. 5 movies in a row. I knew that all my years of training – since I was a kid – will pay off – decades of forcing myself to fanatically watch television for hours and hours, always a bit longer, always pushing myself over the he limit of human endurance (All the LOTR movies in one night, anybody). And here I am, squeezed in a middle seat of economy class, with my enormous butt that will probably never gonna be dislodged, knees pressing the seat in front of me, neck too feeble to hold my fat bold head without the neck cushion, here I am, 6 movies and still enjoying myself completely.
Another thing, the flight to China goes over northern Canada and northern tip of Alaska. To you who are bad at geography and Google Earth, thats the freaking North Pole.
It was the first night we realized that nobody here in China speaks English. We are not American and we do not expect all the world to speak perfectly the language of the British colonialists. But we did speak some English long before we came to America, all young people we knew did. It s the language Beatles and the Stones sung, it is the language of all the good movies and all the good shows. At least some basic words…
Not here. They do not know what “OK” means. No waiter knows what you are saying when you ask “spicy?”. Not even in a McDonald – you can not order a bottle of water without finding a picture of it somewhere. We tried in all 7 languages my wife and me speak (using also Latin), but apparently nothing sounds close to it in Chinese.
We did not eat at the McDonald’s, we just bought water there. We ate only local cuisine like all the tourists should. You do not go to China to see the Louvre like you do not go to Texas barbecue joint and order foie grass on a toast.
I went even further and ate fried scorpions (really good), fried silk worms (juicy but with a strange aftertaste), sea horses, fried snakes (chewy), roasted pigeon on a stick (bony), salad made of marinated fish skins (wow), and many other amazing things – and also street foods that I had no idea what they were. But there was no dog. I know that for sure. You are much more likely to be served dog (or cat) in a restaurant in US then in china because in China it is a delicacy, an expensive and rare specialty. And in US it is free meat found on the road.
None of the people who spoke English that we met approved of dog eating, but there are still some old time people who indulge in it, just like in the states you can find illegal restaurants that serve only protected almost extinct animals to extremely rich and spoiled. Dog is a pet and should not be eaten just because to some people and children it is a friend. Also, if it is true they kill them in gruesome ways the same treatment should be applied to them. No other reason not to eat dog, really. A pig or an octopus are more intelligent than a dog, cow makes the elixir of life and is holly to one billion people…
We ate the best duck ever in a restaurant in Beijing, like it should be. Perfectly crispy and moist, not too fat and done on open fire just right. This was in one of the most expensive and awarded establishments in the town, so I am not sure if the hilariously displayed sea cucumber dish next to the name of the restaurant on the entrance was someone’s joke or not.
On the beginning we tried to communicate with the waitresses but no avail.
Once we were greeted in English and seated on the table, happy as children in Disneyland. Unfortunately the waitress that came after did not speak any English (we just wanted to know what is spicy). My wife told here “but you just spoke English when we entered before!”. She shrugged and called a friend. The friend of course, did look exactly the same.
“Wait, you were the one who speaks English” said my wife, unaware of what she was doing, pointing at here. And then another. Soon there were five of them around our table and my wife kept on trying “you were the one, right?” making me more and more uncomfortable. But the girls just laughed at us, also unaware of anything. In the end the waitress just pointed at some stuff on the menu saying probably “here, this is what crazy Americans eat”, we ordered most of it (bowl of soup size half gallon filled with many things was $1) and had a great meal.
Just a note – there is no Chinese food in China. Not the food we eat in Chinese restaurants here. It is all completely different and much much better with much better and fresher ingredients – and less frying. They just tricked us into thinking that that is Chinese food. And no fortune cookies too. Those are American invention started by American Japanese who converted their restaurants from Japanese to Chinese soon after Pearl harbor.
They use a lot of soup. One of the most popular restaurants are called hot pots, places where you cook your food in boiling broth on the middle of the table and you add to it pieces of meat, vegetable, mushrooms (many delicious different mushrooms), tofu, sea animals… and later you fish them out with chopsticks. The fishing out with chopsticks was the part we were really bad at, so they had a girl (that spoke some English) do that for us during the whole meal and practically feed us like toddlers.
Other employees kept on coming over to see the silly westerners and laugh like crazy. Did not help that the restaurant had 600 places all full and we waited for 30 minutes to get a table (during the wait they offer you snacks, games, manicure, massage…)
In the end in the tasty broth remaining in the pot they cook some of their fresh hand made noodles (do not forget – they invented pasta) which they prepare at the table, swinging them in the air (we called that kung fun noodles).
They brought us complimentary fruits with a funny caramel writing on the plate.
Here are some more funny mistakes.
We visited Beijing, Xian, Suzhou and Shanghai. Two of those cities have over 22 million inhabitants and the other two are small picturesque towns of 6,7 million. All of them are growing rapidly, with Shanghai (due to a lack of land) growing magnificently into the sky. All of them look more and more like something from the future, with highways being build over other highways, with bullet trains and light shows over the skyscrapers in “Blade Runner” style.
We did not see any small villages, any rice field, any of the factory towns… Time was short and we went for the most important landmarks. Next time.
People that we met were mostly nice. Happy. Singing in parks, dancing on town squares, doing tai chi in the morning. I had no nerves for the bargaining, though. They claimed that they enjoy it and we should have fun with it, but I hated it. Fighting over a price of every item, where the real price could be somewhere around 10% of the first price asked… That was the annoying part. heres some shopping items.
And crossing the street. That was the real adventure.
Otherwise, I do recommend it.