Saturday, 5 February 2011

Life on the edge

There is a mild fear that comes over me whenever I sit down to dine with locals. It sends shivers down my spine and gives me heart palpitations. I find myself short of breath and struck speechless by turns. I've developed a nervous twitch in my left eye. I lost command of my senses once and sprang to my feet, knocked over my chair, and shouted, "The horror! The horror!"

You see, the problem is that I never know what slimy things locals will put on my plate. And once they're on my plate, there's really nothing left for me to do but eat them. It's sort of terrifying. Half the things they give me, I never even thought of eating before.

The locals are perfectly kind about it all, too. They even asked me, upon making initial contact, if there was anything I didn't like to eat. The two problems with this question seem to be (1) my answer, and (2) their response. I replied that I wasn't particularly fond of seafood. Seafood, as in anything that comes from the sea. Things that float, things that swim, things that crawl, etc. As best I can tell, they define seafood as a whole fish, nicely broiled, served with its head intact. That dish is the only thing they've shown any hesitation in serving to me. But maybe that wasn't hesitation, maybe that was just a nervous twitch.

At reunion dinner for Chinese New Year, when I sat down to an empty plate, I felt the palpable suspense. I managed sea cucumber (zero calories, I'm told, but slimier than celery), foreign-looking sushi, fish balls, squid, cuttlefish, shrimp with their legs and heads still intact, broiled fish, some unknown squishy fish, raw salmon, raw fish (with a name that sounded like bologna), and crab. I drank 6 glasses water, consumed globs of chili paste, and delighted in the pickled ginger that came with the sushi.

By the time I had conquered dinner, the eating was drawing to a close. I was munching on lettuce leaves and feeling delightfully full. Perhaps fish didn't taste altogether awful. And my, wasn't it lovely to have steamboat with a family that chattered in Mandarin half the time and English the other half and included me in their festivities?

Life was going along swimmingly when the bomb was dropped onto my plate. It came as a pale-white, slimy strip. The grandfather nodded encouragingly to me from across the table. "Fish stomach, fish stomach." He grinned. The English-speaking crowd clarified that it was actually pig stomach. "Pig stomach, pig stomach." He grinned some more.

I wasted no time. In crises like these, immediate action is required. Any careful thought results in paralysis. I secured some pickled ginger, scooped up the pig stomach, took a moderate bite, and swallowed it down. I don't know if anyone noticed the pained expression I had when I finished it. I only know, that no one gave me any more after I ate the first piece. A triumph in its own right.

Ah yes, dinner with the locals. Seemingly innocuous, but fraught with untold thrills. I simply, cower, in anticipation.

In completely unrelated news, I can't help but add that washing machines are free here! I sense an increased urge to do laundry all the time. Maybe I'll wash my sheets...nay, not, not even weekly, but...yes...yes...that's right...daily! Then I'll never have to make my bed in the mornings!

Well, my laundry is finished. And since that's the only reason I was staying up writing this blog post to begin with--so long friends!

1 comment:

  1. :D enjoy your stay! I am glad you are trying the fancy dishes! haha