Sunday, July 3, 2011

Rousong Epiphanies Part 2

The ordeal left me shaken. I walked back up the steps and emerged into the hot sun, only to sit on the curb picking sticky pork from my molars.

‘Bloody China.’ I thought to myself.
 Actually I said it out loud to myself.
Nowhere else in the world would I get rousong thrust into my mouth. Nowhere else .

You meiyou rou?’ I had asked the laundry lady. - Does it have meat in it?
Meiyou rou. Meiyou.’ Was the response I received. - No, it does not.

Apparently meat floss does not, in fact, have any meat in it. It was silly of me to presume that it did, I suppose. I keep using this thing called ‘logic’ that we dust off sometimes back home, but it’s certainly not applicable in this time-capsule-of-a-country.

Then I started thinking about what I have been thinking about lately. If anybody (apart from my mum) read this post, they would know that I have been struggling with a bit of a personal dilemma as of late.

Sitting on the curb, in a subtle modification of what we call the ‘Asian squat’, I began to wonder - could this be a sign? After all that questioning, asking someone to give me guidance, I get a Chinese person literally shoving meat into my mouth. What more obvious kind of sign could I have asked for? Seeing a god in person would perhaps have been a little more convincing, but that laundry lady does make my socks smell like lavender…

Then I started thinking about how the rousong actually made me want to vomit. Perhaps that was the sign. An indication that eating meat is not good. A sign that I shouldn’t, because this was only the beginning if I chose the path of darkness, suggested to me by someone underground…

The analogies were getting out of hand. I could have interpreted this sign in absolutely any way. Was this event just like every other time someone thinks they ‘see a sign’… Should I follow the leader and just interpret this coincidence however the heck I want to... I was using too many ellipsis’…

I got the last of that floss crap out of my mouth and went on my way – to lunch. I was honestly on my way to lunch. So I got to where I was planning to go for lunch, a little local cafĂ© called Ciao where all the international students go to eat food that won’t make them sick. On the menu there is, of course, spaghetti bolognaise. Now, anyone who ever spent time with me before I was 14 knows, that spaghetti bolognaise was my favourite dish in the whole world. And my mum made it best. It is the single most tempting dish I am ever faced with having to refuse because of its meat content. I thought about the sign, and how much I wanted that sign to mean that I was allowed to eat meat. And then I thought about how if I ate the meat it would only be because I had convinced myself it was some kind of imaginary sign. And then I thought that if I was going to do it, it couldn’t be because of some pisstake epiphany. And then I figured that in the beginning it was about experiencing Chinese culture via food, so I think maybe spaghetti bolognaise doesn’t count?

So I didn’t get spaghetti bolognaise. I got a fruit salad. It’s just cruel, the way these things turn out. I was not satisfied at all. My belly was not full of tasty things. I was unhappy. Completely unsatisfied. Completely. I can’t get no. You know what I mean.

So anyways, that evening, at 6pm, I went to meet my tutor family for dinner at their home. It was going to be the last time I ever saw them. I was surprised to arrive and find out that they had in fact booked a private room in their favourite restaurant for a traditional family banquet.

This is it. This is the apex of where Chinese eating meets Chinese culture – you literally cannot get a more genuine experience of Chinese cuisine than this. It was textbook. It was right out of the book that was telling me to jump into this culture. This book to be precise. This was it. I could not pass this opportunity with a clean conscience. I could not. I skipped the bolognaise, so I knew it wasn’t blood-lust that was driving the decision-making cortex of my brain. It was here. The time was now.

It has begun.

I did it. I ate the meat.
And you know what?

It was fucking tasty.

And you know what else?

We were sitting around that round banquet table for three whole hours. Talking, drinking tea, eating small mouthfuls slowly and appreciating each of the eight dishes in front of us. Peng chatted about the kinds of food we were eating, and pointed out which ones were from which provinces – a few from  his wife’s hometown of Hubei. In the traditional banquet way, we also did not have rice whilst actually eating our meal – it is considered as a belly-filler for those who can’t afford enough actual dishes.

Some classic Sichuan steamed fish with masses of chilli.
Some super-sweet chewy lamb pieces.
An amazing four-kinds-of-mushroom soup.
A kind of traditional Chinese fried flat pie with peas and pork.
A plate full of tiny crunchy whole fish with capsicum.
A barbequed spicy cubed beef dish with aniseed.
Old man tofu in brown broth. Sizzling cabbage with pork slices…

It went on and on, and the best bit was when we ordered plain noodles and plopped them in the main dishes at the end to soak up all the juices. I felt at one with this family on a whole different level. It felt so natural, as if this is how it was supposed to be. It’s almost difficult to describe, but if I had to pick a word, I would choose ‘belonging’.

Physically, I felt the effects of the meat almost immediately. I genuinely felt, whilst eating, that my whole mouth was itchy. I felt as though I wanted to itch and scratch my teeth and gums, almost as though I was a teething child again. Weird, I know, tell me about it. Later that evening, I slept incredibly restlessly. All my muscles were a kind of hyperactive and almost irritated, almost a different kind of itchy. I had crazy dreams in which I was always running or jumping or climbing or doing something physically strenuous. And best of all – I woke up thinking about meat. It’s all I could think about until I had finished breakfast. It’s been on my mind all day…

I have decided to do the 7 days of meat-eating. I have spoken to a lot of wise friends and mentors and family and there were mixed responses. Some obviously didn’t care. Some cared a lot. Some cared too much… but the overwhelming response was in favour of the weeklong experiment. Why?
Best case scenario: I experience a profoundly new level of Chinese culture (as I did during this banquet) and satisfy my burning curiousity. Worstcase scenario: I go meat crazy. (A lot of them thought this would be both amusing
and ironic.)

And so – the weeklong experiment will begin on Wednesday the 6th and finish on Wednesday the 13th. It will be well documented, and the date has been chosen because that is when I am finished exams, so I will also be doing interesting things in general in Shanghai with my friend Hanna.

Bear with me if you think it will be boring or you aren’t interested in me doing “non-adventurous” things. I’ll bet you wouldn’t have put one of those weird little fish in your mouth, or shoved a scoop of chilli fish straight into your mouth. I think it could be quite interesting…

Photos courtesy of Hanna, you can read her (Finnish) blog here.

1 comment:

  1. darling.. we are reading. we may not always comment but we are here. except for arron. he only reads when i remind him hahaha.


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