Saturday, July 2, 2011

Rousong Epiphanies

I was sweating as I moved further underground. The light behind me dimmed at an alarming pace, and I was not comforted by the familiarity of my destination. Straps of heavy bags cut into my forearms and my shoulders ached as I held my load above the level at which my feet might kick it. The back of my neck was itching uncontrollably, my collar scratched against the heat of my irritated skin. Hair I had forgotten to pin up was gathering moisture around my throat, gently existing on my skin and yet almost suffocating me. It got worse the lower I went. Feeling the slick of perspiration made me feel as though the whole world were wet, and I suddenly panicked at the prospect of slipping on the steep steps. The sound of the machines had swallowed the natural noises of the world above, and I remembered why I had returned to this place. Visiting the laundry lady is not all it seems to be.

You might recall this post in which I introduced you to her. I have no doubt she is completely innocent in her intentions.
Actually, no, there is a little bit of doubt there. But not too much.
Not that it makes much difference, the road to hell and all that.
Not that she is hellish.
Well, not too hellish.
Actually that’s a lie.
This morning was quite hellish.
Significantly hellish.

I released my grip on the heavy bags of clothing and they plummeted to the floor in a muffled anticlimax. I felt as though they should have made some noise when they hit the ground. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because they were so difficult to carry. I was very uncomfortable at this point in time. Shanghai at the moment shares several fundamental characteristics with my Finnish friend’s description of a traditional sauna. Primarily the intense amount of heat and moisture in the air. Perhaps that was an obvious analogy. I have outlined it to make you believe that Shanghai is really that hot. Because it is.

I chirped my ‘zaoshang hao’ goodmorning to the laundry lady who was sitting directly in front of a fan, eating something from a bag. I took the bottom of my shirt and wiped it across my forehead, as I listened to her delighted response to my arrival. I began to unzip my bag and retrieve my wallet, and I felt her moving through the room toward me. I presumed she was rapidly nearing to me for the totally expected purpose of receiving the laundry money, but as I glanced up, the horror began.

The very threads of time slowed down as I gazed at her arm stretching out toward my face. I looked toward her hand, it had something strange and brown in it. Pieces were falling off mid-air. I looked toward her other hand, which was holding the nondescript bag of something. The hand continued toward me. I looked up at her face which was frozen in a pose of education – her mouth wide open and her eyebrows raised – universal indicators of a mother telling a child to open their mouths and prepare for food. Then I realised that what she was holding was going to enter my mouth, because in some sub-conscious place, my child-self reacted in the correct way to her expression, and my jaw had dropped open. So then I looked back toward the bag she was holding. A slow realization began to wash over me. So much like a wave, and yet so many seconds too late. I saw just a last flash of the brown glob before it brushed passed my lips and was firmly planted on my tongue.

It was ‘rousong’.

Otherwise known as ‘pork floss’.

It is so much worse than even a name like that could suggest.

Here is the Wikipedia page for it. I want you to go look at that page right now.

Welcome back. Now I’m going to continue on with my narrative, assured of the fact that you realise how horrendous this assault was, and the sheer gravity of the situation I was in.

My mouth closed around the floss, and as I salivated, the taste began to register on my tongue. Sweet like molasses, and yet reminiscent of SPAM. It had such an unnatural tang to it – a kind of strange bitterness that can only come from something which should never have been conceptualised, let alone created. The next thing I noticed was that rousong does not dissolve in the same way fairy floss does. Rousong, with the addition of saliva, became a dry but sticky glob in my mouth which would not dissipate no matter how much spit I managed to muster. I was so incredibly reluctant to move it around my mouth at all, and yet I knew I would have to chew this beast in order to vanquish it.

The right side of my palate suffered first, and I felt the meaty mass lodge itself into the grooves of my teeth, caramelising in all of the hard-to-reach places, as though taunting my with the fact that it was not going to be easy to remove. Chewing down on this crap was like biting through a fine sand. It parted, but again, did not dissolve or decrease in mass. Nor did it become any more swallow-able. The more I chewed the more it’s ghastly scent filled right up through my nose and all down my throat. I was almost gagging.

I looked around frantically for a place I might spit it out, but there was no oasis in that hell-of-a-washing-room. My search was met with a smiling laundry-lady-face, and a question of 'hao chi ma?' Does it taste good?

NO IT BLOODY WELL DOES NOT TASTE GOOD. Is what I though. My reply though, was a violent shake of my head and a scowl so extreme that I think my eyebrows touched my nose. She laughed. A maniacal cackle. Like a witch over a cauldron. My mouth was that cauldron. Full of freaky crap that kills people.

She turned to another bag, and just when I thought things might get worse, she retrieved a peach. Oh god, you are there. A peach. My savior. I pretty much snatched it from her hands and sunk it so far in my mouth, that when I bit a bite from it, the juice streamed down my cheeks. Two more chews and the power of the peach juice had overcome the evil of the pork floss, and I was able to swallow the whole lot. Well, almost able. I choked a fair bit. I felt the two opposing forces continue to fight each other all the way down my throat, and when I couldn’t feel it any more, I wolfed down that peach and took another for the road.

The laundry lady told me my face looked funny, and to come back tomorrow for my clothes.

Well thankyou. Thankyou so much for that. That was great.

To be continued…

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