(7/21/2015) The Chinese have been around a couple of thousand more years than the country that issued my passport. There is something like 40,000 characters in Mandarin Chinese. That’s a lot of complexity to convey to a simpler bunch. But bless the Chinese and their generosity of spirit because they give it a shot. Proudly translating everything in sight in an attempt to help. Some of it baffling, some informative, and some past poetic. All of it rewarding. Below are a few early favorites.
Xian Night Market
(7/21/2015) The art of the meal. When hunger calls in the dark hopefully the night market answers. Most towns have them. Centrally. Hundreds of food carts pursue the call of the free-market. Behind them, day jobs forgotten, are the chefs of the night. Cooking up whatever their ethnicities or passion dictates. Serving up dishes that fascinate, shock and every once in a while change a bad day into a good day. Patronized by thousands of ever out and about Chinese oddly more interested in food and socializing than the tube.
Dinner by Finger
The art is in the ordering. When our mutual languages sound like summer cicadas to their respective listeners an alternative is called for. That would be the infallible finger pointer. As in my finger would like that. Followed by a flick of the wrist and fingers going up to indicate how many. Then a seesaw of the hand to query the amount due. All this presided over by my beaming smile that indicates good will and low intelligence. And it works. Much, much better than using my savagely mutilated Mandarin Chinese with the cart owner. Whose misinterpretation rate runs at about 80%.
Pursuantly, we found ourselves in the Luoyang night market walking its length in survey. The weather gently collapsing. And then gentleness moved on. A charging wind bowled straight through the heart of the market. It carried sand from an unseen desert. It’s ferocity such that I searched for a funnel. Signs ripped from buildings. Heavy things went into the air. People scrambled for their loved ones. Carts panic packed. But we were hungry. I began aggressively pointing. Ignored, but by one night chef. His eyes wild with the nights collapse, mine with hunger. He threw food into Styrofoam. I balled money so that the wind didn’t steal it. Transaction complete, we fled in opposite directions. For the rain had arrived horizontally. I banged on the first glass door I came to. My sight did not open the locked door. But Fumikos did.
Stout in a storm
The storm howled bitterly at its loss. It turned out to be a small beer bar with exactly 3 taps. Out of one of which poured the sweetest motor oil stout I’ve had in years. We set to it. First by flushing the grit from under eyelids and then putting chopsticks to their task. Teeth never fully grated to avoid the sand. Grateful for the surge of storms, grateful for sanctuary and grateful for a deathbed worthy memory of chaos.
No guess – but sweet.
The day meals are tougher. They more than not take place in restaurants. If there be food photos then there is guidance. Though culinary ambush is commonplace. “It looked like olives in the photo but I suspect a reptile egg.” Without photos we are left with confidently placed menus. Covered in communication that mimics 1000 interpretations of tic-tac-toe to our untrained eye. Your order left to it’s fate of a finger landing. Some pleasant meals, some not. Always a surprise. This particular meal I avoided ambushed by pointing to our neighbors large pot of boiling soup. Placed on a burner upon their table. Surrounded by vegetables in bowls to be placed in the soup. Some cicada questions from the waitress followed. I steadfastly pointed at the neighbors. She gave up and brought out it’s twin. Lots of veggies, no meat. Using our guidebook language section I asked for, in no order, chicken, beef or fish. Her response conveyed this was a vegetarian establishment. Acceptance, followed by our tossing veggies into boiling soup. Halfway through a plate of meat arrived. I smiled, the waitress grinned. I stuck out my lower lip which universally is recognized as “what is that?” She chirped something and walked away. It was roast beef in appearance and consistency. By taste a whole hell of a lot better. Consumed with haste and vigor. The small piece of piece of I Translated paper arrived shortly thereafter.
More smiles as she handed it to me. Some Chinese writing at the top. “Ass meat” written below. One must keep the smile while one’s mind races for salvation. Three options. Varying levels of attraction. 1. the ass of some undetermined animal 2. Donkey meat. 3. the unthinkable. “What kind of meat is it Daddy?” “Why it was ass meat dear.” Hilarity from my 12-year-old. A waitress mystified. And me with this. If you ever come across a good piece of ass meat, tuck in. It’s divine.