As Josh and I traveled from Shanghai to Nanchang, Guilin, Kunming, Chengdu, Xian, Beijing, and Dalian, I would send little tidbits of our adventures back home about once a week (mostly so my mother would know I hadn't been killed ... or forced into involuntary servitude in Tibet).
I thought I had lost these stories forever, though, when the e-mail account I used while traveling through China was shutdown shortly after I returned home and started law school (thanks USU ... whatever happened to "Aggies all the way," eh?).
Amy brightened my entire night, though, when she informed me that - wonder of wonders - she still had a few of the e-mails in her account and that she would pass them along.
In honor of that discovery, I'm posting them here for your viewing pleasure (and to make sure that I don't loose them again ... because I'm convinced that nothing short of a worldwide apocalyptic meltdown will ever put a dent in the eternal vitality of the blogosphere).
As you read them, though, keep in mind that these are just a few of my impressions of China at the time. In a land as dynamic, multifaceted, and fantastic as China, things are bound to be different from year to year, city to city, and person to person.
With that, I introduce Part I: "The Pros and Cons of Eating Horse" (Originally written May 26, 2006):
Greetings to all my loved ones and etc. (if you happen to fit in the latter category and would rather not receive these amazing, weekly e-mails, feel free to send me either a scathing rebuke or cookies with a note explaining why you no longer are an "etc."),* NOTE: I didn't actually eat Chou Dou Fu until July 2009. Up to that point, I never had the guts to give it a go. Now, having experienced it first hand, I can personally witness that it is among the MOST DISGUSTING FOODS EVER INVENTED (this includes Balut and Caterpillar Fungus).
Again I greet you from the land of a thousand different ways to prepare rice. Right now, I'm at a pretty chill hostel in Guilin listening to the sweet sounds of Messr. Jack Johnson - the king of acoustic bliss - and healing after a day of mountain biking in Yangshuo (about an hour away). If ya'll ever come here (and how could you resist after reading all these pro-China infomercials I keep sending), skip Guilin and go to Yangshuo. The mountains there are inconceivably amazing. Pictures, even the thousand word variety, don't do a bit of justice. The whole place feels like a Dr. Seuss book, or a Salvador Dali painting. China would be worth it just for Yangshuo on a clear night in June (or May, as the case may be).
Josh is doing well and we're pumped, jazzed and ready to go to a small group Church meeting tomorrow. This is the first branch that we've been able to attend since coming to the land of the little ones, and I'm beyond excited. But before I lose ya'll with the mundane details of my glorious vacation, I should move on to this week's installment of Chinese Culture Corner. The topic: food, glorious food.
China has about four thousand years of food history, give or take a millennium. During that time, they've developed their food system internally with very little help from other countries/cultures. Real Chinese food is an entirely different world than that nap-scat excuse for egg rolls that we have back in the states.
They eat everything here. No, really ... everything. In the last three weeks alone, I've eaten pig feet, chicken feet, cow tongue and stomach, goose, pigeon, eel, every variety of weed imaginable, dog and horse. We've been in restaurants that sell monkey, cat, rat, bat and __________ (use your imagination). The funny thing though, is that they make it all taste really good, with a few notable exceptions.
Exception 1: Chou Dou fu - basically a type of deep fried, fermented bean curd, the smell from one of the shops selling these beauties is probably the chief punishment of the fifth level of hell (Dante's version). I really don't think anybody eats the stuff. They just keep it around so the foreigners will have something to write home about.*
Exception 2: Bitter Melon - the name says it all. Why, oh why, do they eat this paltry excuse for a plant? After eating them, I'm convinced that bitter is the only taste that won't rise with us in the resurrection.
Exception 3: Liver - it was bad in the states and, owing to the great variety of animals it can come from, it's even worse here.
Other than these beauties (and boiled eggs, which are absolutely revolting no matter what anyone says), the food has been stupendous to a fault.
One of the great customs they have over here is toasting the good health, long life, good education, etc., of nearly everyone at the table. At random points throughout the meal, someone will stand up, call out another person's name and say something like, "I bless you to have fish all throughout the year," or "I bless you to have good health and keep progressing." Then the other persons will say something back to them (often in the form of a self-deprecating joke) and they drink. Because most everyone drinks alcohol at these kind of dinners, you can guess that they have a lot of toasting ... All night long.
At most Chinese restaurants, people sit at a round table with a lazy-Suzanne in the middle. The food all goes in the middle and each dish is spun around from person to person, again and again, and everyone eats what they want straight out of the dish with their chopsticks. For the most part, they order way more food than they could possibly eat, and everyone eats until they're eyes bulge out for lack of internal space.
And since I can hear some of you asking the question, yes, I'm losing weight here. Really.
Owing to the fact that my time on the internet ends in six minutes, I'm gonna rap this up with one last praise of Chinese food - it's so friggin' cheap. A dollar or less a meal and you're stuffed to the rafters.
Well, that does it for this week. For the time being, live long, prosper, grow a beard or whatever floats your boat.
Lots of love,
Matt "Footloose and Fancy Free" Wright
P.S. If you eat dog meat and cat meat at the same time, are you gonna have an internal brawl in your belly? Now that's food for thought.