Where the Food Tries to Kill You

If it smells like trout…

No, this isn’t about wild escapades with ladies. It’s a filler post! It can’t be that exciting.

While I’m in the process of finding an apartment that isn’t, you know, not mine, and using internet that, technically, I don’t have permission to use, I figured I’d keep you up to date with some of my more mundane experiences in China.

Like how the food is constantly trying to kill me.

My first three weeks in China were spent in a reasonably classy neighbourhood in Changsha, so it’s safe to say that there are more dangerous places in the world. But I didn’t want to let that stop me from almost starving to death.

My dad’s temporary housing situation meant that we didn’t have a functional kitchen. Therefore, going out for every meal was a requirement. Originally this sounded nice, as I walked down the street sweating profusely, because I didn’t have to cook and eating out only costs a dollar or two. The trouble is that my entire Chinese vocabulary at this point consisted of “I speak Mandarin,” and “I’m American.” Both of which, you’ll notice, are lies.

Selecting a restaurant became incredibly simple, however. To start, my one criteria was that there had to be a menu with pictures. The first restaurant I went to by myself actually had food shrink-wrapped and on display, so my simple criteria was adequately met. I walked up to the counter thanking whatever it is you thank in China for air conditioning, and pointed vigorously at tasty-looking foods and then at my mouth.

The clerk stared at me with the appropriately denigrating expression, and four or five servers all gathered around to try to understand what I wanted. It was like playing charades with people who really, really suck at charades. “I want to order that,” I said, pointing. “I’m American,” I added in Chinese for emphasis.

As this was going on, a small child walked between us, pointed at two shrink-wrapped dishes, and wordlessly left with a receipt. Dammit.

I ended up getting the food, but the experience caused me to both miss several meals due to fear of social ostracization and to add an extra criterion to my restaurant choice: the person at the cash has to at least make an effort to cater to my retardation.

I’ve always prided myself on my chopstickery. I feel that as a Canadian I have an obligation to be somewhat multicultural. For example, when drunk I would eat shawarma over McDonalds any day. But I’ve learned that my skill with chopsticks is definitely lacking in the department of eating basically anything that I can’t quickly throw into my mouth and swallow whole. I have no problem eating peanuts with chopsticks, despite some slight confusion over the challenge-to-reward ratio of the endeavour, but chicken wings are completely out of the question. I think I successfully managed two on a good day.

Last, but most importantly, if I die in China it won’t be because of gang-related activity, mugging, dirty cops, disease or some girl’s parents. It’ll definitely be fish bones.

I avoid fish almost completely, but sometimes it set traps for me. Like the time I ordered a huge bowl of fish because it looked like beef in the menu. Sneaky fish.

The scariest part isn’t when you’re eating the fish itself: you know it’s going to take you half an hour of swirling fish goo around in your mouth and spitting everywhere to get the sharp, hook-like bones out before they kill you, but at least you know the bones are there. It’s when you’re eating the bean sprouts around it, thinking you’re so smart for avoiding the minefield, that you suddenly have to gag to catch a jagged bone before it punctures your oesophagus.

One last thing. Never eat stinky tofu.

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