Welcome to China, or, My First Brush with Food-Related Death

Huh. So here I am in China, My New Home.

Last night we had basically our first bout of free time, dinner on our own. I wandered down to the hotel lobby with my temporary roommate and met up with a handful of others who were headed out, including a married couple in which the husband (let’s call him “A”) is somewhat fluent. They were planning on going for a walk down to the river and a historic area. Off we went.

Of course, the map turned out to be somewhat, ah, not to scale, and 45 minutes later, we reached our original destination area. There was some, “Where should we eat? Here? What do you guys think? I don’t know, what do you guys think?” until hunger and a sense of adventure led us into a hot pot joint.

So hot pot is rather like meat fondue—a big pot of hot oil into which you toss meat, veggies, fish, whatever, and then chopstick them out, perhaps into a bowl of cool oil. But by “hot” and “cool” I don’t just mean temperature. Let us recall that Sichuan, the province where we are currently located, is the spicy food capital of China. Our hot pot was full of so many chili peppers that the oil turned red. This began to look like it might be a problem. Even before the food came, the steam coming out of the pot made my eyes water and nose run.

“A” ordered, and it was a production, since although he is fairly fluent he is shakier with the characters in which the menu was printed. He claimed that the waitress kept trying to convince him to order fish head, donkey brain, etc. He concluded and told us he hoped he ordered well.

Out came plate after plate of beef (good), veggies (good), tripe (bad), squid (bad), gefilte-like fish cakes (bad), and chicken wings (very bad). At least twice as much food as we needed, or as “A” thought he had ordered. A small argument ensued between “A” and the wait staff. And so we ate. And so I wanted to die it was so spicy. It’s not just spicy where it turns your mouth to fire—that happens, but there’s also a definite face-numbing effect. Roommie and I stuck to the smaller, separate pot of fish-head-flavored oil, and ate slowly….

In any case, the final bill for all that food came out to about $5 per person. At this point I hoped to go straight home and prepare for what I assumed would be an immediately following case of gastrointestinal distress. Our faulty map and/or sense of direction, however, led us long, long out of the way in the opposite direction, resulting finally in a death-defying cab ride back to the hotel dodging other Chengdu taxi drivers.

Lunch and dinner today were simpler affairs: not too spicy, plentiful and excellent food, and a little over $1 each.

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2 thoughts on “Welcome to China, or, My First Brush with Food-Related Death

  1. Everybody remembers their first hot-pot experience. Most everyone remembers their first morning-after-hot-pot experience as well.

    Congratulations on making it to China! Good luck with PST.

    Christian, PC15

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