This is China

By Gregory K. Taylor

About 20 years ago, I was catching a train to leave Bordeaux, France. At that time smoking was quite pervasive in the country, so I specifically requested a nonsmoking car. Once I boarded the caboose (the designated no smoking car) and took my seat it was obvious that I wasn’t alone in my desire for a, now packed to the rafters, no smoking car–or so I thought. Leaning back and adjusting my seat to a comfortable position, I waited for the train to depart the station. Slowly the locomotive lurched forward as each car’s coupling took up the slack and like the little engine that could we began to move forward.

To my utter shock and dismay almost the moment when the train began to move 90% of the passengers LIT UP! Cigarette smoke billowed upwards throughout the interior of the rail car blurring the placards that read in both French and English–NO SMOKING. Now slack jawed and bemused, I became painfully aware that the no smoking car I had requested, by sheer volume of smokers, was now a de facto smoking car

Now slack jawed and bemused, I became painfully aware that the no smoking car I had requested, by sheer volume of smokers, was now a de facto smoking car

and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. After my gasping, burning, itchy-eye trip came to a merciless end in Paris, I complained to a station official about the smoking “nonsmoking” car. His response with a slight shrug of the shoulders was, “this is France.”

 

March 2013, I was in Shenzhen, China eating at a Hotel restaurant located in “San Lian” village. I would rate the Hotel about 4 or 5 stars that catered mainly to the Chinese. During my week stay there I saw no other foreigner in the entire village. So, as I ate at the 4th floor restaurant, which incidentally had excellent Chinese cuisine, I observed the ubiquitous No Smoking placards affixed to several structural pillars throughout. Approximately half way through my meal I could smell cigarette smoke. As I looked around for the culprit, I observed a table full of men smoking and eating. I looked at them inhaling and exhaling smoke, I looked at the plethora of No Smoking signs, and I then looked at the serving staff. I had a visibly annoyed look on my face as I asked my dining companion and a waiting staff member about the smoking “no smoking” restaurant. Is there or isn’t there suppose to be no smoking in this restaurant? Both agreed that there should be no smoking in the restaurant. So, of course, I asked then why was smoking permitted. With a slight shrug of their collective shoulders their response was, “this is China.”

                                           The Three Screams of the Mouse

                                             三吱兒,三叫鼠,老鼠三叫

You’ve heard of the “Three Blind Mice” now learn about the “Three Screams of the Mouse.”  In the southern part of China, namely Guangdong (aka Canton), from which the first Chinese immigrated to the west coast of California, there exists a culinary reputation for the mysterious and exotic. I’ve been told (by the Chinese themselves) that the Chinese will eat anything that walks, crawls, swims, or flies.

I have seen the 狗商店 dog meat shops in the northern part of China, I have seen a nervous monkey chained atop a table outside a restaurant in the alleys of Beijing, and I have seen the snake aquariums, from which the blood is extracted and consumed (sanguivorous) for its purported virile affects on the male libido, front and center in restaurant display windows. The method and cruelty in which the monkey’s brain is eaten is legendary illustrated by the liberal application of sauces and spices to the exposed noodle (excuse the pun) while the monkey is left dangling alive attached to the center of the dining table. Questions abound to the gastronomy and appetite of any carnivore for such a delicacy. However, not to be outdone, due to the proximity of Shenzhen and Guangdong, I was informed about a practice of eating live mice loosely called, “the three screams of the mouse.”

However, not to be outdone, due to the proximity of Shenzhen and Guangdong, I was informed about a practice of eating live mice loosely called, “the three screams of the mouse.”

The mice are usually newly born with no hair on the skin. The first scream is heard when the mouse is grabbed with the chopped stick’s pincer action, the second scream is heard when the mouse is dipped in a sauce, and the third and final scream is heard when the mouse is placed in the mouth and chewed. Thus, “the three screams of the mouse.”

I have long since stopped being judgmental about the gastronomical peculiarities of a people. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. Slitting the throat of a chicken and hanging it upside down for the blood to drain or wringing its neck is, I guess, considered to be more humane. However, I must admit to a personal aversion of eating something while it is still alive and kicking. I’m just saying…..

 

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