First encounters with the food
The day I arrived to Changle, my room wasn’t ready yet, so I was taken to a nice hotel. Once there I was invited to dinner. Good! Finally, authentic Chinese food! The group was formed by my boss, always referred as “the headmaster”, Eunice, who is the headmaster’ assistant and English interpreter, and Mr. Jong, the driver. The waitress gave me the menu, and of course, I only understood the numbers; the rest was Chinese characters. Given the circumstances, I had to rely on Eunice’s opinion to choose for me. She said the duck was the specialty of the house. It sounded good to me. The last time I remember I had duck was when I was in Paris two years before. It was time for me to eat duck again. I was getting eager to eat duck breast with some sort of sweet and sour sauce, duck legs marinated in orange juice, or duck thighs with cilantro, garlic and limes, but my visualization and mental picture were horribly shattered in thousand pieces once Eunice asked me, “what part of the duck do you want? Head, neck, or feet?” “Well… do they have duck breast?”, I asked. They looked at me for a second somehow confused for my question, but then they asked the waitress to bring me my “special request”. The waitress brought heads, necks, and wings. The duck breast came later; just boiled in water and salt.
While the dinner was going on, I was invited to eat the other parts of the duck. The duck heads were split vertically into two pieces. They had eyes, tongue, skin and some other unknown things. The eyes were on me (people’s eyes, not the duck’s eyes, fortunately, if you can say that), they seemed to be waiting for me to eat. I took a half of a duck head, trying to conceal my nightmare and panic. Then I took what it seemed to be the tongue, viscous and gelatinous, if you asked me. Even though I knew it, I still asked “this is the tongue, right?” Then I bit it and heard the positive answer immediately after, which echoed and moved everything inside of me; I just smiled.
Then I saw the feet and knew that I just wouldn’t be able to deal with them. I could clearly see all the most meticulous details of the membranes forming the webbed feet.
During this meal I found out that people, at least in this part of the country, don’t drink cold drinks very often. When visiting or waiting for something or someone, people usually offer you hot water. No room temperature water, but hot water. The restaurant wasn’t the exception. I asked for a mango juice, which was okay, but still room temperature.
I also noticed that Chinese chopsticks are mostly the only thing they use. So, it is true. I only saw a porcelain spoon once, but most of the time you only see and eat with sticks. Soups are usually drunk directly from the bowl. Fortunately for me, I had already eaten several times with chopsticks, so it wasn’t a new experience using them. Such was my talent with them that even Mr. Jong noticed and told me that I knew how to use the chopsticks very well. Nice! A Chinese telling me that I know how to use the Chinese chopsticks very well is a great compliment.
Next morning, after a nice shower and getting ready for the day, at 6:56 am the phone rang. It was Eunice. “Good morning, Jesús. The headmaster and I will wait for you at the restaurant at 7 am for breakfast.” Let’s see, that’s in about four minutes. I just thought that it was good that at least she told me with time in advance, right? That would give me enough time to turn back my computer off.
Breakfast was a buffet. And I definitely enjoyed it more than the duck I had the previous night. I ate some fried potatoes in vinegar, cooked and seasoned broccoli, some soup with egg, and steamed bread stuffed with ground beef and vegetables. This was so much better. There were other things on the buffet too, but once looking at the dishes, I heard them say something like “don’t even think of eating me or you’ll see.” I decided to be a little more diplomatic, forgive their threats, and continue my way towards the bread loaves.