Saturday, September 4, 2010

When in Rome...

So yesterday afternoon, one of my Uchicago friends from Jinan, Charis, came to Beijing for a business project she's working on. We met up in the afternoon, and I also got to meet her friend Xiyuan from Beijing University, which is only a couple blocks away from Renmin, where I'm staying. After getting lunch (qie zi, fried(?) squash with rice), we went to get me a new power cord for my computer, since the other one broke my first night here. We ended up going to the largest electronics market in Beijing – I'm not sure how many stories it was, but we went to three different floors. Salespeople in China tend to be more than a little aggressive, and as you walk by there are hordes of them gathered around their products encouraging you to come over. The place was absolutely packed, and we found an HP store on the first floor. After much discussion and examination of the power cord, Charis told me that a replacement would be 65 yuan, which she said we'd bargain lower. We then went up to the second floor (again, surrounded by eager salesmen), where someone at another HP store told us to go up to the third floor, where there was another HP store. Three in the same building!

Up to the third floor we trotted, where a salesman examined the cord and tried to tell me the whole thing needed to be replaced (at a more expensive price), not just the part that plugs into the power socket, which is what had broke. After much discussion and plugging the cord into an electric socket, showing that the rest of it did actually work, I got a replacement power cord for 10 yuan, or roughly $1.50. The only downside is I'll have to buy another when I get back to the States, since the prongs on the cord only work w/ Chinese sockets. But thus far, it's worked great! While we were there, Xiyuan also bought a plastic case for his iPod, which cost him 60 yuan, way more than my cord was – where we in the States, it would have been vice versa! On our way out, I was going to attempt to take a picture, but as we walked through the third floor, salesman started saying, “Ah!!! Camera!!!! Helloooo! Nihao!!!!!” and I didn't want them to think I was stealing it/looking for a replacement, so I tucked it back in my purse.

After dropping the cord off in my dorm room, we met up with Charis's godfather and godsister, as well as several other people, to go to dinner at a restaurant. (I forget the name of it, something to do with a river) The restaurant served food from Hunan province, which is known for being spicy, which made me a little worried (silly, considering what would come next). After we were all seated in a private room, the waitresses poured chrysanthemum tea while Charis's godfather ordered. While we were waiting for the food to be served, I thought, If mom and dad could see me, sipping chrysanthemum tea in China! Oh, if they could only see what came next. The dishes were placed on a rotating circle in the middle, so everyone could serve themselves as the plates went around. As the waitress set a salad down, I (jokingly) asked Charis if there was anything in the dishes that I wouldn't want to know what it was. She looked at me and said, “You eat organs, right?”. With that, the meal commenced.

A toast was made, and we all clinked our glasses of watermelon juice and began eating. Watching a suspicious white dish come around the table, and remembering what I've read in books about people eating in China, I asked Charis,
“Do I want to know what that white stuff is?”

She glanced over at it, and lit up.

“Oh, only chicken feet!”, she exclaimed. “They're very good!”

Images of Gandalf and Henny, our chickens at home, danced through my head. Seeing the look on my face, Charis misinterpreted it.

“It's okay, they're clean!”

Not quite what I was worried about.

Following the images of the chickens at home, the next thoughts that ran through my head were: When in Rome.....Ellie did write on my Facebook wall, telling me to “go native!!”, and the natives are eating chicken feet.....screw it, it can't be worse than what McDonald's puts in their chicken nuggets...

Half of a chicken, the head sitting on the platter, eyed me as it went around the table.

The next time the chicken feet came around, I hesitantly picked one up with my chopsticks, and asked Charis if she had any tips on how to eat them. Her only advice was to watch out for the bones. I took a bite, if only so I can say that I've eaten chicken feet, and found the feet to be kind of tasteless, but salty and leathery. After that, I tried pretty much everything on the table, asking Charis what it was after I had swallowed it. What I guessed was some kind of organ turned out to be a duck's neck, and I also sampled strips of chicken skin (not bad, but waaaay too spicy), chicken blood, liver (of what, I didn't ask), and frog. I didn't ask what part of the frog it was, but it was actually pretty good, enough that I had more than one serving. Shrimp were also served, but since they weren't prawns, I figured they weren't exciting enough to eat. (Besides, I can eat them at home! I don't, however, plan on cutting of the chicken's feet when I get home and deep frying them.)

Overall, dinner was fantastic, even if it was a little spicier than I like. It was frustrating not being able to completely understand the conversation, and I could only pick up some tidbits here and there. Especially when they were discussing politics and history, I would have loved to be able to understand, which I guess means this will be the first of many trips to China. And I'm not ruling out eating frog again, either.

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