• not capitalizing (unless something is of the upmost importance)
• making lists
these are life shaping lists, experience lists, lists that i will look back on when i am old and say "ahh, i accomplished that", or "now i must do this before i can die", or maybe even "i am glad i never got around to doing that: what a foolish girl i was". it is a cathartic habit.
one of the lists i have been continually revising is entitled:
THINGS I DO NOT EVER WANT TO DO IN CHINA
items cover a broad spectrum: get a tattoo, eat fermented duck eggs, eat pig feet, walk barefoot in the street, hock a loogie in a restaurant, ride in the hard seat section of the train, go to the hospital (again), etcetera, etcetera.
just so you are aware that i am not a huge lame-o who does not want to experience culture, you should know that there is a much longer list of things that i do want to do while i am in china.
anyway, since the last time i was in the blessed middle kingdom, i have been appalled by the practice of eating chicken feet. thoroughly disgusted. i admire the determination to not waste any part of the animal's body, but ever since a woman tried to sneak a chicken foot into my instant noodles* on the train from lhasa two years ago, i have had, at the top of my T.I.D.N.E.W.T.D.I.C. list:
EAT CHICKEN FEET
and also, at the top of my list of things to do in china:
avoid chicken feet.
i have had people say "amy, it is a cultural thing, you have to try it. blah blah blah." to this i say: THEY WALK AROUND IN POOP THEIR WHOLE LIVES!
i, for one, am not in the habit of eating poop. no thank you.
chinese people explain it like this:
"we eat the chicken feet because we do not enjoy the large pieces of meat. the chinese prefer the smaller, more delicate portions of the chicken, and of the other animals also- pig feet, chicken wings, chicken leg, intestines, pig nose. we can not eat portions as large as the breast of the chicken, it is just too much."
today at work we were talking about finding turkeys for thanksgiving. my boss, a chinese businessman, asked me
"do you eat the turkey feet?"
after confirming that we do not, in fact, eat the turkey feet, he continued; "what a waste! you could make much money from the turkey feet. they would be quite delicious! what do you do with them, just cut them off and throw them away?"
i don't really know what we do with all the thanksgiving turkey's feet. i told him that maybe they grind them up and make them into strange canned meat, or perhaps use them for some sort of animal food or fertilizer. i do not know. but, i do know that i do not want to eat them, or even have my friends eat them.
once, on that same train from lhasa, i watched a couple munch chicken feet for hours and hours. it is a stomach turning process, if you think about it too much. the feet are cold, often pickled, and are fleshy little buggers. and this is the most terrible part: the nails are still attached! here is an example:
look closely, and you will notice the little claws that scratch around in the poopy dirt all the time. mmmm.
in order to eat these delicate appendages, one must gnaw. a lot. which brings me to my recent experience.
one of my students, a fantastic 14 year old girl named katie, invited me to her house for dinner with her family. i met up with her, and arrived at her family's apartment** to find that her grandparents and aunt had all shown up for the occasion, which is awesome- i was really excited to be around older chinese people, because most of my time is spent with the younger generations. while the adults were playing ma zhong, katie showed me her sims family, and then we sat down to eat.
lo and behold, there on the table, amongst plates and plates (probably 15) of tasty looking food, there were the chicken feet! i thought to myself i'll just avoid that, there is so much food, there's no way they'll notice if i don't take some of the chicken feet. and i'll avoid those other dishes that look like they are only skin. okay. dig in. what do you know, but her dad, after pouring me a glass full of baijiu***, plopped a chicken foot and some pig skin down on my plate. i couldn't avoid it. there were three generations of expectant faces watching me. to avoid looking completely ridiculous trying to navigate my way around a fleshy claw, i played dumb.
"ummm... this is my first time with one of these... how exactly do i eat it?"
first, katie said that i didn't need to use chopsticks, and then came the fateful words: "now put this part, is it the nail, into your mouth, and bite it off. then put it out onto your place." so i did. and then i found my way into the next joint, and bit it off and gnawed and gnawed until i had pried some of the cold skin loose, then i removed the bone from my mouth and put it in my bone dish and continued on to the next joint. and then i ate cold pig's skin. all to be polite. i now have hella guanxi(good relations) with that family****.
so, was it that bad? i think i will borrow my friend joel's description: it is like biting into a pencil covered in rubber-bands. and you are trying to EAT the rubber-bands! and they are cold, and a little wet, and they do not have much give. and the whole time you're eating it you're thinking this has been walking around in poop for it's entire existence. not pleasant.
overall, i am rather proud of myself for eating the chicken foot and the pig skin (and also skin gelatin and intestine) for the sake of good manners, but i am not about to try to do it again, unless i absolutely have to. you can be proud of me, too!
the fresh product:
notice the nails.
*just a little thing about instant noodles: in chinese they are called fangbianmian which directly translates to "convenient noodles". it is one of my favorite words to say.
**another note: katie's family is loaded. i knew this because they have a stuffed eagle with it's wings outstretched mounted on a rock in their living room. awesome. also it is positioned under an enormous set of deer antlers.
***say it: "buyjo". it is like the most intense grain alcohol ever. well, that i have tried. it tastes like what i imagine kerosene or rubbing alcohol would taste like. he said white wine, and i said yes. i sipped the thing all night and never finished.
****later in the meal, katie's Grandpa had a stroke or something, i'm not really sure. now he is in a larger city's hospital because they found a brain tumor. it was very intense, and i honestly thought he was going to die. thankfully he did not, but please keep him and his family in your thoughts.