26 February 2010

Spotted in Cixi

I guess it takes immature bathroom humor to get me to actually update this poor excuse for a blog.  The second in the toilet sign series, sighted at a bar in Cixi, Zhejiang:


The poor English translations here never cease to amuse me.  With all the laowai around, you'd think they would just hire somebody to quickly proofread menus, signs, etc.  But no.  Incidentally, this translation is literally correct, 小便 (xiaobian) means to urinate and 区 (qu) means district.  This was the sign above the section of the bathroom with urinals instead of stalls.  Anyway, I really can't complain because you certainly don't see bathrooms in America with a sign reading 厕所 (toilet).  Come to think of it, America is basically impossible for non-English speakers, except for the various Chinatowns, Koreatowns, and maybe L.A and Miami for Spanish speakers?  But on the whole the rest of the world is far more accommodating towards English speakers than vice versa. 

In other news, I am in Taipei for a quick trip, which is always a nice break from China.  Although, it is really too hot here.  It is February and it was about 30C here today, well over 80F.  Not fun when you're wearing a suit and tie and walking around the city.  Flew in here yesterday and now I'm in the airport waiting for the flight back to China.  Taiwan is so close to China that you'd think the trip would be easier than it actually is.  Although it's much better than before.  A few years ago there were no direct flights between Taiwan and the mainland due to political reasons, but now things have opened up.  It still takes the better part of a half day to make the trip though.  Mostly this is because the airports are not in the city center.  PVG is an hour plus from Shanghai's downtown, same for TPE and Taipei.  Maybe it's an Asian city thing?  It's the same with ICN and Seoul.  Makes it less convenient.

It's a sunny day here and I'm looking forward to getting back to Shanghai for the weekend.  Sunday I head to Korea for the week.  One of the companies I meet with there promised me that we were going to eat dog next time I come, so we'll see how that goes.

Speaking of food, I was at KTV the other night and they served us some drinking snacks.  Peanuts, french fries, chicken feet, and duck necks:


 This, in conjunction with a friend's vegetarian mom visiting China recently, got me thinking about meat consumption here.  It is not really easy to be a vegetarian here.  Almost all main dishes have some meat.  But it is never served as a big, main hunk of protein like a steak or a chicken breast.  Instead you get much smaller pieces of shredded meat used more as flavoring among vegetables and other ingredients, or maybe a few thin slices of beef or pork in a noodle soup.  Someone told me that meat us usually cut up very small because that way it cooks faster, and cooking fuel was hard to come by (expensive) back in the day.  I have no idea if that's true.  Anyway, while most meals really aren't complete without some meat, overall consumption is much less and much different than in the U.S.  However, as incomes rise, so does meat consumption, and China is certainly consuming more and more, but I don't think they'll be eating big steaks, whole chicken breasts, or pork chops anytime soon.

Another thing about meat here is that you know that you're actually eating an animal.  This goes all the way from purchase to consumption.  Most meat is sold in open air markets by actual butchers.  You watch him hack the animal (or its pieces) apart, cut to order.  You want to eat fish?  You'll usually buy it live, pointing out which one you want to the fishmonger, watching as he wails it against the ground to stun and kill it, or maybe cuts off the head and gives that to you separately.  At the very least you always buy fish whole.  Fillets are very hard to come by.  There's no mistaking the anonymous protein when it lands on your table with head and tail.  Same is true for poultry and pork and beef.  It's usually served with the bones intact.  This comes back to the duck necks.  You grab one, and it's pretty identifiable as a neck, vertebrae and all.  You chew around the edges and tear off the meat.  It's actually really delicious, I've come to like them quite a bit.  But there's no beating around the bush that you are eating an animal.  No shrink wrapped boneless chicken breasts here.  It also points to another thing, which is that they eat the entire animal here in a way that Western cuisines rarely do.  Sure, the whole nose-to-tail butchery thing has gained some popularity with food snobs in Manhattan and San Francisco these past few years, but here it's a matter of tradition and necessary frugality.