While waiting for the school bus a few days ago, a Chinese man in a suit introduced himself to me as “Happy, like happy to meet you!” Happy is an English teacher at another school. During our conversation he asked, “have you adapted to the food in China yet?” When I first got here I took about five dumps a day, all of them horrible and messy. After three weeks or so, they regained a firm consistency and occurred at intervals not quite so unsettling. I told him I had adapted. He told me he thinks Chinese food is too greasy, which is the closest thing I’ve heard to a Chinese person badmouthing something Chinese.
It’s hard to find good sources of protein here. Save for a few places in the downtown area, most restaurants won’t have a chicken cutlet or piece of steak on the menu. Meat dishes are generally huge bowls of vegetables with some minced pork or beef sprinkled on top. I rarely stay full after eating at a restaurant for more than an hour or two.
Chinese people eat a lot of carbohydrates. Rice and noodles aplenty. The only satisfactory explanation for how they live off of this is that they’re humanoids evolved from plants and derive all nutrition from sugar. I’ve tried to ask people about protein in both Chinese and English but they never have any idea what I’m talking about. They understand that I’m talking about nutrition and recommend drinks that are marketed as nutritious but contain more sugar than vitamins and protein. Good for a plant person maybe.
Since I managed to clean out the atrocity Sean left in my fridge, I keep my kitchen stocked with jars of peanut butter, eggs and boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I get my fucking protein.
Recently, I had my first experience at an all-you-can-eat buffet in China. The place was expensive. For Nick, Andrew and I, it cost about 115 yuan in total. As one of the hostesses led us to our table, I noticed the restaurant was train-themed. The layout was a confusing mess of fake train platforms and staircases. The waitresses (although they don’t actually do any waiting since it’s a buffet) wore conductor’s uniforms. The seating areas looked like train cars. They looked just like train cars. The chairs were like chairs on a train. There were even fake windows and curtains. It was just like a train. It was just like a real life train.
The hostess led us up about three flights of stairs to our table and hit on Andrew for a bit before leaving. She mentioned that she graduated from the school that we teach at, which was possibly a lie, then left. Throughout our meal she would repeatedly pass by our table with another waitress and once commented, with disbelief, on the fact that we were still eating more food.
Most of the food was prepared hours before we arrived, sitting out on unheated trays and getting cold. Despite this, I enjoyed almost everything I tried and ate about three full plates. The food you really come to a place like this for, though, is an endless supply of raw meat that you fry in the middle of your table. I don’t remember how many of those fatty meat strips I had but what I do remember quite vividly is already being very full by the time we started eating them. Because they were sliced so thinly, however, it didn’t feel like I was eating too far over capacity. It was probably as we continued to polish off tray after tray, making sure not to leave a single piece behind to avoid a wastefulness fee, that Andrew’s admirer made her comment about us still eating being a weird thing.
When we got up to leave, I immediately regretted the amount of food that I ate. My stomach felt like a mass completely separate from the rest of my body. Andrew mentioned that he was also in a moderate amount of pain. We began our descent and my stomach was feeling increasingly awful. I felt like a bad thing might happen in the near future. I hoped I could prolong the inevitable spew that was to come until we made it outside. I kept my head down and without any real logical justification, placed my hand in front of my mouth.
At the bottom of the staircase, between us and the door, the entire wait staff of the restaurant lined up on both sides of our path. They waved and said “bye bye!” as we passed. Right as this was happening, a preliminary wave of vomit rushed up but I managed to contain it in my mouth. When the second came a few seconds later, there was really nothing I could do. The vomit spilled out over my hand and onto the floor as I passed by the employees. I didn’t look up to see but I’m certain they were all aware of what was happening. I kept a normal walking pace to the door, hoping that maybe if I didn’t act too alarmed, they wouldn’t look for anything out of the ordinary. But, of course, there’s no real way to walk by two walls of people and vomit without drawing some attention.
Once out the door, I jogged to the side of the restaurant and finished up. Unwittingly, I did this directly in front of a side entrance for the staff. A man came out of the door, looked down at the pile and then stood in front of it. I think he was assigned the duty of blocking the mess from view of the public.
A lot of Chinese people often bestow upon foreigners undue praise, which comes off as patronizing more than anything. I’ve gotten sick of it. When people compliment me on my Chinese before I’ve spoken any, I don’t really take it to heart. I didn’t get to see the looks on the employees’ faces after I began to throw up but I fantasize about it every day. Sometimes I do this during small talk with strangers. While the person in front of me is paying me some manner of empty compliment, I think about those poor waiters and waitresses who looked on, probably mortified, as one of their foreign customers who they were ogling at with curiosity just an hour earlier, was spewing uncontrollably while calmly walking out the door. I like to think that they all now hold the belief that Americans do not have that all-important instinct to stop eating when it’s time to stop eating. If I were to run into one of them on the street, I suspect they wouldn’t compliment my Chinese, which is how it should be.
The only downside of the night was that in vomiting, I lost all my fucking protein.