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Gareth is an Australian who has lived in JiangSu, SuZhou (Heaven on Earth) for a few years - he is a keen observer of the Chinese people, Chinese culture and the changes that are occurring in China at break-neck speed. He can often be found on his a nightly 'perch' in front of his bar in the famous Bar Street in Suzhou, talking to the locals in his bad Mandarin, teaching the 'flower-selling girls' English, eating street food and smiling at the local chengguan (neighbourhood police). Gareth also has several other businesses in China around Business and English training. His experiences have been varied and interesting and his years in China have taught him to be wary of promises but excited about prospects, not a bad situation to be in!
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Dinner between FRIENDS    

By Garreth Humphris
2330 Views | 2 Comments | 4/9/2011 11:37:36 PM

After living more than 8 years in China you would have thought that I might have known better than to take the 'food advice' from a Chinese waitress in a restaurant in China.

I don't mean this in a derogatory way - the advice is always well meaning, but everyone's tastes and tolerances differ, so it can add to the confusion. For example, a person from Anhui seems to use a half kilogram of salt in every meal and a Hunan mother will happily feed enough mace to their 2-year old that would be sufficient to subdue 25 violent criminals and a rogue elephant in the USA.

So I had a 'off moment' when I listened to the advice of the cute-university-student-cum-waitress in my local restaurant. 

Many young university students studying English at college are looking for ways to practise 'real world English' and many are drawn to food and beverage services. I usually oblige in saying a few things to them outside the regular order sequence, such as asking them about friends and family...the response is usually a pained expression and a breathless 'yes', regardless of the question asked or a 'frightened rabbit in the headlights look' and a procession of 5 other people to try to decipher what I said!! I'm used to that now! So I was pleasantly surprised when I said to myself 'hmm, I don't know whether to have the tomato sauce or the spicy sauce on my sandwich' to which the server expertly answered, 'Sir, I'd recommend the spicy sauce, it's quite tangy and not really very spicy at all!!!'

Wow, I was impressed, so I somewhat let my normal guard down and said "Sure, I'll have the Spicy Sauce then!"

"Spicy it is then, let me order that for you right away!"

What??? Double Shock!! English and Service in the same person? Impossible!!!

"So, where did you learn your English?", I asked.

"You know, around", She said, "Friends mostly!!!"

"Oh, I see, you have many native-speaking friends then?", I chortled.

"No, FRIENDS the TV show!!!", she replied, 'I studied it every day in university'.

Now while I don't specifically remember Joey, Chandler or Phoebe ever saying 'tangy' in an episode, it is feasible, so I let it go.

Presently my salad arrived as well as the dish with the tangy sauce - I got about halfway through my salad when I ladled a huge lump of the tangy meat into my mouth and found it was burning it's way into my nasal cavity! With no where else for it to go daintily, I gulped it down to which it deposited a trail of oily fire down my throat.

But I was in trouble, my body was reeling! Fire burned my nostrils, lava entered my skull, my teeth turned handstands in their sockets.

Tongue hanging out, eyes blazing, brow furrowed and leaking water, I flailed for the carafe on my table... but of course this was a mistake... the cool water that was supposed to quench the flames spread them across my face and deeper into my stomach, aspirating the fumes into my lungs!!! I doubled over in a violent coughing fit, upending plates and glasses as i did. The offending dish was now nearby my eyes, the fumes attacking the moisture bringing a torrent of tears... I couldn't see, it was raining inside... I felt like my scalp was bleeding, even my toes were paining... diabolical!

Luckily, the young lady rushed to my aid and I was able to croak 'milk' before my vocal cords burned through.
The milk came quickly as well as a cup of vinegar, which certainly neutralizes the chilli.

After 5 minutes, a cold compress on my neck and 3 liters of milk in the gullet I was able to regain enough composure to speak again...

"By the way", I said, "you're from Sichuan, aren't you?"

"Yes" , she replied, "from ChengDu... how did you know?"

"Oh, just a mild hunch", I replied.

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#2011-04-11 00:21:11 by tanshui @tanshui

An excellent example of relativity.

A friend from Chengdu, who knew that I did not eat spicy food, took me out for dinner to a favourite restaurant in her neighbourhood. Seafood.

Yummy yummy

A large steaming bowl arrives.
Our server begins to skim large spoonfuls of red chilis and black pepper corns off the the top of the steaming, flaming red soup.


She says "This is a very famous fish soup from Chengdu. It is delicious. Just try it."

Ya right. But I have had this before .... hahahaha.

So to be polite I take a small sliver of fish with my chopsticks and place it on my tongue. Aiya! Help. Where is the rice? Flames erupt from my tongue. hahaha

Talk about a cultural divide.....

#2011-04-11 01:58:54 by canadianmike @canadianmike

Excellent story, and your point is nailed home effectively. I'm wondering about having a woman from Sichuan province recommending a restaurant/dish from now on, though!

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