Archive forSeptember 27, 2010

Taaaaaaake a journey back in tiiime

I cannot watch this hear, but you should if you have never heard the song:

Ha, so I was reading Kevin’s blog and realized that I had completely forgotten about the whole dog meat fiasco. Also I want to talk about seeing the Monte Carlo modern ballet troupe’s production of Cinderella last night, because it was interesting and I think I’m more into theater than Kevin is. He is like the Sports and Business sections of the newspaper that is the Dickinson China blogstream, and I am the Magazine section and AP World News column. We split the op-ed and local coverage between us.

So dog meat.

So Sunday before last we’re at the Great Wall, and afterwards we hit this absurdly nice Chinese restaurant for an exorbitant banquet (as is wont to happen here, thanks to a combination of developing nation exchange rates and Dickinson footing our group activities) in our own little private room. I’m really not comfortable with the degree of relative wealth and preferential treatment I’m approached with here. I’m a dumb immigrant who can’t even speak the native language, and even in America I’m a student barely scraping by on scholarship and a constant stream of almost minimum wage retail work. I’m really not comfortable with private rooms and food waste and the attention. As I am not blonde or a woman, I am simply a walking curiosity rather than a photo op or an opportunity to make an unintelligible pass. It’s kind of pathetically easy to attract girl in clubs if you’re white, though, but I’ll talk about that in another post.

So lunch. Wow, I have got to find an outlet for all this political stuff.

Anyway, we had a private room, which was weird, because I would have preferred to have an environment of Chinese people rather than close-in white walls in a Chinese restaurant, because I am crazy like that. We had our old standbys, like Peking duck. I don’t particularly care for it, but that’s just as well. I should explain that in Chinese custom the host is deferred to in pretty much all areas–they are the first to touch their chopsticks, or touch the food, and they are normally the unanimous voice on ordering food. So we never have any idea what food we are eating until it arrives, when we all share some from a common area (usually on a giant Temple-of-Doom-opening-sequence-style Lazy Susan), sampling some of each dish.

I’m really not too crazy about a lot of the food people have bought for me here. It’s usually really meat centered and frequently not nearly as flavorful as I like food to be, focusing mainly on exploration of different textures and balancing moderated amounts of different flavors, like sour, sweet, spicy, salty, and bitter. I do appreciate how balanced meals tend to be here, as far as taste goes. I think it comes partly coming from traditional Chinese approach to nutrition, which is kind of similar to Elizabethan concepts of elemental composition. Things have hot, cold, wet, and dry aspects, and humors have to be in balance, and stuff like that.

So late into the meal this one dish comes in, a moderate-sized meat stew that’s simmering with some vegetables. China is a lot less squeamish about slaughtering animals than we are; they tend to leave in a lot of bones and ligaments and tendons and things Americans would take out, as much to improve the texture and wholeness of the dish as for economical and nutritional reasons. I approve of this, but it also meant that someone (Courtney?) noticed a small vertebra in the food, which we all thought was weird, but we just kind of ignored the issue in favor of debating the conjugation of the word “vertebra/e.” Which should tell you something about our group. I guess I’d rather we have focused on that than just getting grossed out?

Anyway, some people, including me, tried some of it, and thought it was kind of eh. It tasted exactly like beef, the muscle fibers were thick and dark and short like some beef cuts. Nobody really dug into it, it wasn’t really remarkably bad or good, but I did enjoy the large slices of green pepper in the broth.

Gao Laoshi (host-mom-in-absentia and program director) then comes in with a video camera towards the end of the meal. They’ve been taping lots of stuff, so nobody really thinks much of it, but she starts making really pointed questions about the center dish, the meat stew thing. Nobody had very much if they had any, and most people thought it was fair to middling and said so. Then she said, “Do you know what kind of meat that was? That was dog meat!” I don’t remember my exact reaction at that moment, and if I say it was something specific for narrative effect I know I’ll be proven wrong by the film later. But a BUNCH of people freaked out, especially Alex Brody (big dog person) and a bunch of people were like “That’s pretty douchey.”

Phillippa and I mostly thought it was pretty funny. We both read a lot and had figured out independently before coming to China that we were probably going to end up eating dog meat in something. That’s what happens when you combine dirt-poor agrarian nation (with relatively little arable land) that goes through chronic floods and famines with HUGE population density.

Joker, I apologize, and it doesn’t reflect my feelings towards you or your people. Devon and Chloe, it really wasn’t a big deal so don’t freak out about it. I don’t like it and don’t want to eat it again, really. Mom and Dad, it really wasn’t a problem and I don’t need to talk about it.

I mean, I’m coming at the situation as a very recently ex-vegetarian after being on the tofu train for like four years. Social animals are social animals, and eating one over the other isn’t particularly more or less cruel. And I’d rather eat meat here than in American factory farms. Better for the animal here, and better for the environment. And the Chinese people actually have fresh memories of being a farming people, unlike us, who like to pretend meat comes from a store and the cute little cows on the side of the road are owned by Lamar Advertising, and are there to make the trip more scenic and rustic. The only really weird thing I find about eating dog specifically is that it’s already a predator (theoretically). It’s very rare that humans eat something that eats other animals these days, because we already killed and ate most of them.

To be fair, I don’t really like meat. I don’t get the point. It’s…expensive? Dead? Manly? I understand the nutritional need for proteins and stuff, but that doesn’t mean you need to chomp on the same string of muscle tissue from a cow for years on end and pretend that’s healthy for you. I like some light meats, like a bit of chicken or tilapia (WHICH MAKES SENSE BECAUSE I AM A MONKEY AND DO NOT NATURALLY PREY ON LARGE HERD ANIMALS) but heavy fish like salmon or heavy meats like beef, or apparently dog, really aren’t attractive to me. There’s a reason that most humans that eat herd animals tend to completely denude their environment and kill everything around them in their endless hunt for more pasture land, guys! Just look at the history of the American midwest (before or after the Trail of Tears; the Sioux were on the verge of exterminating the buffalo even before we came along), or of how pastoral life has completely destroyed western India, the Fertile Crescent, most of Africa north of the Congo, and now a lot of southern Latin America as land is increasingly geared towards beef farming.

China has some really handsome dogs, though. I was having a good time playing with this one imported beagle. And the main breed of big dog in north China is the Siberian husky, which I entirely approve of. Gorgeous animals, and they actually like the climate here. Most of the breeds are really small, though, which I never really got the point of. Why would you want to be friends with something totally dependent on you and incapable of physically challenging you? Keep your tiny dogs, crazy people.

Also, saw a really cool adaptation of Cinderella last night by a (the?) modern ballet troupe from Monte Carlo! Not as many people went as last time, which is partly my fault, as I ran out of money on my phone and couldn’t coordinate it very well, but some people really enjoyed it.

It was a very weirdly male reading of the story, really. They explored the characters of the prince and father much more than I’ve ever seen done. Also, the score wasn’t terribly original, and much of it was just randomly chosen Russian pieces, but as there was a bunch of Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev in there, I have no complaints. I could listen to the Lt. Kije suite for days.

But yeah, men. The father is usually kind of an absent, drunk, or dead character (the gendered corrolary to my theory that for boys to have adventures, their mother must be incompetend or dead), but here he was the fulcrum on which Cinderella’s character developed. She’s defined as a good person by her desire to be an innocent child with him, by her love and care for him, and by her attempts to protect and free him from the women who control him, and by extension her attempts to stop him from being sexually controlled by her stepmother. It was kind of odd, but I approve, because the alternative is just kind of “Oh, I am so poor and overworked, sympathize with me because I am sad and revel in my joys vicariously when I get rich, and use this myth to justify your national narrative.” I mean, what? Anyway. It’s not a character drama, without any personality. Otherwise the story is just, “sometimes life sucks, and sometimes good things happen to people for no reason, and when remarkably good things happen to unusually badly treated people, it makes good television.” She’s usually only virtuous because everyone else is evil, and since I started taking politics seriously I’ve become less and less satisfied with the “Rebel Alliance” approach to morality (we’re the good guys because the other people are pretentious racists with funny accents who blow up planets and strangle people). I am all for being Marxist, but you need to keep your ideals and your goals in sight at all times, and decisively compromise between the two when necessary. The American labor movement, Mao Zedong’s faction of the CCP, and the Soviet Union all collapsed (and deserved to) because they lost sight of the bigger picture and took up impossible crusades that didn’t actually benefit anyone. Perspective is vital.

They explored the character of the Prince much more as a bored and lonely guy who enjoys his bros and his power but probably should start growing up and being responsible and building a family and stuff. He also takes himself rather a bit too seriously, but when he meets a dark and charming working-class girl he lets go of a lot of the pretense and can be himself. So I can’t say I identify with him at all, really.

Also, finally got my residence permit today! I went to pick up my passport from the office at Beida, and went to the municipal police administration building in Chaoyang because I thought I had to do something else to get my residence permit approved. But when I got to the front of the line of the big scary Chinese bureaucratic machine (after only like five minutes, even!) the lady working there was really confused because my permit was already issued and everything was fine. I was really nervous because I forgot a bunch of forms, but afterwards I realized that Beida had just kept them and I don’t need them any more. Because I live here now.

It’s especially liberating because they keep leaving the expiration dates blank on all my paperwork. It’s like China says, “It’s cool, dude! Stick around if you want, there’s plenty of room! You can get a job teaching English with my cousin or something, and there’s room on the couch if you can’t find a place to stay!” and then they give me a bunch of high-fives and we play volleyball.

It’s exactly like that.