Sunday, April 23, 2006

"You men eat your dinner, eat your pork and beans. I eat more chicken than any man's ever seen..." Backdoor Man/Willie Dixon.
Sunday evening had me thinking I'd either been here too long or feeling like I'd just arrived. It began when I slipped on a large, unmarked area of slick just-swabbed tile in a Shenzhen grocery store and went crashing as slowly and gracefully as I could beneath a fly-blown dripping table full of thawing ice and chicken feet.
C and I were shopping for dinner and in a breakthrough moment she had offered to cook. This was unprecedented. C does not cook, so we either order-in, dine out (Chinese) or I throw together something approximating chili, spaghetti sauce, seafood or fish fit for sauteeing or boiling, or the fried flesh of a farm-raised quadruped together with potatoes and fake salad. As such C's offer of chicken wings with ginger, green onions and corn sounded groundbreaking from someone who is normally ecstatic to announce that she's just successfully boiled an egg or poured hot water into a foam cup of instant noodles.
Unwrapping myself from beneath the trickle of defrosting ice on my head and from the floor which planted a large wet spot resembling a distorted map of China on the butt of my khaki shorts, I assured her I was fine and quelled the immediate urge to go into one of my Ugly American rants about how if China had something resembling OSHA and this was a Safeway we could retire comfortably to the south of France on the proceeds of a personal injury/negligence lawsuit.
Then I perked up. As she scrutinized the chicken wings, I noted a unusual assortment of chicken parts next to them. Not the feet, of course. Those are ubiquitous. Nor randomly hacked and flayed bits of broken ribcages flecked with meat, also not uncommon. Those are primo, the good stuff as any right-thinking Chinese chicken eater knows.
No, I saw drumsticks. Complete whole drumsticks. In almost 3 years in Shenzhen I had not caught as much as a glimpse of a complete single drumstick. The KFCs all sell wings and something resembling breasts, but no drumsticks. Ditto for the KFCs in Hong Kong. After the nutritious, savory and oh-so-filling precious feet are removed, I'm not clear on what is done with the utterly worthless legs they were attached to. At the banquets, where the bird is served whole it's a con job. It has been chopped up crossways from the neck to the rear and then reassembled.
So I suddenly found myself craving the feel of hefting a complete drumstick, gnawing, ripping and sucking on the meat until the bone was bare. My inner-medieval castle banquet knave or maybe the inner-Austropithicus before him was slobbering to be released.
"Those!" I blurted pointing a shaking index finger. "Drumsticks! Get those. Now, please."
C looked puzzled at my fervor. "Chicken legs? Okay," she said slowly, in a tone that suggested she was dealing rationally with an completely irrational individual in a hostage situation. "How many?"
"Four!" I hissed. "Those four there." They were the largest, fattest ones available.
Satisfied and salivating in anticipation of the feast to come, I generously offered to hobble with my aching, wet back and butt to the produce section for corn, ginger and green onions while she dealt with waking up the butcher who seemed oblivious to a growing line of consumers clutching plastic bags of stuff that mostly resembled offal. (At the grocers here foods such as meat and produce are usually weighed and priced at the source, not at the checkout line.)
I returned to see carnage. Horror. Culinary blasphemy. The butcher was applying the final few cleaver strokes to what had been four intact drumsticks before he wrapped, weighed and priced them.
"Why?" I pleaded to C. "Why didn't you stop him?"
"Stop him from what?" she said. "We always chop up the legs."
My mood turned ugly and sullen, but I kept mostly silent as we trudged from the store to another block where she said we had to visit our pirate DVD supplier who had promised to replace a faulty Sex and the City disc. At least that's what I thought she said. I would swear to it even now but ....
I stood with two Chinese families swarming over and picking through the illegal DVDs and watched without comment as the children, all about 6 to 8 years-old, got the beaming parental seal of approval for selecting wholesome family favorites such as Freddy vs Jason, Santa's Slay and Witchhouse 2: Blood Coven.
C was meanwhile locked in one of those incomprehensibly long conversations with the DVD pirate boy that looked and sounded as if they were discussing North Korea's nuclear threat and what to do about it.
I sighed and sat down and finally C returned with an Audrey Hepburn 8-movie box set and asked me if I thought 120 yuan (US$15) was too much.
"No, I guess not. But what happened to Sex and the City?"
"What? We have that already!"
"But you said one disc was broken and ...."
"No! I said I wanted the Audrey Hepburn movies."
"Uh, no, you. I mean, not really, right? Maybe, I ... or you....But never mind. "
Ain't it grand when couples communicate openly and honestly?
Back at apartment 20-D, C cooked up her debut dish and it wasn't too bad. Delicious actually, though I was still stewing about the vandalized drumsticks. I decided to cut my losses though, took a shower, retired to the bedroom and lit some candles. Romance. That' s what we needed tonight.
C finished showering, opened the bedroom door and sounded irritated.
"Why do you have candles?"
"Why do we ever have candles in here?"
"Turn on the lights, please. I want you to put lotion on my back."
That's normally another signal, like the candles, but at the moment it was clear she had nothing but lotion and only lotion on her mind.
I blew the candles out as hard and loudly as I could, snapped the lights on and slathered the lotion on her as if I was doing it for my 118th client in 2 hours at a Florida retirement home. Wham, slap, rub. Next!
Then I turned off the lights. rolled over briefly, got up and went to the balcony to smoke a cigarette alone while she lay silently in bed.
I watched the lights of Shenzhen and mulled about couples, botched cross-cultural communications, bad DVDs and drumsticks.
C came out after about 5-minutes.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Smoking a cigarette and thinking about world affairs, why I'm here, stuff like that.."
"Come back and light the candles."
I did.
"My favorite position!" she sighed a few lovely minutes later.
"Better than drumsticks," I whispered.
Excellent entry Justin. I can easily relate to your drumstick woes.

Since the misses came to Denmark, I have learned that meat and bones are to be sliced and hatched up beyond recognition. No more good long pork ribs for me and no more chicken drumsticks to grease up my hands.

My wife likes to cook, and I like to eat (match made in heaven?), so she often cooks while I relax or is put to other work. Therefore I don’t always see what she is up to, but often hears some loud bangs and smashes from the kitchen. Since I am extremely dumb, and eventually paralyzed by the great taste of her dishes, I never gave much thought to why all bones was cut, and more importantly “how”.

One day I finally caught up on the sounds and went to the kitchen only to find my misses banging our kitchen/butcher knife through a couple of rib bones using another kitchen equipment as a hammer (I can’t remember exactly what, since I was stunned seeing my 2nd favourite knife being used as a wannabee-axe). Since then I introduced a much older knife and a hammer to her instead, but of course it was too late to save our GLOBAL cooks knife (price: 70-80US$). It already sustained a permanent notch in the blade. Cry…
A classic example of the difficulties of cross-cultural communication with one's international sweetie. I couldn't help but smile knowingly to myself as I read. Great entry.
Thank you guys. Very glad to know you could relate to the situation. And Peter, your story about the ruined high-end blade made me cringe. "Ai yah!" as they say in HK.

just saw your note. Looks like you have a great site here. I'm linking to you and look forward to exploring here in the coming days.
Who's this Ben guy to tell you what to write about on your own damn site. WTF.
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