Sunday, November 13, 2005

You Ain't Gonna Make It With Anyone Anyhow

While shopping at a local street market today, I noticed a lot of kitschy Mao memorabilia for sale. Little red books in almost any language, t-shirts, lighters, statues, propaganda posters, and clocks and watches all featuring his mug. It's a little odd since Mao's party is still running the show in China and these items aren't being sold out of respect for the dear leader.

I have to admit that I was tempted once or twice, particularly by an alarm clock with Mao's face, his arms as hands, and a little jet serving as the second hand. Very cool and very kitschy. But I just couldn't get past the fact that the good Chairman was responsible for the suffering and death of millions of his own people. Somehow it just doesn't seem right to have anything associated with such a man monster decorating my office. "Hey, that Hitler paper weight you got is sweet man."

Word to the wise for any Westerners who visit one of these sprawling marketplaces in China: bring a native with you. If possible, a Chinese woman. When it comes to negotiating and closing a deal, they make Donald Trump look like Harry Frazee. And they can spot a rip off a mile away. I was fortunate enough to have someone from our office in Shanghai accompany me today (with her husband) and I was damn glad of it.

Whenever I found something that I was interested in I would wait for the shopkeeper to come over and start pitching me on it and then stand back and let her take over. Price, quality, selection. You name it, she took care of it.

Finally, under the category "If It Quacks Like A Duck" comes my tale of lunch today. After perusing the menu, and getting a good laugh from a few of the English translations of the dishes (my favorite was "Hairy Crab Meat With Minced Pork Balls"---mmm...that's good eatin'), I mentioned that the stuffed duck sounded good to me. My guides ordered the duck along with about sixteen other items, which is fairly common practice when putting on the feed bag in China.

We worked our way through dishes one through fifteen, but the duck still hadn't made an appearance. Jing, one of my hosts, joked that they must have gone out to the market to get the duck. Then he mentioned that they probably didn't have as much duck available since people weren't ordering it as much over concerns about the bird flu.

Bird flu? D'oh! While looking over the menu, I had noticed a couple of chicken dishes that sounded tasty, but had decided that discretion being the better of valor I would not take a chance with them. For some reason though I never made the connection with the duck.

bird: warm-blooded egg-laying vertebrates characterized by feathers and forelimbs modified as wings

Yes, that would seem to include ducks now, wouldn't it? Live and learn, live and learn. If it's any consolation, the stuffed duck was quite delicious.

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