Friday, February 8, 2013
Those of you who know me well know of my aversion to fish or anything to do with anything even remotely associated to fish or seafood. For those of you who don't know me that well, please refer to previous blog posts such as A Great Honor, published in September 2010, or any of the Qing Dao blog entries, published January/February 2012. Or I could just tell you about it right now, real quick.
I have a strong aversion to anything that has to do with seafood with the possible exception of seaweed, which does tend to creep into a lot of Chinese cuisine. It has been a lifelong loathing, harking back to the days when, as a child my mother forced me to eat fish. Said portion of fish was somehow bad, made us all - sibs and me very sick and now, to this day I cannot stand even the smell of fish.
I've not suffered from the lack of Omega 3 fatty acids, from what I can tell. Therefore I conclude that there is no harm in my not eating fish or seafood. Not that I would disparage or discourage anyone who enjoys the experience. I would have no room to talk, probably because they are richer in Omega 3 fatty acids than I am.
Fish is a huge deal in China, as you might know. I've reported before that fish is ceremoniously served: head, tail, fins and all. When someone invites you to dinner you are guaranteed the first bite of fish. When you invite people over you are most likely going to get a fish to cook. In the winter you can order a 'delectable' fish soup and in the summer, strolling around, you can snack on fish flavored chips.
Junk food junkie that I am, I don't even like fish flavored chips.
Remember a few posts back, how I described my last few days in Wuhan as frenetic and disorganized? Part of that was because I had the joy of hosting a dinner for Mr. Wang - the school's head of maintenance, and his wife and son. Sam came along, of course.
Because I was so close to leaving China I hadn't done any major planning for this event. I figured on serving a Western style meal: soup, salad, entree and dessert. Sam suggested serving only western food might be a bit weird for the Wangs, and that I should order a few (more Chinese) takeout dishes from the school's cafeteria. I always respect Sam's view on what would be proper or customary when dealing with my colleagues or any of the school's staff, so I sent him out in the bitter wind and pouring rain to get take out, while I busied myself cooking what I had in mind to fix.
You might think I got my sweet revenge by making him trudge outside. It wasn't meant that way. Besides, I forked over the money, so you can see that I had no malicious intent at all. It was truly just a matter of timing and disorganization on my part that Sam had to suffer by going out. In fact, if there was any discomfort associated with that dinner party, it was in my preparing for company while keeping in mind that, less than 2 days from then I would be on a plane and not only had nothing ready but was hosting a dinner party.
None of that has to do with fish. Here is where the fish comes in.
Mr. Wang is remotely acquainted with my family. He knows I have a son and a daughter - considered double happiness in China. He is aware that I have grandchildren and is prepared to share in the adoration of them. I'm fully prepared to let him. What he was apparently not aware of is laws regarding transporting fresh fish intercontinentally.
He had in mind to gift me a fish. More specifically, gift my son a fish, which I would hand carry on the plane all the way to America. To him, and indeed to most Chinese a gift of such magnitude is reserved only for the most esteemed and well thought of. Thus my son was to receive a fish, but not any of my friends, nor my daughter.
Not that my daughter is in any way less thought of. Tradition dictates that sons are revered while daughters are tolerated. Mr. Wang is a very traditional Chinese. Thus my son was to receive a fish. My daughter would only receive greetings. A good thing, all in all. I think that fish would have been pretty ripe after the overseas plane ride and all of the visiting I planned on across the States.
Mr. Wang told me over dinner that he had intended gifting my family (my son) a fish but learned from Sam that Customs would confiscate his precious offering. Disconcerted, he flayed himself emotionally for having nothing to gift my family. While understanding his crestfallenness, I had to work really hard to suppress my gales of laughter. I could just imagine presenting myself at Customs in Los Angeles, begging them to not confiscate my fish! Worse: I could imagine queuing up to board the plane for a 20 hour overseas flight, fish in hand.
In defense of that mental image, I say: passengers are allowed one personal item and one carrion. Or is it one carry-on? The airlines aren't really clear on the topic. Maybe I would have gotten away with my fish.
The long and the short of it was that I came to America fish-less. However, there was fish on the plane.
That is what was served for dinner on the flight. I smelled it from 6 rows up and immediately thought: surely they are not serving fish in an enclosed cabin with no fresh air ventilation, are they? Well, as surely as I thought that, I ended up with a meal of fish. Trying to contain my nausea I asked the cabin steward if there might be something else to eat.
Fortunately I was able to ask in Chinese. I have the sneaky suspicion that, had I asked in English I might have been told there was nothing but fish to eat. Presumably thanks to my language skills the offending fish plate was whisked away and I was presented with a less malignant meal of stewed duck and green beans with rice. Really wasn't bad at all... if it weren't for the wafts of fish aroma coming from all over the cabin.
All of this is really more fish than I care to blog about in one entry. However, there is just one more topic I'd like to cover before I put this one to bed: sweet revenge.
I did get a revenge of sorts on Sam. Remember: he ran out in the cold to procure traditional Chinese dishes for the Wangs, who might not like eating a purely Western meal. The traditional Chinese cafeteria food was barely touched while the food I prepared... well, let's just say only good manners and decorum kept Mr. Wang's son from picking up the serving bowl and licking it clean. Sam even admitted my food was tastier than the cafeteria food.