I'M VERY- CAREFUL WHAT GOES IN MY MOUTH.
In 1994, I signed an eighteen months teaching contract with the Beijing Broadcasting Institute-- located in a distant suburb of Beijing. In addition to lecturing classes in Communication, Journalism, and English, I was expected to teach radio and television news-anchoring to fifteen of China’s top English-speaking Chinese students.
To celebrate my role as the Broadcasting Institute’s first American Communication Specialist, Chinese Leaders rolled out the traditional “red carpet” by hosting an elaborate banquet in my honor. The crowded cafeteria teemed with excitement as the Institute’s Staff, Chinese teachers…and students…. previewed the endless array of special foods. The only American item on the table was Coca Cola, served just for me. I tried to overlook the fact that the can placed in my hand was warm and the top of the can had something brown and sticky clinging to its top.
As dish after dish of handmade delicacies were placed in front of me, I didn’t see anything that looked at-all familiar. In an attempt to be sociable, I knew I must sample a few of the mysterious dishes; I felt everyone in the room looking at me. I had no choice but turn away from the black fish, its head cleverly decorated with seaweed and slugs and its vacant, dead eyes staring directly at me. And, the very sight of the soft pink, jellied squid with each long-reaching tentacle artfully grasping a slice of watermelon-- churned my stomach. But then, when I spotted a familiar bowl of rice, I smiled with instant relief. I remarked to myself: “Yes! I like Rice so—I’ll eat Rice!”
Every Chinese eye in the room was watching, waiting for me to take my first bite. Everyone wanted me to show how much I appreciated this very-personal and elaborate banquet. Then-- before taking my first bite of rice-- I suddenly felt the need to take a second look at those dark, brownish decorations (I assumed they were raisins) lavishly dotting the top of the rice. Oh, no! The decorations were actively moving, squirming in and out of the grains of rice! Horrified, I attempted to move the questionable items to one side of the bowl but... they merely stretched--full-length--and began crawling up my chop sticks!
In response to my sudden squeal, the student seated on my right remarked excitedly in English: “Oh, teacher, I’m so happy you like the silk worms. These Chinese delicacies were purchased--- just for you! Once you finish your first bowl of rice, there’s another bowl waiting….just for you!" It didn’t take long to realize that almost- anything/everything is considered “edible” in China. I readily admit I am very-careful about what goes in my mouth and...I refuse to eat anything that's "still alive"-- moving--or staring back at me!
If it hadn’t been for two American Restaurants —McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken---both opening in Beijing just two months before I moved to China---I would have starved to death.