Sunday, September 24, 2006


I ate probably one of the most uncomfortable meals of my life tonight. I went to this stir-fry place just down the road from my place. There's a lady standing at a wok in the front of the restaurant, with a bunch of plates with different meats and vegetables. You walk up to the table, and take a very small dish, and put one piece of everything you want in the stir-fry and then hand your dish to the lady. It's kind of like Flattop Grill in the sense that they make you a custom-made stir-fry with the ingredients you want. It's kind of not like Flattop Grill in the sense that it's pretty filthy and just a hole in the wall. It's only about 60 cents for a great, quick meal, so I usually go there about three times a week.

So as I selected my items for my stir-fry, I put some chillis in my bowl like I usually do, and sat in the back of the restaurant where there was no breeze and no fan. (The weather here is still pretty hot and humid). They brought me my steaming hot bowl of rice and plate of fried vegetables. Most of the time, they make my food here pretty spicy, but it's always good. But today, when I looked at my plate of stir-fry, it was mostly chillies.

It was one of the most painful meals ever. Having just come from the wok, the food was so hot my mouth burned from temperature and from spice. I sweat from the heat. I sweat more from the food. No fan. I was eating stringy vegetables, so it was difficult not to get some sauce on my lips, chin, and mouth. My face was on fire. My nose was running. My eyes began to water. Tears, snot, sweat. I was a mess. No napkins, no water.

I got the waitresses attention. I spoke in the clearest Chinese ever: "请问小姐你们这里有没有开水?" ('Excuse me miss, do you have bottled water at this restaurant?'). I had asked this question millions of times and I've never really had any problem with someone understanding me, but she had no idea what I was saying. So I tried simplifying it: "我要一个瓶水"。(I want a bottle of water). No clue. "水" (water) I said. Nothing. Finally she said, "一杯子?“ ("A glass?") "我不要一杯我要一瓶” (No, not a glass, a bottle). Nothing. She finally picked up a dirty glass and filled it with water from a strange kettle on the floor.

There was no way I was going to drink that water. But I didn't want to embarass myself by talking for 3 minutes asking for a glass of water, and then leaving it full on the table. I wanted to dispose of the water somehow. So there I was in the back of the restaurant: Sweaty, red faced, leaking all kinds of bodily fluids, no napkins, no beverages, and a glass of water that I needed to dispose of without causing a scene or drinking it.

While no one was looking I would slowly pour some of the water onto the floor in the corner. I was righ there in the back of a dark restaurant. The place was convered in filth anyway. Who would notice? I kept doing this until I had a half of a glass and the floor was soaked. I thought, this is the best I can do. I made another attempt to force the food down my throat without touching my face, tongue, or throat. I paid the bill and left.

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