Friday, June 12, 2015

How Not to Use Chopsticks

     Hello readers! I'm sorry about the lack of posts. I have, unfortunately, been busy taking care of a very sick chinchilla.
     Have no fear! A post is here, and it's about using chopsticks!
     Or rather, how I use chopsticks.


     It was one of the first days in Chengdu. We were settling in at our “dorm” rooms—the dorm was actually a hotel, but they always put the PLU/LC students there because they had more accommodations than the other foreign student dorms, such as individual bathrooms. I think I can positively say that all of us were happy to be in one place. We’d started in Beijing, and hit the ground running—sightseeing mostly.
     Sichuan University had kindly assigned students to be our guides. After we’d met and exchanged names—their English was very good, which I suppose was one of the requirements—we’d decided to go out as a group for dinner. So, our PLU/LC group and our four guides—Eason, Kiki, Jennifer, and Demi—walked together out of the little north gate. They brought us to one of the many restaurants near the campus. We snagged a round table outside and managed to squeeze all of us around. Beer was ordered and toasts were exuberantly said. The beer glasses were akin to shot glasses—short and small. The dishes—massive tureens of steaming vegetables and noodles—were places in the middle, where everyone could reach. At least, in theory.
     I’m short, with proportionately short arms. This is not a problem; it just meant that I had to stand to reach the food. My chopstick skills, however, were a problem, especially when it came to picking up the extremely slippery noodles. In my defense, these noodles were not made of rice or wheat; they were a potato noodle and were as slippery as black ice.
There is also a technique that helps, which I was woefully ignorant of. You’re supposed to pick up your personal bowl and get that as close as possible to the communal bowl of noodles, and that way, just in case the noodles slip, you can catch them before they slither onto the table.
     I know now, but at the time, I was regrettably na├»ve to the ways of chopsticks.
     You know how it is. You’re in a new group of people and you want to make a good impression. This is particularly true when you’re in a different country and trying to represent your country in a respectable manner.
     I tried. Oh, did I try.
     For the majority of the night, it was fine. I got through a conversation with Eason and Anna without making an ass of myself, and I’d handled my chopsticks admirably. Then the noodles arrived. It was immediately obvious to me that I may have met my match, and yet they were tasty and different and I wanted to keep eating them.
     So, I stood, my chopsticks outstretched, and picked up a noodle. I carefully levered myself back towards my seat and was about to sit down when the noodle began to slip from my chopsticks.
     Oh no.
     It happened in slow motion and there was nothing I could do to prevent it.
     The noodle fell.
     Right into my beer glass.
     I sat, my hand still raised, and just looked sadly at my beer-sodden noodle.
     Maybe no one saw that?
     My eyes swept the table. Those who sat right next to me were oblivious, but then I looked across the table at Eason, who, as a good host, was gallantly trying to hide a smile. So much for making a good impression. I gave him self-conscious smile.
     A laugh broke through my embarrassment. Martin was sitting on Eason’s right and had also seen my failure. He had no compunction about laughing at me. It was his laughter that made me shed my awkwardness and I grinned back at him—really, if I had tried to get a noodle into my glass, I would have missed. Once Martin started, a chuckle escaped from Eason, and I added my own rolling laughter to theirs.
     Kiki got me another beer glass—I think the waiters were also amused by this clumsy foreigner—and dinner continued. So, I didn’t give the first impression that I wanted, but it was certainly the most genuine.