Only IN… China?
This could be an other “only in … China” submission for the StickmanBangkok website, and you won’t believe what happened to me yesterday.
Golly, I have always had great times in China, and even after hopping back and forth there for nearly 10 years there is still no shortage of adventures!
Here I am in a factory of a modern industrial park near ShenZhen, visiting and auditing the production site, and also getting to know better my new partners in business.
After a few days spent with them, I’m more relaxed and when I’m serving them my usual speech about me being 100% French but also 100% Italian, I can feel I have hit the jackpot although I don’t know exactly why at the moment. I can feel electricity in the air. The relationship moves from friendly and polite to very very friendly and then switches to almost uncontained excitement.
You may know that in Chinese’s imagination France and Italy are the most “romantic” places of the world; and I have lost the count of the times when these lovely young things of the female persuasion that are swarming here asked me out of the blue and with enamored eyes if I was “romantic?”
With China, both France and Italy are countries of long history, big cultural heritage, worldwide famous arts and you may see it coming… gastronomy.
So, after an exhausting business meeting, I have lunch with my partners and this is when we started comparing the Chinese way of cooking with the French one that I lost control of the situation:
“At home my wife cooks the French dishes, I’m doing the Italian ones” I say.
“<I don’t remember the answer or comments, and shame on me I’m so proud of myself that I’m not even sure I listened>” one of my partners replies.
“<Talk, brag> spaghetti, <Talk, brag> pizza, <Talk, brag> risotto” I add.
This is when Stella, the account, a slender young woman, tells them how she saw me this morning fry 3 eggs at the same time in a wok for breakfast.
“3 eggs together?” a guy exclaims flabbergasted.
“Would you cook something Italian for us?” the boss asks me while 20 eyes shining from gastronomic lust are staring at me and while the 10 associated mouths are gaping nearly dripping of saliva.
“Of course, no problem… if we can find all the ingredients, I will be glad to” I answer with mixed feelings.
You see Frank, in the back of my mind I was telling to myself that it was a glib answer as the chances to find everything I need may be very low, the nearby town being remote and looking very drab. On the other side, it was an interesting challenge and I was tempted to show off. But I have been caught off guard, I was not expecting this.
The lust filled eyes are now happiness filled eyes shining with anticipation.
“Tonight, we go downtown shopping, OK?”
“No problem” I answer.
That very night we cruised all the local supermarkets like determined housewives on a shopping spree and we found the onion, garlic, carrots, sticks of celery, ground beef and bacon, olive oil, a bottle of Chianti, the most difficult ingredient having been the spaghetti “made in Italy”.
It took us nearly one hour, but again the local saying that you can find everything in China revealed itself to be true.
After that we have been to a restaurant which speciality is to serve tea with dim sum late in the night and at 10 pm the place is heaving. While we have the second diner of the evening around green tea and beers, my attention is diverted by a looker who is entering the place. You know that kind of woman that you can’t think of anything else than love when you see them, but not normal plain boring love, no, no, but something so great that you never experienced it before, like more worshipping a goddess, something that will surely consume you. Because she looks pure, like an angel. She wears quite revealing clothes that exposes her alabaster legs, arms and shoulders, but make-up, hair style and behavior is glamorous, not sluttish. My fascination didn’t get unnoticed by my workmates.
“You know this town is for entertainment. It has many massages, karaoke and you can find any service you want! ShenZhen wants to clean up because many foreigners are coming now. So the government has increased the pressure on the entertainment places that one by one are closing and are moving to this town. Here, quite no regulations are applied” is explaining my partner.
Frank, suddenly I realized my luck. Finally there may be a god looking after me. Because I’m supposed to come to this town every four months. And because this guy definitely wants me to cook for him.
“This restaurant is inside a hotel and they have girls like this one to service you. After she has finished with you, you will sleep very well. If you want I can book room plus girl right now” he added having noted my deep concentration to his lecture.
Of course I agreed, but I will tell you more later as I’m drifting from what I wanted to tell you.
Next day around 10 am, I stopped working to go to the staff kitchen. You see, in China, factories very often include a dormitory plus canteen for the workers and a living building with a restaurant for the managers.
Here, I’m awaited by the cooker, a lovely Cantonese lady which is the wife of the Human Resource Manager. She is in her forties, dresses neatly, has perm curly hair and a strikingly beautiful funny smile that would cheer up any poker faced solicitor. She waits for me because she has a mission, to learn from me the recipe of the Bolognese so that she can do it again.
Well I won’t describe to you how I proceeded as I won’t teach you anything, you have been a chief cooker, but I would mention that although I invaded her kitchen the cooker didn’t show any sign of nervousness or unease. That was a surprise, you know how a woman can get fussy when a man invades her working space, complaining about the stains and rubbish spread everywhere.
We both used a mix of English and Pu Tong Hua to communicate which hasn’t been always very easy but in most occasions she has been able to guess what I wanted.
I did my best and I succeeded! The Bolognese was perfect, just like home, I’m not kidding.
Stella came to see me in action and took a sniff over the pot; I got an approval nod plus smile.
Ken, my workmate, came too see me and asked me if he could came back later for a plate of spaghetti that he will bring to his room and share with his mother-in-law.
At 12:30, I have 10 people waiting the spaghetti to be served, and finally we start eating while drinking Chianti.
In my life, I have never seen people so delighted with a plate of spaghetti Bolognese. They took each 2 servings, leaving perfectly cleaned plates on the table, which is, you may know, close to science-fiction in China, and I got a lot of praises and hearty thanks.
It would have been perfect if I have been able to buy some Parmesan cheese.
Ken came back from his room with orange lips and he called me “chief cooker”.
That same evening Stella told me that she has eaten too much of my pasta and that she couldn’t take anymore food, she was just not hungry.
I think I have made new friends in China, as the heart of people can be won through their stomach.
Comments to follow (sorry, still incredibly busy!)