Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Through Avoidance of Cultural Faux Pas, I live with the Curse of the Phoenix Claw

When traveling, it is often times best not to ask what something is before trying it, especially if consuming it. I like to believe I am adventurous, so I will try most items placed before me. I follow the don’t ask, don’t tell policy, when it comes to food. Don’t ask the question you don’t really want an answer for. In China, it is customary to allow the host to select the meals. Take my advice, don’t ask, just enjoy. Although, with this said, on more than one occasion, my Intel counterparts from China, Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia took cultural advantage of me. In other words, they enjoyed setting me up, in fun.

We all left the Intel site and headed to a Chinese restaurant in downtown Shanghai. I had heard great things about the authentic informal dining and the quality of the food. When we arrived, the decorum was less than I envisioned, but the table was built for sharing with a turning center piece, or rather a huge lazy Susan in the middle. This turn table is great for large parties getting together and serving the food. The host would spin the table to allow each guest time to add portions to their plate. The variety and the smells were succulent to the senses.

It was apparent that all eyes were on me when it came to a particular dish coming to a stop in front of my plate. We were using the back-end of the chop sticks to serve ourselves. Food warning: Don’t make the mistake of using the end you put in your mouth or you will be looked on as a heathen dog or labeled a “Double-Dipper.” Double-Dipper defined as, an individual that takes a bite off of a piece of food (vegetables, chips, bread, etc., and then dips again, and again). All eyes continued on me as I lifted what looked like limp textured noodles onto my plate. “Please try,” exclaimed the host. I started to feel like I was on the Fear Factor television show. Not knowing what the food item was, helped. I tried to cut the noodles with my chop sticks to no avail. Eventually, I picked the cluster of what appeared to be four tough noodles up with my chop sticks and I bit off an inch or so piece. Chewing the food, I then wondered why the bite was so gristly. I continued chewing the food, my host and peers placed their right hands over their mouths and began to chuckle. After swallowing the bite, I politely asked, “What is so funny.” Smiling, I received no answer. I asked a second time, “What is it?” The host said, “Phoenix Claw.”

My mind quickly raced into myth and legend. Phoenix is a fire bird; claw is what they rest on or feet. The Chinese love chicken. The 1.3 billion Chinese and most of Asia eat food cooked in its whole form. For example, if you order duck or crab, expect to get the whole duck bill (not the tab), with flippers included and the crab in entirety. Let’s get real, 1.3 billion people need to eat, nothing goes to waste. I thought for a moment and then exclaimed, “Chicken Feet?” Exchanging a little laughter with the group, my mind conjured up visions of the chicken prating around like the chicken dance, on their feces, in their pens. My stomach didn’t like that at all.

What is the curse of the Phoenix Claw? The visions never go away! Every action has a reaction. Through avoidance of cultural faux pas, I will live with the Phoenix Claw experience, forever…

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