This might have been the most interesting day yet! Jerry decided to step up the culture training to a whole new level. He wouldn’t tell me where we were going, but when he told the Whitney’s their faces lit up and they said how they wished they could go, so I was pretty confident that where we were going, wherever that ended up being, would be an Experience with a capital E. Jerry, Lawanda, Judah, Flight, and myself all crammed into a taxi and headed across town.
The taxi driver was one of the chatty variety, so naturally Jerry was talking with him in Mandarin. Somehow the conversation turned to me. We happened to be driving by “Beer Street”, which is famous throughout China because it is the home of the Qingdao Beer Brand (like Bud or Busch in America). I am single. I am young. I am in business. So naturally the taxi driver asks: “Have you had the famous Qingdao beer?” “No” “Oh, you have to have it! Its famous!” “He doesn't drink” “Whaaaaaa? No drink?” It just astounded him. You must drink to be a man he said. Over and over again he came back to it in the ride. “No drink? Really? Never?” And he would just shake his head and laugh... and shake his head some more.
There is an amazing amount of cultural insight to be had in just that taxi ride. To see myself from his eyes: in order to be a man, I must be someone who drinks, and I must be someone who drinks a lot. The male community here is brought together and united by drinking. It is how trust is formed. So excellence at drinking is excellence at being a man. Refusal to drink is refusal to be a man. Why would I ever not want to drink, then?
Well, beer taxi aside, we arrived at our destination. Winding through some small streets crowded with vendors, we entered a very nice restaurant, full of decorations, great smells, and miniature waterfalls. One area was a concave rectangle outlined with tables filled with different dishes. That was the menu. You go over and look at what you want, and then order it to the hostess who follows you. Around a small corner you come into a large open room, full of tables and people, all facing a stage for... the Qingdao Opera! Reds and Golds and yellows and flash covered most everything, matching the gaudy (but not in a bad way) costumes and make up of those on stage. Columns lined the walls, crowned with grinning golden dragons in full rampant, and people filled the tables all eating and talking and dipping and drinking as the performance went on. The opera itself was far more a piece of atmosphere than an engaging performance. To be honest, I didn’t pay all that much attention since 1) They mostly just stood around and talked, sometimes in a singsong way 2) I couldn't understand them 3) I was much more focused on the food!
Jerry ordered enough food to feed a small army: sprigs of lettuce like greenery with tangy sauce, mixed vegetables prepared cold and sour, broccoli warm and soft, pork with chewy sea-growth, hot and spicy and flavorful skewered pork, warm and satisfying onion bread (though really more of a tortilla), and more pork mixed with yellow and black something (I assume vegetable, maybe squash) which you pack into a tiny tortilla. The only thing I didn't enjoy was the mixed vegetables-- I bit into a large piece of ginger and I felt like a novacaine pill had exploded in my mouth! And I almost forgot the other dish we ordered: Duck head! Jerry and I were the only adventurous ones. I can see why its not popular in America... and it really has nothing to do with taste. I mean we eat hot dogs and sausage for crying out loud! We are not averse to weird food as long is it tastes good enough and is hearty enough. This tasted ok, but was decidedly lacking in heartiness: there just wasn't much there to eat, and hardly worth the effort. After stuffing myself to the brim with wildly delicious food, THEN Jerry tells me: save room for dessert. But he said it with a glint of mischievousness in his eyes that immediately put me on my guard. We headed outside to one of the many street stalls. This particular stall specializes in frying insects. ordered a fried scorpion for each of us (and by each of us I mean Jerry and I-- Lawanda wouldn't touch that with a ten foot pole, and I guess Flight didn't want one). The man flipped one of the many live and scurrying scorpions from a bowl right onto the fryer, cooked it up good and covered it in spice. We each took a bite at the same time. That is definitely the weirdest thing I have ever eaten-- but not that bad. I would get it again. After its fried and there are spices on it, there isn't much to it.
Day Four = Success!