From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Fieldnotes From History (5)—Utensils and Greasy Fingers

Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Fieldnotes From History."
[a] 筷子 RF

Part of an occasional “Round and Square” series that follows the blog’s main theme (east meets west, round meets square, and past meets present), these snippets from my early fieldnotes are reproduced as they were written by hand—and then revised on an ancient desktop computer—during my first fieldwork stay in Taiwan (1985-1987).  All entries are the way that I left them when I returned to the United States in 1987 (some nicely-stated and some embarrassing). I will allow myself an occasional comment when something makes me wince after a quarter century.

[b] Chopsticks RF
Twenty-five years has taught me that American and Chinese ways with "finger-food" are separated in profound ways. On a recent domestic airline flight in China, I watched a young Western woman as she slowly peeled bread chunks from her sandwich, held them between her fingers, and methodically ate them in so many strips of gluten. Later, she peeled the meat and vegetables and ate them in hand-cut pieces, licking her fingers during pauses. Then I looked around. My fellow travelers were transfixed—absolutely aghast at the fingery-awfulness of it all. The finger-food issue has not gone away, and I will have more to say about it on Round and Square at a future date. Many people have talked with me about it over the years (and can't believe that Westerners can feel comfortable touching food).

10 May 1985
Most people in Taiwan just don’t like finger food. They also seem very uncomfortable with Western-style utensils. The normal way of preparing Chinese food is to do all the cutting and preparation in the kitchen. When a plate is on the table it is ready to eat. It doesn’t need to be cut or separated. Everything is nicely diced, chopped, or sliced. All you need are chopsticks. For this reason, people sometimes have difficulty in Western restaurants.  I was having a cup of coffee in Foremost (and ice cream and sandwich restaurant) the other day. It is right next to my Chinese school, and I often go there if I am early for class. A man at the table next to me stabbed his sandwich with his fork and began chewing around it in a counter-clockwise motion. He looked like he was chewing the meat off a chicken bone while he held it securely with his chopsticks (a much easier operation for people who grow up in a Chinese setting).  In McDonalds (don’t get the wrong idea now; I only went there for a Coke) I saw a woman holding her McChicken container under her chin and scooping the lettuce and mayonnaise refuse into her mouth, rice bowl style, with a straw. I have caught myself doing both of these things in recent days, a possible hint that perhaps I am becoming used to "native" utensils.  I just don’t like greasy fingers anymore.

1 comment:

  1. It's like eating a candy bar with knife and fork =)

    On the other hand, a Chinese practice that may startle some "Westerners" is the common practice of using one's own chopsticks to take food from the main dishes throughout the meal, while just the rice bowls remain individual.