by Ava Ming: My Oriental Life
Recently I caught a cold. It wasn’t too bad but I ended up spending a couple of days in bed. My dear friend came to see me, her opening words being, ‘be careful you will catch a cold.’
She then walked out in the rain determined to restore my energy by buying me ‘no-meat’ soup as she calls it. After 30 minutes she returned, laid down her dripping umbrella and offered me the dish. I gave a weak cheer in gratitude but a small sip was all I could manage. The sweet and sugary soup didn’t make any sense to a brain infected with millions of cold germs and I just couldn’t digest it having never tasted anything like it. I did try, after all she’d got wet sourcing this for me, but it was no use, I couldn’t stomach any more than a little.
So, off my erstwhile buddy went out again, this time returning even wetter, (the rain was pretty fierce), with a small and very hot cup of savoury ‘no-meat’ soup, that is if you exclude the shredded chicken breast and large chicken foot floating in the middle of it. As I’ve noted in a previous blogs, it really does seem as if chicken is a vegetable in China. Not surprisingly I couldn’t drink this soup either. (ever had a dead chicken foot bounce against your upper lip?) My wonderful friend didn’t complain even once despite her double soaking during the mild, tropical rainstorm. She was too busy laughing at my reaction while trying to understand how I could have a problem with simple soup which is enjoyed by millions of Chinese on a daily basis.
During all of this I had spilled some of it on my arm, crying out as the boiling liquid fried a couple of layers of my skin. My friend’s response after the fact was; ‘Take care, you will spill the soup and burn yourself.’ A few days before, when walking I’d tripped over some uneven paving. Again, after it happened she’d cried out, ‘look where you are going, you will trip over.’
Like many of her countrymen she has very strange timing when it comes to words of warning, generally issuing them succeeding the event as opposed to prior. When I pointed out this pattern, she replied that it’s because Chinese people are actually referring to the NEXT time you fall, trip or catch a cold, but this differential gets lost in translation.
The next time I’m offered a bowl of sugary soup with a chicken foot floating in the middle of it, I will politely but most definitely decline. Some experiences you only need to have once.
And the next time I’m with a Westerner who’s hurt themselves or caught a cold, I look forward to advising them to be careful, Chinese style of course.