- Wolfgang Fobo
A strong stomach and no fear of unknown food - this is what I am blessed with, and so I could master quite a few challenges. It is not only what you in your understanding looks ugly but you are expected to eat - otherwise you would insult your host. It is also what you don't see that could make you shudder. Like hormones, or antibiotics. Having travelled in China for now 38 years there is probably not much left that I was spared.
I remember one case when I refused to eat: the waiter served a large fish. The head was still "unspoiled", the eyes moved, and so did the mouth. The fish was looking at me, I felt. From behind the head towards to tail the fish however was fried. And prepared for eating. Since I was the one with the highest rank at the table, all the Chinese looked at me that I would take the first bite. No, I got angry. How can you eat a fish while it is still looking at you? With all my authority I could gather I called the waiter to take the fish and return it "processed". Which happened within a few minutes. The Chinese laughed, which is what they do in such cases, if their boss loses temper. I was the exotic, but I didn't care.
They just wanted to serve me fresh fish. And the cook wanted to show his skill. While the fish is fried, a wet towel is wrapped around its head, so it stays alive, at least it looks so.
Eating in China is not for the faint hearted. While we Europeans are educated to observe table manners, ideally the English way, in China it is more or less the absence of table manners which is their culture. Eating the Chinese way means that you are not supposed to observe rules that inhibit the joy of eating. Eating and enjoying comes first. You can slurp, you can smack, you can spit out all these bones and fish bones that you cannot avoid. This is also table manner: enjoy and don't feel restricted. Looking from that perspective, I can understand this Chinese approach. After dinner, the table cloth looks like a battle field. And it has to be replaced. Really, I can warm up to this approach. Where else can I mess around at the table? Only in China! (not everywhere, the five star hotels probably are more westernized, but certainly at the popular spots).
After all, warming up with Chinese has at least one precondition: go for lunch, or dinner, with them.
And never, really never, overextend a meeting into the lunch or dinner hours.