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“Soft fried chicken cubes.” “Fungus with onions.” “Fried fish in squirrel shape.”
Even when translated into English, the menus don’t read like a list of entrees so much as a table of contents in a book of poetry: “Fried celery with salty pork.” “Mixed green stuff.” “Local snack.”
We went out to lunch every day in Beijing, in a big group of 45 or so American business students and people married or engaged to be married to American business students. Typically, the restaurant would seat us well away from any actual Chinese diners. We’d file into our separate room, fill up several round tables and order: Coke or beer. The servers did not ask for our input beyond that, perhaps fearing we’d want Big Macs, which, after a couple of days in China, many of us did.
Somebody – the restaurants or the tour company, we never asked – took the liberty of ordering for us.
“They’ll have the ‘stir fried diced duck with lily,’” somebody must have pronounced. “Give them some ‘chilly pork,’ too.”
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