After a very long time, I returned to China, to a small city near Hangzhou. The toughest part of visiting this great country is finding a native who speaks English. The travellers' problems are the Eiffel Tower of suffering, unless you hire a professional guide.
The signs, except the directions on highways, are all in Chinese script. Even an English sign is no guarantee of its accuracy in describing what the shop or the place is about.
After finishing our work, as we had bid goodbye to our guide when we spotted a strange sign in English across the road. "No Bacteria Hotel": The owner's cruelty to the Norman tongue was evident in a magnified manner. The urge to visit an "English" food joint, however, propelled us in.
The entrance was typical Chinese, with danglers at the dragon-shaped door. The dim-lit hexagonal chamber was empty but for a head protruding from behind the counter as a cannon from a fortress wall. No sooner had we taken our seats than a diminutive dame with pint-size eyes, high on pencil heels and short on skirt, stood on our head.
I asked for the menu. "We no menu, we order direct," she replied in arrogant, styled English. I exchanged mute thoughts with my friends, but with stomachs growling, we had no alternative.
'What all.. you… have here" I said slowly, having gauged her shallow command of the language.
"We… many dishes like goat genitals soup, pig hoof gruel, old vinegar jellyfish, fried goose intestines, know taste pork meat pie, pockmarked old lady's tofu, fish smell like pork, spicy duck heads, and lover's lung," she set off, as a bullet train of speech, trying to impress us with her English and speed of conversation.
"We... serve… also… special dish like explode the stomach, slide the tendon, and fire the sheep's internal organs, made with donkey's meat; but for thousand-year-old eggs, you advance... tell me," she said, eyes shuttling across our faces, expecting an order.
My friends and I had exchanged glances already, and overruled our stomach hollers to decide not to eat there. "What's so special about thousand-year-old eggs," I asked the waitress. "Oh this… are… made from duck eggs coated with lime, ashes, and mud and soaked in horse urine for 100 days, so the yolks… come… green and the whites become and dark brown."
She had described it well enough to make us leave the place that instant but in order not to appear picayune, thought we might order a bottle of wine just for the dame, if not for some other reason. I dared to ask her what the wines packed in attractive bottles and stacked behind the counter were.
"Oh we… have good… collection. It is Cat's Pee on a Gooseberry Bush, Frog's Piss, Lizard Spit, and Fat Bastard," she said, turning her head with a jerk.
I got up, dragged my friends, and ran out of the English environment of an absurdly dragon kingdom.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com