well, the day started with having a chinese breakfast. Scared what the dishes are, staisfied myself with the corn flakes and croissants. Did try some dish but wasn't sure if it had beef or pork, so abandoned it. I have decided to eat everything except pork and beef because of purely mummy (oops..i mean religious) reasons. The lunch in the office was equally confusing and couldn't eat much beyond the sald and fruits. thankfully chinese eat a lot of fruits, so life can sail. The day went on smoothly with almost no work as my tutor remained busy the whole day..but that is not the high point of the day.
my tutor invited her entire team to a dinner to welcome me and there were some 12 people sitting in a Sichuan (probably the one refered to as Shchezwan in india..am not sure) restaurant. I was asked if i had any dietary restrcitions and i named beef and pork as banned. they were nice to order only two beef dishes and around twenty other dishes. well, before i come to the dishes, let me describe my biggest achievement of the day. Chopsticks..yeah chopsticks..the two slender sticks used by Chinese (and some other Asian cultures also) to eat the food in place of spoons and forks looks simpler but is really complicated. I had managed the lunch with forks, but wanted to learn the art of handling these sticks. one of the colleagues Harry helped me. He told me to keep one stick pressed at one end between the thumb and first finger and the other end lying over the third finger. this stick is supposed to remain still, the way our upper jaw remains still. the one that is supposed to move is the one pressed between the thumb and first finger at one end, but letting the second end move, balanced between the first and the second finger. Well it sounded complicated description of a simple task to the ladies present, but Harry had done a brilliant job of explaining it to me. in the first attempt itself, i was able to pick up a piece of chicken. people clapped.
it turned out that Harry also is a Mechanical engineer like me and maybe that's why i understood him so well. then, i just decided to have the entire meal with the chopsticks. i ate noodles and my confidence increased. then i was offered some other meat which was not chicken nor was it beef or pork (my hosts were really honest and respected my dietary constarints). i picked up a piece and put it in my mouth. it had bone in the middle and i had to use my hands to get rid of the bones. i was told that it's the neck of a duck. So, here was the second achievement of the day - Duck meat eaten. But the feats had just begun. I was again offered a meat which was none of chicken, beef, pork and not even duck. It was quite soft and yummy. after having a bite i asked what it was and the answer came - FROG. I was astonished. Did i just eat a frog? and did it taste good. well, the answers to both the questions were YES. So, the third achievement of the day - Frog eaten. then i was offered Squids (some seafood), some fish, some potato dish, century eggs (eggs preserved for 100 days). sweet rice balls, and what not. i kept munching and my hosts were happy to see me comfortably eating their dishes.
Sichuan is supposed to one of the spiciest chinese dishes and believe me, they were a little less spicy than the dal we eat in india. So i was completely comfortable. actually it was in lunch that i was not able to find taste in the food. but eating a spicy food was not the challenge, neither was the challenge in eating frogs, ducks and squids. the real challenge was not of dare but of talent. it wa sabout the skill of using the chopsticks. I was asked to pickup a peanut by the chopsticks. In case, the geometry is not clear. Chopsticks are like 6-8 inches long slender pair of sticks held between the fingers and it is easier to hold flat big stuff through them as the force applied at the other end of the sticks is too less due to its long length. peanuts are round (in case, not known), and are difficult to pick, specially when you have to pick just one. the chopstiks need to move as if two of your fingers move and claw the round nut. I made an attempt and VOILA..i picked upa a peanut. people clapped loudly. the challenge kept coming, ranging from peas, corns, rice and so on.. i kept suceeding. the final challenge was to pick up a peanut using my left hand. well, left is not a hand that i often use and can't really write or eat with my left hand. but, now it was about the pride of a mechanical engineer, about the pide of IIT and about the pride of India - the pride that we can merge any culture into us. after one faike attempt, i finally picked up the peanut with chopsticks in my left hand. the applause was accompanied with cheerful hooting and i suddenly became the attraction of the crowd.
i must say that my introduction to the chinese cuisine was both joyful and enlightening. i have several achievements for a single day - chopsticks, duck'e neck and frogs.... the journey has just begun...