When we arrived to his apartment, I was very drowsy due to the long drive and all I wanted to do was take a nap, but once again I was denied. My buddy, Eric, then told me we would take a trip to the market so that his mother could prepare the “banquet” for tonight. I asked what was happening that evening, he said they were welcoming me. I felt flattered.
energy-providing coffee overlooking the mountains of Tibet
I was excited to see what types of food that theywere going to serve, because everything I’ve had so far was a great experience . When dinner arrived, I was summoned to the dining room, the whole family was standing behind the table. The mom was frozen with the same smile she first had when I met her. The dad stared. I preceded to thank them for all they have done for me. The mom, knowing only one word in English, shouted “Hello! Hello! HELLO!” as she motioned me to a chair. I assumed that was my place. I saw it as a perfect opportunity to give them the gift we were supposed to give our host families. It was a happy American bundle assortment of candies and vitamins. I handed her the bag full of goodies and told her it was from my family back home. Unexpectedly, she snatched the bag and ran to her bedroom where she came back seconds later empty handed. My buddy told me to sit down and eat. I was not even thanked. As I would later find out that this was a cultural tendency, I felt uncomfortable. Then, the food had arrived and the thirsty stomach was about to be quenched.
Common Street Food in the Markets of China
There was a variety of dishes with different colors and textures. As my buddy tried to explain, in broken English, the origins of the plate, I was on the attack. While indulging in delicious unknown meats and always sticky white rice. I felt a familiar taste of my mouth of authentic Chinese food. The chopsticks were hard to control, but I had gotten a hold of it well enough to eat noodles with them. Everything was going great. Then, something changed, a strange odor filled the room.
"My nose was in panic mode as I closed my eyes and decided to stop breathing as I tried to restrain my reaction from what I just had put in my mouth."
My buddy's mom was carrying a cauldron to the dinner table. I was surprised yet anticipated the incoming flavors. The pot was filled with a dark brown soupy liquid invaded with chunks of various sorts. The pungent odor scared me away, but my buddy explained the importance of this soup and how delicious it was. He took my bowl and served me some soup and some chunks of something that look liked brown gelatin. He set it in front of me. My muscles betrayed my nostrils as my hand took the spoonful up to my face. The first sip wasn't as bad as my mind had imagined. It was a decent broth. Filled with my newfound confidence for the soup, I took something that looks like jiggly tofu and proceeded to eat it, not knowing I was consuming an eye of a cow. The texture was that like a wet mushroom, a squishy orb of broth. My nose was in panic mode as I closed my eyes and decided to stop breathing as I tried to restrain my reaction from what I just had put in my mouth. When my teeth, I bit down and reached the point of no return. The liquid stored inside this excuse for a food oozed out, accompanied by its fierce heat and brothy taste. I felt as if this was the tipping point. This had to leave me mouth. My hands got sweaty, my face got red, and my stomach protested, as if I was my 7 year old self about to board the world’s tallest roller coaster. As I opened my eyes, I saw the family happily devouring their food, while taking breaks to smile at me. I was stuck.
"Then I did what every tourist does in these situations, I thank them and masked my discomfort with a smile."
Earlier that day, Dr. Loren Fauchier, who we now were allowed the privilege of calling him “Foosh”, has taught us the cultural disgrace of refusing gifts or food offered by our homestay parents. I couldn’t show the disrespect of leaving or spitting out the food, so I forced myself to swallow the remains of what would be the most traumatizing food I have and will ever ingest. The feeling of the lumpy substances traveled down my throat with intense slowness and every second was worse than the last. The aftertaste lingered, like a homeless person at a red light, until I succeeded at washing it down with orange soda. The experience happen so quickly but burned into my memory, all the while my homestay family thought I was having the best meal of my life. Then I did what every tourist does in these situations, I thank them and masked my discomfort with a smile. That night, I finally had a well deserved sleep while my stomach made noises like something never before but had the memory of a experience I would never forget.