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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The School Cafeteria

Thanks to my 4th floor neighbor in December, Katie, I was introduced to the art of food foraging by myself at the West Campus cafeteria; since then I've perfected this skill. Like most universities, the fare is...well, university food. But, being illiterate here, I'm thankful I can find palatable food without having to rely on anyone to read a menu to me.

One thing I learned the hard way was the time one can eat lunch. Service begins promptly at 11:00 a.m. and it's locked up tighter than a drum at 12:30. It only took one day for me to arrive late (1:00 to learn this). It's easy to tell time on West Campus. You see a stream of students headed towards the cafeteria promptly at 11:00. And, now I can tell which of the two floors they will visit to find food.

Those who BYOB+C (I've coined this phrase to mean Bring Your Own Bowl and Chopsticks) will stay on the first floor. You must have a command of the Chinese language, and a school issued stored value card to purchase food. I'm out of luck on both.

Most people who aren't in the BYOB+C category will ascend the concrete stairs in the cavernous, echoing building to the second floor. It's here you see a traditional—with Chinese adjustments—to the notion of a cafeteria. I find lunch here most days. I also find a fascinating look into campus life and culture as whole.

For starters, the boys here are AVID basketball fans. One day it was literally deafening to hear the voices of several hundred males screaming for the Houston team since about six TVs hang from the first floor and another six from the second floor ceilings. With the first Chinese player on the Houston team, there is justifiably great pride in this fact and subsequently avid fans following the events. And, the number of basketballs bouncing around here is quite overwhelming sometimes.

When I ascend to the illiterate zone, my personal reference to this second floor eating exile, I grab a brown, square tray and begin looking at all the items displayed for my choosing. Every day brings new offerings. But, I can always be assured of rice as my core luncheon dining. Today, I added small bowls of: boiled pumpkin, green and hot peppers (my mouth felt like the Towering Inferno afterward), sautéed bean sprouts, fried lotus, boiled peanuts, and some sort of round, yellow cornbread looking but rice tasting item I've grown fond of. I take my lunch choices to the register and await the numbers to appear before me. Today it was 5.20 RMB. Most days my expense is between 4.50 RMB – 7.60 RMB, depending upon how much I grab. If you're wondering how much this works out to, consider it takes 8 RMB to equal $1.00.

After I pay, I grab a set of black chopsticks from the can on a table and find a table. If I am there earlier in the lunch rush, I find clean tables. Otherwise, you'll find all sorts of food debris left on the table in small piles. Here in China meat items aren't de-boned or de-skinned. So, the normal thing to do in a restaurant is spit this out into a plate; in a cafeteria the 'plate' is the table.

I find this an encouragement to my early timing at the cafeteria.

1 Comments:

At 6:54 AM, Skip said...

Cody Says, Good Manners are a Treasure,,,like him. Skip

 

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