Monday, June 14, 2010

Fast, Cheap & Out of Control

So I get back from Shanghai, see?, and I’m feeling a bit hungry, see?, so I go to a local fast food restaurant. Because it’s fast. And I’m hungry.

Someone (can’t remember who, might have been close personal friend Anton Chekhov) once told me that I should “show” rather than “tell” in my writing, so here’s a copy of the menu so you can get a feel for the place.


I had the #6, which, as you can tell from the menu, comes soupercized. As you can also probably tell from the menu, this fast food restaurant (都城快餐) is like Panda Express, only slightly less classy. Also cheaper. Come on, Panda Xpress: eight dollars for fried rice and some tangy shrimp? What is this, Vegas?

(Maybe all of this is not clear from the menu. Maybe telling you would have been better than showing you. Maybe Chekhov lied to me. This is just like the time I went to a production of The Segull because the poster had a lot of seagulls on it and I assumed it was about a cool bird like Scuttle from The Little Mermaid, as opposed to Russians who DO SO MUCH TALKING.)

When I finished my meal, I noticed a garbage can, sort of like this:

Garbage can

CHEKHOV! Sorry, it’s going to be hard to get this “showing” advice out of my system.

I see this garbage can. It has trays on top of it, and I think the swing-door even said “THANK YOU” in English, just like in the picture. And when I see a garbage can like that, I have a very strong instinct which says put your trash here. This is the place for your trash. When I say thank you, I mean, thank you for putting your trash right here.

So I decided to try an experiment. Straight Madame Curie style. I decided to try to put my trash in the garbage can. So I stand up and grab my tray.

Pandemonium. Everyone around me looks up in surprise. Two waitresses begin to not-run-but-almost toward me, and one says in a loud and clear voice, “I WILL HELP YOU CLEAN UP. I WILL HELP YOU CLEAN UP. I WILL HELP YOU CLEAN UP.” When she gets to my table, she takes my tray, brings it over to the garbage can, throws the trash out, and puts it on top of the garbage can. Just like I was going to do.

Now, I know that in Chinese fast food restaurants (with the exception of the aforementioned Panda ‘Press), you’re not supposed to clean up your own plate. I’ve lived here for, what, nine and a half months now (to all the people I impregnated right before I left, I hope that the births went well!), so I know that Chinese waiters expect to clean up after diners way more than American waiters do. But, frankly, I was surprised by how vigorously everyone opposed my attempt to walk my tray twenty feet to a garbage can which, remember, had already thanked me for the service I was trying to perform.

Anyway, a good learning experience. This is the sort of thing I’m trying to do in my last two weeks in China. Pushing boundaries, staying on the edge. That’s just my style.

(I’m back from Shanghai. At some point soon I will upload some pictures from the Expo. I may even talk about them. You’ll just have to wait and see.)