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China, humour

China 23: Showdown at the Furong

Copyright Elaine Canham, 2015

Copyright Elaine Canham, 2015

Continuing my 1985 diary of a trip to China

March 3

Go to the Furong restaurant in the evening. It’s supposed to be the best exponent of Sichuanese cooking in the city, but what a bloody performance. We sit down at a table with Frean McSwean, the Kiwi; Pat, an Irishman from County Cork and a young American couple who look they’ve come straight out of some Ivy League college, beautifully turned out and with lovely haircuts, and clean clothes. They look so strange in this dusty, dim environment full of yelling, hustling Chinese, and the rest of us look like shambling Flintstones next to them. Still, according to them, they’re fluent Mandarin speakers and know everything about China, on account of studying it for three years in America.

The waitress takes her time about coming, and the young couple, who I’m going to call Bob and Beth, threaten to leave. But when the waitress does come they can’t make up their minds what to eat. Then we have to pay before we get the food. Aeons later some of the nosh arrives.

‘Where’s the rest?’ demands Bob.

‘Mayo,’ comes the inevitable reply.

‘So why didn’t you tell us that when we ordered?’ he demands. The rest of us look at each other restlessly. This is not good. You can’t win an argument in China like this. Pat wades in with some lovely Irish oil, trying to calm the western waters, but Bob ignores him, and Pat sits back and swigs his beer, and digs into what food there is, as the rest of us all do. There is no sense in letting it go cold.

But Bob won’t settle down. ‘Well?’ he keeps on at the waitress. ‘Why didn’t you tell us?’

The waitress shrugs and looks at the ceiling.

‘We’ll have some of this, then,’ he says, pointing at the menu.

‘Mayo,’ that awful reply comes again. ‘Kitchen closed.’

So we eat what there is. And it is really nice, lovely spicy Sichuan cooking at its best; there’s just not enough. But Bob and Beth are not happy, so Bob calls the waitress over and asks for a refund. We all try to stop him, but he won’t listen. He is going to prove a point. And anyway, he reckons we’ve paid for dishes we haven’t had.

When the waitress eventually comes, he talks loudly to her in Mandarin and you can see all her dials begin to show red. When she speaks, her volume goes to 11. She points at each dish, adds it all up rapidly in Chinese and… proves she did make a mistake. There is a little silence. She has now lost face, which is the worst thing you can do to a Chinese person, and Bob then makes the mistake of grinning at her, and saying something that is obviously Mandarin for, ‘I told you so!’ She turns on her heel, marches off to the kitchen and comes back with a dirty plate. She bangs it down on the table and says, ‘There! You ate that, too!’

At this Beth, the shiny Prom Queen, snaps. She stands up, takes the plate and smashes it furiously down on the next table. ‘We didn’t have it, you stupid Chinese bitch!’

The waitress stares impassively at her, marches off to the kitchen, gets another plate and repeats the performance, this time getting the manager involved. The entire restaurant has stopped eating by now and our table is surrounded by yelling, gobbing, gesticulating Chinese people. The waitress yells at the manager, ‘Look, there are all the plates they’ve eaten off!’

Bob is now beginning to look a bit daunted, Pat is very coolly telling him he’s a gobshite and he really doesn’t want to get pasted over a bowl of rice, and Cheryl, Elspeth and I are trying to work out where the nearest exit is. Not that we stand any chance of reaching it through all these people. Every single person in the restaurant is now counting the plates and then, suddenly, just as we think the whole place is going to erupt, they all seem to melt away. Why, I don’t know, except they have probably realised it’s not best policy to get violent with a group of westerners. Maybe the non uniformed gendarmes have arrived. Who can tell? It’s as if we suddenly don’t exist.

Anyway, the waitress, still absolutely furious, stomps over to our table and bangs down two kwai in front of Bob. It’s less than a pound. He looks round apologetically at us. ‘I know it wasn’t much,’ he says. ‘But it was the principle of the thing.’


Woken up in the middle of the night by Elspeth putting her boots on and running down the corridor to the bogs. She sounds like an entire regiment of Panzer tanks. Hours later she trails back.

‘Are you feeling sick?’ says Cheryl. ‘Shall I get you some water?’

Elspeth looks at her as if she’s doing long division in her head. ‘Yes. No. I’ll get it.’ And suddenly she’s off again, galloping down the corridor as if all the waitresses from hell were after her.


About elainecanham

I started blogging because I'm a writer, and I thought I ought to. Now I realise that I blog because I like to; even when I can't think of much to say.


17 thoughts on “China 23: Showdown at the Furong

  1. Unfortunately, I’m a Brit living among a lot of Bobs and Beths! And I worked with may of them, too. One just has to excuse their ignorance! Or laugh. But it does get uncomfortable. Thankfully my husband, a true Texan, is well-traveled and takes everything in his stride.
    I’m loving these accounts of your travels.

    Posted by Vivra Beene | March 10, 2015, 12:05 am
    • Thanks Vivra; he was just young, and he wanted to impress; I suspect he’s quite different now; probably a high up consultant on China or some such. And people did snap, living there. Some students I met told me about a guy who had a nervous breakdown and had to go home because he just couldn’t take the culture shock.

      Posted by elainecanham | March 10, 2015, 9:20 am
  2. Yes, they do get around. Now I’m very curious about your American hero Elaine…Who is going to play your part in the movie?

    Posted by olganm | March 9, 2015, 3:12 pm
  3. I love “doing long division in her head” I know exactly what that expression looks like!

    Posted by penjedi | March 9, 2015, 12:50 am
  4. I’ve met Bob and Beth. I can’t believe the coincidence. They kept changing their faces, and in one case nationality, but so far, I’ve met them in about 6 different countries. My, but they do get around. It’ll give them coronaries eventually.

    Posted by Tara Sparling | March 8, 2015, 7:58 pm
  5. Stupid Americans. *In a stereotypical Americanized French accent*

    Posted by naptimethoughts | March 8, 2015, 7:40 pm
    • They were really just like that. But don’t worry, in two days I meet a lovely stereotypical American hero. And boy did he get me out of a hole

      Posted by elainecanham | March 8, 2015, 9:25 pm
  6. 😀 😀 😀 I don’t mind watching a good debate so long as it has nothing to do with me.
    We were in a Haagen Dazs restaurant in Shanghai where the waitress took her sweet time serving us. It’s like she served everyone else first. 😮

    Posted by Let's CUT the Crap! | March 8, 2015, 4:59 pm
  7. I’ve waited 23 episodes to say this: he was like a bull in a China shop.

    Posted by Bruce Goodman | March 8, 2015, 12:58 pm
  8. Clearly Bob and Beth were unfamiliar with the old Chinese proverb, He who shorts the waitress on the bill will incur the wrath of the gods

    Posted by lbwoodgate | March 8, 2015, 12:06 pm

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