Posted on

Is there a chicken on the train?

My guide here in Guangzhou is a lovely young editor, Ellen Wong, whom I met last year at the Frankfurt Book Fair. She said today she has the same feeling I do, that there was something very special about our meeting. I had dashed over to the Chinese area, without having anything in particular in mind, and immediately I walked in I saw Ellen and her boss, Mr. Jin (who invited me to his home last night, to meet his family—that’s a story yet to come).

We drank tea and they showed me some books. I fell in love, then and there, with the horoscope books we will be publishing in a few months.

I’m writing this on the train to Hong Kong, which I barely made because I was talking on my newly functional Chinese mobile. Ellen hustled me to the gate and it was only then that I realized I was, sort of, leaving the country, which meant an immigration check. Fortunately I had filled in a departure form on the plane. I’ll use another when I leave from Shanghai on Saturday, and I have another entry to China ready (thank god for that advice from Tom) so returning this evening should be fine.

I heard a chicken crowing a few minutes ago and am fairly sure the sound came from the train. There are a couple of large cardboard boxes on the racks, so that’s my best guess. But the train itself is as clean and well-appointed as most trains in Europe, and better than the scruffy Metro-North trains I take to New York City, with their vinyl seats. (Commuter trains from New York to New Jersey are even worse, I think; amazing to think of high-paid bankers riding them every day; there isn’t even a first-class service on those trains.)

Ellen took a photo of me eating my first chicken’s foot (I’ll post it when I get a copy). I’d heard a lot about how the Chinese eat lots of these and many come from the U.S. because we don’t eat them. I guess my Chinese friends are surprised I’m so adventurous, but I’m really just curious. And if it takes good I’ll keep eating. The chicken’s foot was delicious, fried, I think, and cooked in a spicy sauce.

Most surprising is the lovely pastry you get in China. We had “morning tea,” which is a dim sum breakfast. One of the dishes was tiny custard tarts with perfect crisp pastry. On top of the custard was a mound of sweet, clear jelly (jello, to Americans). I asked what it was. “It comes from an animal that looks like a frog,” said Ellen. “This is one of its organs, and it’s considered very good for ladies’ complexion.”

I haven’t figured out what that could be, but since I’ve also come to like jellyfish this week (crunchy strips in a vinegary sauce), I’m not worrying about it.

Outside the train, lots of farming. Banana and many other things I can’t identified, as well as rectangular ponds (fish farming?). There are square concrete building everywhere but also fields and small houses. The sky is gray and brown, heavy humidity and a lot of pollution. I’m a little snuffly from the pollution but it’s not too bad. If I lived here, I think I’d be taking extra care with my health in various ways, and I certainly will appreciate the clear air of the Berkshires.

I could write an entire blog about Chinese food, I think. Speaking of which, there are food and drink carts coming up and down the train every few minutes, so I won’t go hungry. In fact, there are hot roasted chicken legs ready to be fished by a big dish and dropped into a plastic bag for easy eating.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *