August 08, 2010

Once Upon a Restaurant in China

I spot a restaurant in China that looks like it serves tasty food and take a seat inside. After being offered someone else's bill, a look of bafflement, and a pack of cigarettes, I finally receive a menu. A piece of paper with Chinese writing and a sauce stain is provided to me. The waiter stares at me with piercing eyes, darting impatiently from side to side. 60% of the dishes on the menu are not available. "Don't have, don't have." drones the waiter, distaste dripping from his mouth at my ignorance of the state of the current food inventory at his place of work. I look at what the other customers are eating and point at the items I want, the waiter's blank stare not revealing whether I have made myself understood.

I order a starter, one meat dish, and a bowl of rice. It is hot outside so I cannot ask for a glass of water, as that only comes in the piping hot variety and I need something cool and refreshing. I am brought a room temperature bottle of beer. It is left unopened and I am not given a glass. Soon my main course arrives, followed 45 minutes later by the appetizer, and 5 minutes later by my bowl of rice. I try to explain that I need a plate or bowl to eat from, and am finally provided with some napkins and a glass. The next attempt brings forth chopsticks, and I begin my meal eating directly from the large dishes.

The ratio of staff to customers is 1:2 but most of the workers are clustered into groups chatting with each other or solitary types who are often found to be staring into space. It is hard to attract the attention of a waiter without yelling at them, but that is not my style. Sometimes there is a glimmer of recognition that I am motioning for them, but after 15 minutes have passed I realize that this is not the case. Eventually, the staff all sit down at a nearby table and start eating their meal. One notices that I am still trying to attract their attention. I ask for the bill and am given the menu. I ask for the bill and am given a toothpick. I ask for the bill and am given another bottle of beer. I ask for the bill and am given the bill. The figures are within a reasonable range of my estimates. Similar to when I ordered food I am under pressure now. The waiter hovers near me, fixing me with another impatient stare as I struggle to provide exact change. I decide to give him a 100 RMB note instead. Still eyeing me suspiciously, the waiter holds up the note and examines it to see if it is counterfeit before walking back to the counter to retrieve my change.


"It is a good thing that life is not as serious as it seems to a waiter." ~ Don Herold