I've had some interesting conversations about food recently too. I impressed a teacher who saw me eating all the green peppers out of the pork and peppers, and the English teacher next to him asked me if they had peppers in America. I said yes, and she said "Maybe they are not spicy" so I said some were sweet and many were spicy. She asked me if we eat rice in America. I told her that many people do, and that we also have a lot of bread. She then asked me if I preferred the Chinese way of buying fresh meat and cooking it or the American way of leaving meat in the refrigerator for a few days. I told her I was happier eating things the day I bought them because I live alone. Americans in my experience tend to buy for the week whereas Switzerland required I do my shopping more regularly and I've been in Asian markets before where the food is still kicking when you buy it, but I've also learned that here it's better to cook and eat things the day you buy if you don't have a refrigerator. For me, buying enough for the night's dinner helps me manage my portions and ensures I don't have things rotting or drying out in my fridge because I'm not eating fast enough. Subconsciously cooking for 4-5 people is a hard habit to break at first. Judging from the reactions of another foreign teacher, I could have reacted more strongly about stereotyping because not everyone in America eats that way but it seemed like a harmless question and I am an American. It can't be any worse than the Ticinese man who asked me about Schwarzenegger during my freshman year when I told him I was from California. When you're abroad, it's not unusual to find that you're a representative simply by being someone from another place with a different system and different experiences. I think it's just more pronounced in China than it might be in some other countries.
I finished reading Shen Cong Wen's Recollections of West Hunan. Certainly a different view of China than I've gotten from other reading, though to be fair my familiarity kind of ends with select poems and Journey to the West. His writings are all about rural West Hunan, his hometown of Fenghuang and throughout the writings he gathered in the book he comes back to the "big book" versus the "little books" repeatedly. He frequently skipped out on school and mentions that he had a stronger memory than many other students so that he tended to get less severe punishments whenever they caught him. The "big book" is the world that he runs through in order to learn what he can. After being so used to hearing about the importance of formal education in China and among other Chinese-Americans, his voice is completely different. He describes navigating the rivers, the Miao people, the conditions that drive people to become bandits, old magic and rituals...he's writing about his own home county but the way he writes and his experiences do remind me a lot of the travel writing I've been reading recently. The events towards the end of the collection are pretty dramatic though, a wedding, an elopement, bandits, a battle, saving face, poisoning...I won't give it away. I'm going to try his fiction next. He's not Steinbeck, but I guess his focus on people living in rural areas and people living a bit closer to the earth remind me of Steinbeck writing about the working class. Shen Cong Wen isn't quite so political though in his writing.