On Wednesday we launched a second reconaissance to find the perfect place for our New Year’s Banquet. The Big Date is set for January 25. By then, a few people will already have left for their two week vacation in their home towns, but most people will still be here. Chinese New Year, celebrated by the lunar calendar, is January 29th. We will be celebrating to usher out the year of the rooster and usher in the year of the dog. People born in each year are said to have personality attributes corresponding with their animal. The animals are not stereotyped in the same way as the west — each animal has both positive and negative attributes.
Anyway, at 11:30 I left with Maggie, Sophie, our driver Afu, and Afu’s daughter, to go to "THE" Sichuan restaurant where we had the banquet last year. I wanted to order some food which we had not previously ordered, to sample it, to see how it was and to decide what to have on the menu that would be particular pleasing to the Chinese palate. We already knew what the fish tastes like that is swimming in a broth that is completely covered in red chili peppers. So I ordered the 98 RMB fish that is steamed on top of a bed of egg custard. We also ordered a sweet and sour fish dish which came surrounded by a bed of watermelon, stir fried green beans (just because I like them), a dish that was described as "pig insides" with mushrooms (this was Afu’s choice, and it turned out to be the favorite of everyone at the table), another dish that was duck sauteed with Chinese vegetables, another dish of pickled spicy peppers as a condiment, and white rice for everyone at the table. Pictures are attached. One picture is a typical Chinese place setting. One’s rice is served on the side. Rice is spooned into the small bowl (or not spooned) and food is put into and eaten out of the small bowl. One uses individual chopsticks to serve one’s self out of the dishes, unless a separate set of serving chopsticks is used. Since one touches only the food that one takes, it really doesn’t feel unhygienic. Soupy foods are served with a spoon into one’s individual bowl. Most food is pre-cut into bite size pieces, but bones are not removed prior to cooking. Therefore, one can either use chopsticks to hold the food and nibble the meat off the bones, or put the whole bit in one’s mouth and then gnaw on the food until only the bone is left. Whatever is left is then unceremoniously spit out onto a small "spit plate" which is also part of the place setting. From time to time, the waitress will change out both bowl and spit plate. If you think this is gauche, bear in mind that table manners are simply different. The Chinese think it is gauche to touch one’s food with fingers. As tempting as it may be to pull food apart with fingers when it’s not cut up to fit Western sensibilities, it’s not allowed.
After a long lunch, we went to the private banquet room to plan our menu. To use the room, there is a minimum order of 1,180 RMB to use this room. After ordering approximately 15 dishes. our total was only about 800 RMB. We added 15 large bottles of beer, tea for all, and five large bottles of orange juice. Only 900 something RMB. We added another large fish. We struggled to find more and more food to order, to meet our minimum order. Finally, we arrived. Only then was I told that karaoke was no longer available. After much discussion, the manager agreed that we could have karaoke but only if we paid an extra 188 RMB. I’m not sure how he came up with this "even number." It was already 3:30 and we had been there since about noon. All the menu was prepared and all that was left was to pay a deposit. But, I wasn’t happy about pulling the extra charge for karaoke, and I wanted to let him know it. In China, everything is about negotiation. We said we would think about it, and we left. As we approached the elevator, the host came after us and asked for a phone number so he could call us back. That was about 30 hours ago. Tomorrow, I may check again to see if the price has softened any. So, tomorrow there will be Installment #3, I suppose.