Dragon Fish, Tiger Paws, and Cucumber Bricks

I met Sophie on Wednesday for a late lunch.  When our fish came, it had been beautifully set up to look like a baby dragon.  An artistic surprise.  There’s a picture of it below.  Walking on the street after lunch, we passed a mom, dad, and baby.  When we went inside the restaurant, the baby had been playing with daddy.  Now they were both sleeping and it was a very sweet scene.  While there are exceptions to every rule, Chinese keep their babies with them and love on them a lot.  Most people use baby carriers or slings, you hardly ever see a stroller. 
 
Then a surprise of a different kind.  While walking near the Chinese medicine market, I was just utterly shocked and flabbergasted to see real tiger paws, with claws attached, being sold for medicine.  I also saw a monkey skull and various goat skulls and horns.  If you enlarge the picture of the woman sitting on the street big enough, maybe you can see it.  Do you notice that she is eating her lunch?!!  Ugh! Then I noticed that many vendors along the street had tiger paws.  Or maybe they were bear paws, but the fur that remained on them appeared to be red with stripes.  I wondered, how many of them have been slaughtered, where did they come from?  I was too appalled to have any desire to strike up any conversation with the vendors.  I avoided eye contact and was in such a hurry to get away that it affected my ability to get a good picture.  Sophie said that from their dress they looked like they came from Tibet. 
 
After awhile, we went together to the guzheng lesson that J and I share.  I had asked Sophie to go with me, because the teacher doesn’t speak English, and I thought Sophie might be able to help if there were any translation issues.  Sophie stayed in the room with J while she had her lesson, then she took care of J while I had my lesson.  After our lesson, we walked on Beijing Lu (Peking Street) for a bit before Sophie hurried home.  Beijing Lu is one of the big shopping streets that’s closed off to traffic.  There is one section of the street that has been excavated down to the level of bricks that are about 1,000 years old.  This pit is covered with plexiglass so people can see it.  I’ll put a picture of that on here. 
 
After Sophie left, J and I stayed there browsing shops until David joined us for supper at Pizza Hut.  I bought a book of easy Chinese poetry for my teenagers.  After David arrived, we went to Pizza Hut.  I know of 4 Pizza Huts in the city, and this is one of them.  We ate there only because we are out at Beijing Lu so rarely.  In the menu picture, as well as the first time I had it two years ago, the Supreme Pizza looked and tasted just like an American Supreme style pizza.  Unlike the Fajitas I ordered where the sauce was made with ketchup, I can order a Supreme Pizza and not have to pretend that I am eating the real thing — I really am getting what I ordered!  What a nice surprise!  But on this night, I was a bit disappointed.  Last year, when we ate at Pizza Hut, it tasted just like Pizza Hut in America.  This time it did not.  Althought it was tasty, my Supreme Pizza had only the smallest amount of cheese and no tomato sauce that I could tell.  It also had only the tiniest bits of meat (I had to search for it).  
 
Unfortunately, and I will inject a stereotype here, the skimping on ingredients and quality is very typical of a Chinese style management decision.  Cheese and tomato sauce and meat are expensive ingredients.  I’ve noticed that the Chinese management will focus on cutting costs to such an extent that quality and even the nature of the final product is compromised.  Another example of this is what happened to the Subway Station here.  All the expats in Guangzhou were soo excited when we finally were going to get a Subway Station sandwich shop!  The expats were hanging on each rumor of when and where the franchise would open.  Additionally, it’s in the perfect foreigner location just across the street from the Garden Hotel.  The Subway franchise did it right, too.  They were so concerned with quality that they spent two months setting up the restaurant and then another month or so just training the employees on how to make the sandwiches.  I was sure the restaurant would be a huge success.  But, no!  By the time I got there several months after it opened, costs had been cut so much that the final product was unrecognizable.  There was exactly one sliver of meat on my subway sandwich, one dib of lettuce, and one dab of whatever else I asked for.  The expats all bemoaned, "They got a Chinese manager!" 
 
This, sadly, is a typical pattern for most foreign restaurants, of whatever variety.  A foreign owner will have a great restaurant idea and a fantastic chef, but they are required to have a Chinese partner.  The Chinese partner will learn the ropes of supply, ingredients, atmosphere, etc.  The Chinese chef will learn how to cook the recipes.  And then, they’ll find some way to utterly oust the foreigner from participation in the business.  It’s a regular gossip among the expat community which restaurant has lost its foreign owner this week (or month) and where the chef went after he was fired or left.  The restaurant may function okay for a year or so, but eventually quality becomes unrecognizable, declining until the restaurant is less than a shadow of its former self. 
 
I don’t believe this is unique to restaurants at all:  it should be a cautionary tale for every foreign enterprise thinking of doing business in China.   I am aware of major, multinational, industrial operations, that could be used as case study examples for my observation, but I don’t want to name names.  Suffice it to say that, sooner or later, I believe that almost every foreign enterprise participating in the China market learns this lesson.  Some learn by listening to advisors, others learn through grim life experience.  Whether they survive or not depends on how well they have planned and structured their enterprise. 
 
But I’m determined that this entry in my BLOG should not have any serious thoughts in it!!  So let’s return to the topic of Pizza Huts and the really fun thing you will see at the bottom of this entry:  MY PICTURES OF THE PIZZA HUT SALADS!!!   
 
Pizza Hut salads are worth taking a trip to China just to see one for yourself!  Until I saw one in person, I couldn’t quite picture the salads that people were describing to me!  It’s just so outrageous!   
 
I’m not sure of the dynamics of how or why this tradition got started, but it’s almost a contest here in Guangzhou to see how tall one can stack one’s "one trip" salad bowl!  Perhaps people "stretch their dollar" because it’s so expensive.  Or perhaps it’s a teamwork thing.  Or perhaps they just like to share.  On the cost aspect:  A "one trip" salad bar is 28 RMB.  To put that in perspective, last week three of us together ate lunch for 28 RMB.  So, perhaps it’s so expensive that people feel like they need to get a lot of mileage for their money.  Plus, Chinese like to share.  It’s customary to eat family style out of dishes at the table, not to eat individual portions as westerners do.  This is really a "family and friends" participatory sport!  It’s a great game to see how high you can stack the salad. 
 
So, check out the photos below that show some of the teamwork in building these enormous "one trip" salads!!!  As we ate our pizza, we watched three girls work together, for the entire time we ate, to meticulously build their salad.  As I was leaving, I got a shot of one in the early stages of development!  Look at it close up and check out those cucumbers — doesn’t this look like it would just be fun to eat?!! 
 
For what it’s worth, the "walls" of the salad are made from cucumber slices.  As the cucumber wall is built up, the interior of the bowl is carefully and gradually filled with the other salad goodies.  Perhaps eating it’s a bit like playing the game "Jenga," because you’d have to be very careful to make sure it doesn’t collapse!  Pizza Hut used to put out chunks of watermelon which people used to build the salad "walls."  You should have seen the salads made with real watermelon bricks!  I’ve seen an entire table full of people sharing a salad that was stacked about a food high!  They don’t put the watermelon out anymore, I guess because the salads got too big. 
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