Helen of Yantai

I tutor a little girl called Helen, and by “tutor” I mean we play Barbies and lots of clapping games. She is bright, sweet, funny and the picture to the left shows her dressed up for her school concert and asking me if she’s prettier than “my” Helen of Troy.

Sometimes when Helen says something particularly insightful or funny I wonder if maybe I should get over my intense dislike of all babies so I could have a daughter like her. Fortunately, I see other children so I get over that pretty quickly.

Her mom walks a perfect balance of adoring her brilliant daughter and keeping her unspoiled. Seriously. If I ever have kids, I want to be like Helen’s mom. In addition to playing clay chefs English tutoring, Helen’s mom wants me to teach Helen about American manners, so when I eat with them, she tries to have a Western-style table.

They laughed at me when I told them then Westerners don’t lift their soup bowls to drink the broth, and that we try very hard not to slurp. And although the one-elbow-on-the-table method of eating does facilitate chopstick use, my Granny would faint if she saw me doing it. Helen’s mom is a good cook and very patient as I ask her the names of the dishes, over and over.

“Helen!” her mom said yesterday at lunch, “Use the public spoon, don’t use your own chopsticks! That’s not Teacher Meg’s custom!”

I tried to explain that I don’t have a problem with using our own utensils to take a piece of fish from the common bowl. Yes, it sounds a bit unsanitary, but this is not as unclean as it sounds because your chopsticks only touch the food that you’re about to put into your own bowl. Besides, if you can’t take a little germ-swapping between tablemates, you really shouldn’t look at a Chinese bathroom. I told Helen that her method of serving herself was fine, but spitting the bones out onto the tablecloth would be a problem.

They stared at me as though I’d said something ridiculous. “Then how do you eat fish in America?” Helen asked.

This entry was posted in Yantai and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to Helen of Yantai

  1. Stuart says:

    The Public Spoon. That’s awesome!

  2. acidelic says:

    “Everybody has a small plate to hold bones, dropped pieces and spare fish parts.”

  3. Anonymous says:

    While I am extremely reluctant to mention the Japanese occupation or the Greater Eastasia Co-prosperity Sphere in a positive light, I often find myself wishing that the Japanese were a bit more aggressive in their imperialism. Everywhere in Asia (the Mekong, China, SE Asia, etc…) serves fish with bones. The Japanese are the only ones who discovered how to fillet the darn things ands they really should have instructed the rest of the region on how to prepare fish.

Leave a Reply

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