Beijing, 6 September 2014

In our dying days in China – we leave for good in a week – it seems appropriate that I should write my last posting from Beijing about that most Chinese of utensils, the chopstick. I have a feeling that chopsticks and the Chinese food they pick up are probably the first contact which most Europeans have with Chinese culture (in the very broadest sense of that term), down at their local Chinese restaurant

Chinese restaurant UK

where much fun is had by all trying to figure out how to use these two sticks

trying to use chopsticks

and where in recent years helpful instructions are printed on the paper wrapping around the chopsticks to help us ignoramuses figure this out.

instructions to use chopsticks

Certainly, I rapidly found out when I arrived here that the Chinese generally didn’t expect me to be able to manipulate chopsticks and always solicitously asked me at the beginning of meals if I wanted a knife and fork. But after years of experimentation in my local Chinese restaurants back home and after hours of carefully studying the instructions on my chopsticks’ paper wrappings, I felt that my chopstick skills were good enough and I would grandly wave away these offers of help. Generally speaking, it’s worked and I have not made too much of a fool of myself, although slippery food still defeats me completely, and I do tend to end up with numerous stains on my trousers.

Although I am a firm believer in the adage “When in Rome do as the Romans”, and will therefore use chopsticks when in Beijing, in my heart of hearts I think forks are so much better than chopsticks. I mean, it seems so much more efficient to spear pieces of food

Picture 566

rather than tweeze them

Cooked tiger shrimp with thyme twig in chopsticks

while also having available the secondary possibility of scooping if needed (for peas, for instance).

peas on a fork

And twinning a fork with a knife means that cooks can turn over the pesky work of cutting up the food to the eaters rather than have to do this work themselves in the kitchen.

But I will admit that chopsticks are aesthetically more pleasing than forks. Or at least they are to me (and here I pull out another venerable adage: “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”). Used to the grotty pieces of balsa-like wood offered to us in Chinese restaurants, it came as something of a shock to my wife and I when we were offered two beautiful sets of chopsticks on our first trip to Japan. They looked something like this.

wakasa chopsticks

mother of pearl chopsticks

That was some thirty-odd years ago. They have travelled with us everywhere we’ve gone, like talismans. When we first got to Beijing, we visited Qianmen, which is a pedestrianized road to the south of Tiananmen Square. It’s very touristy, full of shops, generally pretty awful. But there was one shop which drew me like a magnet, a clearly high-end shop which sold chopsticks

chopstick-shop in qianmen

I went in and looked around. Beautiful, so beautiful – but hideously expensive. I was staggered by the prices and left empty-handed. I beg to differ with yet another adage, “beauty has no price”.

The shop taught me something I hadn’t known. Chinese chopsticks are bluntChinese chopstickswhile Japanese chopsticks are pointed

Japanese chopsticks

Weighing it all up, I think pointed chopsticks are more pleasant on the eye than blunt ones – and you can spear things if necessary.

I leave you with a beautiful sunburst of chopsticks. Enjoy!

circle of chopsticks


Chinese restaurant UK: http://junk4lunch.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/wpid-img_20130808_hingloong.jpg [in http://junk4lunch.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/beef-brisket-noodle-soup-hing-loong-borough-high-street/%5D
Trying to use chopsticks: https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-GjkRDYGgO3Q/TWmPeRm9UMI/AAAAAAAADTc/CAllPWrsOCc/s1600/DSCN2786.JPG [in http://memoriesexpress.blogspot.com/2011/02/day-46-54cancun-vacation.html%5D
How to use chopsticks: http://www.askjohnenglish.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/chopsticks.jpg [in http://www.askjohnenglish.com/conversation/how-to-use-chopsticks%5D
Forks: https://retail.libbey.com/var/libbey/storage/images/retail-home/product-repository/appetizer-fork/211460-1-eng-US/Appetizer-Fork.jpg [in https://retail.libbey.com/Product-Repository/Appetizer-Fork/%28language%29/eng-US%5D
Chopsticks and shrimp: http://static5.depositphotos.com/1000383/493/i/950/depositphotos_4934044-Cooked-tiger-shrimp-with-thyme-twig-in-chopsticks.jpg [in http://depositphotos.com/4934044/stock-photo-cooked-tiger-shrimp-with-thyme-twig-in-chopsticks.html%5D
Peas on a fork: http://thumbs.dreamstime.com/x/peas-fork-15791390.jpg [in http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-peas-fork-image15791390%5D
Wakasa chopsticks: http://blog.everythingchopsticks.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/315-700_LS.jpg [in http://blog.everythingchopsticks.com/wakasa-chopsticks/%5D
Mother of pearl chopsticks: https://www.everythingchopsticks.com/images/CHP194.jpg [in https://www.everythingchopsticks.com/bone-chopsticks-with-scattered-mother-pearl-pi-361.html?image=0%5D
Chopstick shop in Qianmen: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-kGrxQQwS1ZM/Tx0jpZHQnuI/AAAAAAAAA5Y/bgbpkFFt0Yo/s1600/chopstick-shop.jpg [in http://englishcoffeedrinker.blogspot.com/2012/01/happy-new-year.html%5D
Chinese chopsticks: http://www.silvermagpie.co.uk/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/c/h/chopsticks.jpg [in http://www.silvermagpie.co.uk/chinese-chopsticks.html%5D
Japanese chopsticks: http://blog.everythingchopsticks.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/315-709.jpg [in http://blog.everythingchopsticks.com/all-about-asian-chopsticks/%5D
A circle of chopsticks: http://www.thecuriouscreature.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/32.jpg [in http://www.thecuriouscreature.com/tag/sushi/%5D

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I like writing, but I’ve spent most of my life writing about things that don’t particularly interest me. Finally, as I neared the age of 60, I decided to change that. I wanted to write about things that interested me. What really interests me is beauty. So I’ve focused this blog on beautiful things. I could be writing about a formally beautiful object in a museum. But it could also be something sitting quietly on a shelf. Or it could be just a fleeting view that's caught my eye, or a momentary splash of colour-on-colour at the turn of the road. Or it could be a piece of music I've just heard. Or a piece of poetry. Or food. And I’m sure I’ve missed things. But I’ll also write about interesting things that I hear or read about. Isn't there a beauty about things pleasing to the mind? I started just writing, but my wife quickly persuaded me to include photos. I tried it and I liked it. So my posts are now a mix of words and pictures, most of which I find on the internet. What else about me? When I first started this blog, my wife and I lived in Beijing where I was head of the regional office of the UN Agency I worked for. So at the beginning I wrote a lot about things Chinese. Then we moved to Bangkok, where again I headed up my Agency's regional office. So for a period I wrote about Thailand and South-East Asia more generally. But we had lived in Austria for many years before moving to China, and anyway we both come from Europe my wife is Italian while I'm half English, half French - so I often write about things European. Now I'm retired and we've moved back to Europe, so I suppose I will be writing a lot more about the Old Continent, interspersed with posts we have gone to visit. What else? We have two grown children, who had already left the nest when we moved to China, but they still figure from time to time in my posts. I’ll let my readers figure out more about me from reading what I've written. As these readers will discover, I really like trees. So I chose a tree - an apple tree, painted by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt - as my gravatar. And I chose Abellio as my name because he is the Celtic God of the apple tree. I hope you enjoy my posts. http://ipaintingsforsale.com/UploadPic/Gustav Klimt/big/Apple Tree I.jpg

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