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
where much fun is had by all trying to figure out how to use these two sticks
and where in recent years helpful instructions are printed on the paper wrapping around the chopsticks to help us ignoramuses figure this out.
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
rather than tweeze them
while also having available the secondary possibility of scooping if needed (for peas, for instance).
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.
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
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 bluntwhile Japanese chopsticks are pointed
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!
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