December 19, 2003

Dinner And A Body

I only spent just over a week in China, and that was ten years ago, when I was 18. But, because our class instructer, Mr. Stern, kind of was a Marxist, and he knew China better than I know Minnesota, the week consisted of a lot more than just the typical tourist stuff most people visit in China.

For example, because Mr. Stern knew an old flame who was a teacher in China, we visited a Chinese elementary school, and due to other close contacts, we visited the home of a retired professor, who maintained an extensive collection of American VCR movies and was particularly fond of Bruce Willis in Die Hard.

All in all, my trip to China included many entertaining stories, including the one I'm about to relate here.

Mr. Stern pretty much allowed us to do our own thing come the evenings, which meant our group of five students basically went out to find a place to eat and buy the cheapest and most circumspect alcohol we could find. Seriously, one night, they showed up at the hotel toting a four foot tall bottle of champagne that they bought from some street vendor.

Well, one night early in the week, in Beijing, we just picked this place to eat that looked like it might be good. We decided it might be good because the big filthy aquarium out on the sidewalk sported healthier looking fish than the place two restaurants down.

There was no indoor seating, only a few plastic chairs and tables set up outside. It would have been pleasant enough, I suppose, if it hadn't been for the huge trash heap around the corner that featured more wild dogs battling for scraps and more rats poking in and out than is probably even remotely healthy.

Despite the less than stellar ambiance, the food was really quite good, and there was a LOT of it for very little money. We tried to ignore the fact that a few stores down the street, a butcher was basically carving up half a pig on a barrel that looked like it harbored more E coli than an elephant turd. There wasn't much in the way of food regulation in China, is what I'm saying.

Rather than focus on the disturbing storefronts and their activities, we watched the traffic go by. Chinese traffic is a cacaphony of tooting horns and bicycle bells. Although cars are certainly a big part of the traffic, bicycles easily outnumber them. And I'm not talking about your basic two-wheeled bikes either. Every manner of bike can be seen on Chinese streets at any given time, particulary the three-wheeled versions that have a long wooden plank jutting out the back like some sort of pick-up truck.

The three-wheeled bikes were used to haul all manner of cargo, and it was amazing to see old, old, OLD men laboriously pumping their legs to keep their bikes going uphill despite a load of pottery, or carpet, or whatever that would break the back of even the most sturdy workhorse.

As we dined and watched Chinese life go by, one three-wheeled bike accidently bumped into the back of another three-wheeled bike. This collision occured right in front of us, not ever five feet away. Both bicyclists hopped off their bikes and started a fairly heated argument right there in the street. It could have been considered a type of dinner entertainment, except for one minor detail.

Right there, in front of our astonished eyes, we noticed the "cargo" of the bike that did the rear-ending of the other bike. There was a filthy previously white sheet kinda, sorta, covering the body of a very dead man, and his uncovered feet pointed skyward. We couldn't see the face or the body, but those pale dead feet were so obviously RIGHT THERE. There we were, having dinner, with a dead man just a few feet away. This was getting uncomfortable.

Finally, after about a six minute argument, the men got back on their bikes and started pedalling away. However, for the briefest of seconds, it looked as though our body-transporting friend was about to capsize. That was exactly what we didn't want to see. We did not want to see that body topple off the back of that bike. We did not want to see that sheet fall off to reveal a naked dead man. And, most of all, we did not want to have to help to get that body back on that cart, no way, no how.

Thankfully, the bicyclist was able to hop off and save the situation. He quick adjusted the body so the weight was more evenly distributed, and then he hopped back on his bike and pedalled away. It was probably the most surreal dinner I've ever eaten in my life.

That night, my hotel roommate, Tyler, threw up copious amounts of vomit all over the bathroom floor, and I accidently walked through it and had to wash my feet off in the sink.

And the moral of the story is: watch where you eat in China.

Posted by Ryan at December 19, 2003 03:08 PM
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