文化冲击 / Culture Shock

文化冲击

不久前,北京的天气骤然变冷,让我回想起多年前在中国中部城市武汉的一段经历。武汉在中国的地理位置非常类似于芝加哥在美国。

当时是一月份,天气很冷。我和一位中国同事一起来到武汉。他的叔叔婶婶住在这里,已经很长时没有见过面了。他们两人都是退休干部,非常热情地邀请我们去家里吃团圆饭。当时在中国,请人到家里吃饭还不常见,因此这是一个特殊时刻 。

我们打了一辆出租车,在路上,同事告诉我,他叔叔说过,要在团圆饭上做一道狗肉。我非常感谢他的提醒,我想,作为客人,我应该尝上一口以示礼貌。

去年七月,在那篇名为《澳门的猫头鹰和赌场》的博客里我提过,每逢冬天,中国有些地方的人就爱吃狗、果子狸和穿山甲之类的东西,他们认为,这些食物有袪寒的作用。至于做这些菜是否适宜,合不合乎人道,好不好吃,算不算残忍,各种看法差别很大,中国人本身也对此各持己见。而且,当时的中国城市家庭还没有像近些年这样流行养宠物猫狗。

等到了叔叔婶婶家,我们受到了热情的欢迎,见到了各方亲戚,还有一桌丰盛的菜肴。寒暄过后,大家围坐在长条桌旁开始用餐。他们都非常热情地欢迎我,我想,自己肯定是他们家接待的第一位外宾。

交谈很热烈,可以理解,话题大都是同事的各位亲戚自打上次见面以后过得如何,他又过得如何,香港和武汉有什么新闻,等等。

这家的长子不时起身去厨房,回来的时候总端着一盘热气腾腾的菜肴。每样菜都很可口。家里做的饭总比餐馆好吃很多倍。

其中有一次,他从厨房里端出了一个大砂锅,我心想:“狗肉来了。”

我按着原先的打算尝了几口。

就在此时,主人说,他们一直在等待这个特殊的时刻,今天正好赶上了。今天不仅全家团聚,还迎来了侄子的外国同事(就是我)到家里做客,他们特别高兴。

他接着说,养这条狗就是为了庆祝这样特殊的日子,今天晚上我大驾光临,正好可以结果了它。

我感到一阵宭迫。更有甚者,他又说起杀狗、做菜的种种细节,而且对杀掉家里的宠物、把它做成盘中餐,他多少表示惋惜:“它实在是条很好的狗……”听到这里,我的心沉了下去。

我有一种强烈的负罪感,认为就是因为我的到来才让这条狗从后院被端上了餐桌!我真希望生活能像录像带一样可以倒回去,把我从胶片中抹掉,这样那条狗就能活下去了。

尽管我深刻体会到了文化冲击,但在当时,我无论说什么做什么都不太合适。于是我就继续吃饭,只是再也没有碰那道砂锅。

Culture Shock

The recent spate of very cold weather in Beijing reminded me of an experience I had many years back while visiting Wuhan in Central China, which is a great city occupying a very similar geographical position in China to Chicago’s position in the U.S.

It was January, and the weather was cold. I was visiting with a Chinese colleague who had an aunt and uncle there whom he had not seen in a long time. They were retired officials and very kindly invited us to their home for a kind of family reunion dinner. In those days, invitations to dine at home were unusual in China, so it was a very special occasion.

We took a taxi, and during the ride to their home my colleague told me that his uncle had mentioned that one dish they were cooking as part of the feast was dog meat. I appreciated the heads up and thought that as a guest I should be polite and try a mouthful.

As I wrote about in my post “Owls and Casinos in Macau” last July, winter weather tends to be the time when some people in some parts of China eat food like dog, civet cat, pangolins etc. because they are considered to having warming effects on the body. Opinions vary widely, including among Chinese people, whether or not this is appropriate, humane, delicious or barbaric. This was also before the popularization in more recent years of urban Chinese families keeping dogs and cats as pets.

We arrived at the aunt and uncle’s home to a warm greeting, various other relatives, and a table laden with a great selection of food. After some chit chat we sat at the long rectangular table and began the dinner. They were very kind and welcoming to me, and I guessed I must have been the first foreign guest they had in their home.

Conversation was lively, understandably with much discussion of what various of my colleague’s family members had been up to in the years since they had last met, what he had been up to, what was going on in Hong Kong, Wuhan, etc.

From time to time the elder son of the household would go off to the kitchen and return with another dish of steaming hot food. Everything was delicious. As always, good home cooking beats restaurant food by a mile.

On one such trip to the kitchen, he returned with a Chinese style. casserole dish and I thought to myself “Here comes Fido (the dog).”

I stuck to my plan and sampled a few bites.

At that point the host said that they had been waiting for a special occasion and today was just such a time. Not only was it a family reunion but they were also especially happy to welcome their nephew’s foreign colleague (ie me) into their home.

He went on to explain that they had been raising the dog for just such a special occasion, and that my presence that evening really capped it off.

I was mortified. I became even more mortified as he then went into some detail about the process of dispatching and preparing the pooch for our dinner, expressing a certain degree of regret about dispatching a family pet for the dinner table. “He was actually a very nice dog…” My heart sank.

I felt a terrible sense of guilt that my presence was the tipping point in bringing this dog from their back yard to the dinner table! I wished I could have rolled back the videotape and edited myself out of the footage so that the dog might have lived.

Despite a profound sense of culture shock, there was nothing I could say or do at that point which would have been appropriate in the circumstances. I continued to eat, giving the casserole dish a miss from that point on.


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