Sometimes, when I am far away from home, feeling a little bit ill (I am currently on my deathbed with flu) and having fallen over priceless monuments, fallen down numerous squat toilets, been sick in public and generally humiliated myself for the hundredth time in a week, all I want for a bit of comfort is a ham sandwich. So, imagine my delight when we stumbled across a café in Beijing with ham sandwiches on its menu! I don’t think I have ever been so excited over something so small; a taste of home in the mad situations I put my tiny family in. So, imagine my crestfallen little face when said sandwich arrived at the table, and it was actually SPAM, food of the Devil (he loved the1970’s) on a hard, stale and ever so slightly green around the edges baguette.
The sight of this hideous pile of thickly cut, mechanically recovered mystery meat, the mouldy bread and the creeping realisation that the months of world travel was rapidly coming to an end set me off, and I can now add sobbing uncontrollably into my lunch to my list of public humiliations.
The situation was lightened somewhat by my son, telling a tourist on the next table that his mummy was upset ‘because there is sperm in her sandwich’.
I actually wouldn’t have been surprised to see sperm of some sort on a Chinese menu though. The most bizarre thing about China, to a Westerner at least, is some of the food. If they can shove a stick up it’s backside, they will eat it. The night markets are the best gawping places. Scorpions and humongous beetles still wriggling on sticks waiting to be cooked, sea horses and starfish, baby octopuses. We steered clear of the heartbreaking parts of the markets, staked high with cages full of cats and dogs ready to be skinned alive as that is a practice I cannot reconcile with.
Needless to say, I didn’t try any of the more ‘exotic’ offerings of Spongebob Squarepants and his chums on skewers. I know I am a hypocrite. What’s the difference between stuffing down a cheeseburger from McDonalds to stuffing down a rat on a stick? Meat is meat; its still a defenceless cow I’m chowing down on, so what’s so different about any other animal? Somehow, cows, pigs and chickens are fair game, but I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything else. I even get teary eyed when I see duck on a menu.
My son, as ever, is being treated like a cross between Justin Bieber and the Messiah. He is blonde haired and blue eyed, which is a hit with the ladies in China – I will remind him of it if he’s single when he’s 21, he can come back out here and be the most popular guy in town. Everyone has been lovely to him, and they are all so interested in talking to him, people find it very cute that he’s outgoing and will talk back and start conversations.
Traveling alone in China with my son has taught me many things, but the most important is that the majority of people are nice. They want to talk, help and are generally good eggs. It certainly hasn’t been easy – I have travelled the world and have never come up against a language barrier like Mandarin, but what an experience it has been.