On a welcome dinner here in Qixian, hosted by the local government of Taiyuan city, the tables were neatly prearranged and labeled so that the each guest will be ushered in according to their assigned seats. My seat happens to be situated next to a host official, to her left. You know in a Chinese banquet, they have this hidden rule in terms of seating arrangements: “the left and eastern seats honor”. Whosoever sits closest, left or eastern flank, to the host is, well..a highly regarded guest. (care to second on this one, Susan?)
On a more assertive note, our hosts were fair enough to cater the occasion with a few Chinese halal dishes in cognizance to a number of our Muslim friends. Stewed beef halal and fried boiled beef halal.
To complete the traditional 8-dish spread, a luscious regale of cold deer meat, shrimp meat, shredded chicken, hotpot of mutton giblet, fried broccoli and fried mushroom with garlic. Plus an accompaniment of steamed yams, pumpkins, carrots and my all time favorite steamed beef dumplings, porridge, bread, toasted sweet potatoes and flapjack to crowd the dinner table all the more.
And of course, an endless flow of dry red wine and fresh pear juice.
So. Did I really pig it out here on this feast? Not with Madame Host alongside of me looking over my shoulder. I cannot unleash my voracious me. I can’t let her witness how unrestrained I am when it comes to Chinese dishes. Besides, with all the formalities we are having — the ceremonial toasts, the photo-ops, the lengthy speeches etc. — there’s simply not much room for gluttony.
In the end, I found myself inside this 24-hour convenience store across the street, looking for something to chow.