Thursday, June 25, 2009

CHINA: UPDOWNLEFTRIGHT SUPER MEGA STORE


The slightly different tone here is due to the fact that this piece is appearing at viceland.com. And they don't know who we are.

My wife, Tania, and I were recently invited to Beijing to do a story on the Chinese government’s recent interest in making skateboarding part of their Olympic program. An interesting story to be sure, but what we were most excited about was sampling some fucked up Chinese food.



As we expected, we didn’t have to look far. Directly across the street from our hotel was a large, two story supermarket. The name of it was in Chinese, but because of the four-arrow logo, Tania dubbed it THE UPDOWNLEFTRIGHT SUPER MEGA STORE. It was the first place we went after we checked into our hotel. We were jetlagged and confused—we just wanted a few bottles of water and some simple provisions for the room—so we weren’t expecting the sensory overload we got upon entering the UPDOWNLEFTRIGHT SUPER MEGA STORE.


“Turtles?” I said as we entered. On the linoleum floor near the entrance and beside the baskets was a large Tupperware container filled with water and little turtles. Live turtles. They were about the size of a book of matches.

“They’re so cute,” Tania said. Indeed. I later considered trying to bring one home. It would have been much easier than my original plan of smuggling a panda on to the plane.


After marveling at the meat department, which is totally open, nothing is packaged—I have no problem with this, I think the American practice of shrink-wrapping everything is wasteful and does nothing more than provide a false sense of sanitary safety—we ventured over to the packaged goods. (I mean, we wanted to buy a black skin duck and some pig eyeballs, but where would we cook it?) Just about anything you want comes in a package in China… and a lot of things you don’t want come in packages in China as well.

We wandered around laughing at all the “Engrish,” such as the “Chicken Ham Sausage!” and the “Hamburger choiceness raw material taste tempting!” and eventually gathered up a few items to make a small meal back in our room: the appetizer was a four-pack of thousand year old duck eggs. For the main course, we selected a hamburger in a bag, which would be accompanied by a side of blueberry Pringles. We paired our meal with a delightful bottle of rice wine.


The thousand year old duck eggs came first, and they were easily the worst part of the meal. I found it funny that there was an expiration date on the package. Apparently, someone in the year 1009 (during the Liao Dynasty!) decided the eggs we bought would go bad on Wednesday, June 13, 2009? Well they were right about them being bad on June 13, because they were bad on June 10 when we cracked into one.

It was like cracking open a stone. I’m not sure why anyone tries to get inside one in the first place because the second the insides were outside, our hotel room was filled with the most noxious, sulphuric egg smell. It smelled like ass. And horse piss. Legend has it that the eggs were once prepared by soaking them in horse urine. I don’t doubt it.

But, if I wasn’t about to put the damn thing in my mouth, I’d say the egg was actually kind of cool looking. Once unshelled, the shiny inside was a translucent dark green, almost black. And floating within the congealed egg “whites” were golden snowflakes which are formed by some sort of chemical reaction that occurs when duck embryos meet horse piss. (You have to wonder what the first person to combine those two things was thinking.) It would have looked cool as a paintjob on a car or motorcycle, or something, but on food, black/green is decidedly not cool.


We sliced into it and the creamy black yolk oozed out onto the table. “Ewwww!” we squealed. It looked like vampire blood. The smell, the color, the texture, it was all so gross that if I thought about a second longer, I was never going to eat it. So I took a big ole bite. Ugh. I have to admit that it wasn’t that bad—it just tasted like a very, very strong, hard boiled egg—but the smell, and the color, and the horse cock that I imagined was peeing in my mouth, made me gag. I got some of it down, but most of it went into the trashcan.

My eyes were watering and I needed something to wash the taste out of my mouth. The only thing near at hand was the rice wine. At least I think it was rice wine. There was no Engrish on the bottle. All I know is that it cost just over one yuan, which is about 14 US cents. Chinese MD 20/20!


I ripped the top off and took a big ole swig. Whoa! The shit was like lighter fluid. Maybe it was? I’ll never know. It was strong. I coughed, I gagged, my eyes teared up even more, and I shot snot out of my nose. My insides were on fire. But, I have to admit, it paired perfectly with the bold flavors of the 1000 year old egg. The wine’s acidity captured the winds off the polluted Yangtze River and infused the wine with the cool tones of battery acid and old fish bait rotting in the sun at the end of a pier. It acted as a perfect compliment to the egg’s farty, horse piss flavor.


The rest of the meal was just as weird, but not as difficult to get down. The hamburger in the bag was more or less harmless, except for the fact that it was a hamburger in a bag. I’m not even sure what it really was? It definitely wasn’t beef. It might have been chicken? It was probably lawn clippings and dead leaves. It didn’t really taste like anything, which was a welcome change from the appetizers. The only flavor came from the “mayo” which tasted like vanilla cake frosting.



The burger in a bag was served with a side of chips. They actually weren’t “Pringles,” they were a Lays product, but they looked like Pringles. And while there were a number of flavors not usually associated with chips to choose from in the UPDOWNLEFTRIGHT SUPER MEGA STORE, such as shrimp, ox, tomato, panda, we decided that blueberry was the most retarded. Although they promised to be “Natural and Cool” (and I actually believed that they would), they turned out to be fake and disgusting. I expected them to taste like Pringles with a hint of blueberry flavoring, but they turned out to be completely the opposite: it was a mouthful of chemical blueberry candy dust, in the shape of a Pringle. It was horrible. So naturally I turned to my old friend the 14 cent rice wine and took another slug. And that was it. My body had had enough of the UPDOWNLEFTRIGHT SUPER MEGA STORE, and I was promptly directed to the toilet where I barfed up, down, left, and even right. It was all definitely wrong.