Friday, September 12, 2008

Olympics Aftermath: Food Animosity

After that remarkable description of the wonders of Olympic Beijing in my sister's letter, it was a bit of a shock to hear a medalist calling the Chinese people "sh*ts." The latest gripe came from a departing athlete. Wind surfing bronze medalist Shahar Zubari from Israel said about Chinese that "They don't speak the language..." An odd thing to say since everyone in China speaks the language, but perhaps he meant Hebrew.

Shahar Zubari's comment is certainly harsh and small-minded. On the other hand he spoke a small truth when he said "I don't eat pig." If he eats beef, he should be fine. But if he is a vegetarian, I can see how it could have been problematic for him. Common Chinese (unless one happens to be a Buddhist) generally don't understand or appreciate vegetarians.

I don't know about the Olympic food, but last time when I brought my American-born daughter to China for a visit, food was one of the biggest problems for her. She has been a vegetarian since age twelve, apparently a fashionable thing among American kids and teenagers, and she takes it like a religion.

In Chengdu, the food heaven to Bob and me, our daughter had a hard time eating. She never trusted what she received, even when we specifically requested a dish without any animal product, even when we were in a American-brand restaurant (staffed by Chinese).

Once, a dish of meatless, egg-fried rice came garnished with chopped pork. To our inquiry the waitress replied, "Our chef said it won't taste good without any pork." Another time our daughter ordered an olive-and-pineapple pizza in a Pizza Hut in Chengdu. When it came, between sparsely sprinkled black olives and yellow pineapple slices lay large red circles of Italian sausage. Even in Buddhist temples, to her disgust, the food, while made of soy products, imitates the look of meat dishes.

Shahar Zubari's small-minded animosity notwithstanding, if China wants to be a worldly country, food variety is one important aspect to work on.

Just another ironic twist. The Israeli Olympic Committee Chair promised an apology, but the Chinese Embassy in Israel still canceled the planned reception.


Anonymous said...

Seems to be small-minded reaction on both sides; I wouldn't have thought it necessary to cancel a whole event just because of one individual's spat.

Actually, in the reports I saw the word used was 'scum'.

In my own experience food in China only becomes a problem if you let it - and, again in my experience, it is usually as result of the visitor's own prejudices.

Matthew said...

Finally, I found a little context to the quote. Thanks.

If it was in fact in reference to food, I can sympathize--it is difficult. I don't eat pork products either and I've had to turn a blind eye every now and again because most restaurants use pig fat instead of cooking oil. I've also had plenty of ridiculous questions asked when I've said in clear Chinese, "我不能吃猪肉。"

I've even been to places that spoke English and had great miscommunication--I was told it was fish when it was actually snake. I've also been served pig's ears when I ordered chicken.

Now I usually eat out at Muslim restaurants (my mother-in-law understands and cooks most of the time anyway).

Alfonso said...

From the interview.

"They don't speak the language, their rituals are strange and even their pronunciation is weird."

Happens to me every time a travel to a distinct enough foreign country...

Xujun Eberlein said...

But CoTTF, he was the only medalist, what else there was to celebrate? I'm also curious to know what you think should be the right reaction from any country's Embassy? Pretend they didn't hear it? I can see that it was a thorny situation. they can either lose national dignity, which the Chinese care about greatly, or be regarded as small-minded. :-)

Matthew, your anecdotes are even more hilarious than my daughter's. Someone should write a humor piece about this and post it on the Chinese internet. :-)

About "They don't speak the language" - you are right to the point. One traveling to a foreign country and expecting everyone speaks his own language without even accent seems very strange to me.

bien said...

If one draws a quick general conclusion about a whole country based on his or her own limited experience, and readily call people names, perhaps his or her words are not worth of serious consideration.

I wonder what are the experiences of Islamic athletes, Hindu athletes, and others in Beijing.

I think, to show the dignity of a big nation, the Chinese Embassy should host a great fusion feast between Chinese and Israeli cuisines, and invite Shahar Zubari. If he doesn't show up, that's his loss.

Xujun Eberlein said...

That's an idea. :-)

Anonymous said... ugly Israeli!
you can bet a Chinese would be castigated for anti-semiticism if the roles were reversed.

Anonymous said...

While in China follow the advice on this post and you won't go far wrong, whether you are Christian, Muslim, vegetarian or some thing else

Matthew said...

I have finally read more of what he said, and most of it was pretty stupid. He needs to think before speaking.

As Bien mentioned, it would be interesting to hear how other athletes with dietary restrictions coped with the food served (but you also have to consider that this one wasn't in Beijing, but in Qingdao, so it might have been a different experience).

And I have witnessed plenty of Jewish stereotypes while living in China--some from books with ridiculous titles like "Jewish business secrets."