Cycle 4 – Item 291
23 (Wed) October 2013
Roasted Pigeon in Shiqi Style
at Cheers Palace
-Wuchang, Wuhan, Hubei, China-
APACPH 45: The Wuhan Follies (Day 1)
- 4.291 Roasted Pigeon in Shiqi Style
- 4.292 Mushrooms & Morning Glory
- 4.293 Yabozi
- 4.294 Steamed Wuchang Fish (Salad Oil)
In Wuhan. Here to attend the 45th Conference of the Asia-Pacific Academic Consortium for Public Health (APACPH).
Wuhan is a city in China. Population closing in on 10 million, 9th most populous in the country, capital of the central province Hubei. Current unofficial city slogan is “Wuhan Under Construction,” reflecting the massive development occurring seemingly/actually everywhere in and beyond the city, smog wildly out of control. Along with Beijing and Shanghai, Wuhan is one of the country’s leading centers for science and education, including Wuhan University, host of this year’s APACPH conference.
The Check-In Incident. Upon arrival at the hotel, around 1300, we were informed that our rooms weren’t available because the previous guests were still in occupancy. Apparently, check-out times in China tend to be very loosely enforced. We took a walk down to a nearby commercial center, enjoyed a leisurely 3-hour lunch, and returned past 1600, only to be informed that the rooms had been vacated but not yet cleaned. When we expressed our indignation/incredulity and demanded that the situation be rectified, the guy behind the counter seemed genuinely confused as to what we expected him to do, because, after all, he wasn’t part of the housekeeping staff, so he had no power over the situation. We brought along a teaching assistant who can speak Mandarin and translate for us. Unfortunately, as she explained, the ability to speak Chinese helps to understand what’s happening, but doesn’t help to get anything accomplished. Eventually, we got into our rooms around 1730.
The fridges in the rooms, those reserved for conferences attendees, are locked. Apparently, the conference organizers wanted to avoid the hassle of dealing with extra charges at check-out. Normally, I wouldn’t care, but the hotel here doesn’t even have a vending machine. The fridge itself features a built-in lock, so lockout must be a fairly regular thing. Not a good sign of things to come.
Han Street Plaza is a slick new commercial center made to resemble an old world European village.
We wandered around until we found this place: Ch-Show Restaurant.
The single factor in choosing the restaurant was the menu on display at the entrance included photos of dishes, regardless of whether the food looked good (it did).
A lot of Korean men these days seem to be leaning towards the single malts, as opposed to blended whiskies, or wines – a trend that I welcome generally. But I can’t stand dealing with all the newbie blowhards asking me whether I’ve ever tasted, say, The Macallan – yes, yes, hundreds of times more than you.
Dishes were ordered at random, by pointing to pictures on the menu.
The food was pretty good. My favorite dish was a steamed clam and egg custard – the best egg custard that I’ve ever had. Everything else was tasty but unremarkable.
Later, after check-in, I ate dinner on my own. I had a lot of work to do, so I didn’t feel like staying out late carousing with the rest of the group,. For various reasons – the hotel restaurant doesn’t have an English menu, I wasn’t about to risk getting into a taxi on my own, and nothing else was available within walking distance – I went back to Han Street Plaza.
I quickly settled on the first place – not counting McDonald’s – that offered a menu with pictures.
Cheers Palace is a Chinese restaurant. By all appearances, everything about the place seemed to be mainstream middle-class. The menu offered a wide variety of standard meat/seafood/vegetable items, the styles ranging from Sichuan, Mandarin, Cantonese.
The Beer Incident. Of course, none of the restaurant staff could speak English. Once again, fine. I had a picture menu, no problem. Halfway through the meal, I finished my beer and wanted another. As a server was walking by, I got his attention, picked up the empty bottle, pointed to it with my index finger, and then raised the same finger in the “#1” gesture: the intergalactic gesture for “Please Give Me One More Beer.” He stared at me for a few seconds, took the bottle, and walked away. He returned a minute later, placed the same empty bottle back on the table, and started saying something in Chinese. I held up my hand, opened the menu, turned to the beverage section, and pointed to the beer. He left again and came back with a bottle of beer. It was warm. I couldn’t imagine how to request a cold one. I just drank it.
Beyond language itself, the problem seems to be that Chinese people don’t make even a minimal attempt to consider/interpret/understand an act of communication that isn’t precisely conveyed. The beer thing, because I hadn’t uttered the exact words “Please Give Me One More Beer” in perfectly inflected Chinese, the guy didn’t bother to piece together the obvious clues of the situation, which could only end in the conclusion that the customer wanted another bottle of beer. I was reminded of that time in Hong Kong, when the server didn’t take my order for “har gow” because she couldn’t understand my pronunciation (see 2.330 Har Gao). I’ve had the same issues in Beijing and Shanghai.
The food was pretty good but nothing to rave about. The best dish was the palbochae, which turned out to be a very typical if well-done oyster-sauce-based seafood stir-fry, not as garlicky or spicy as the Korean version. I present the pigeon as the post’s featured item only for the novelty of it. Otherwise, I blame myself for playing it so safe.
A bit pricy by local standards. Around CNY 50 (around USD 8) per dish. My total: 3 dishes + 2 beers + 1 tea = CNY 165. For comparison, our lunch of 8 dishes (for 7 people) had totaled CNY 350. Then again, the portions at Cheers Palace were very generous, each dish enough for about 2 to 4. A mixed blessing, because I was too stuffed to try anything beyond my initial order.
(See also BOOZE)
(See also GLOBAL FOOD GLOSSARY)
(See also RESTAURANTS IN CHINA)