After a month of real Chinese food, I recently decided a visit to KFC was in order. The chain is not hard to find here, though it’s no McDonalds. I’d never been a fan of KFC in the US, but the fried chicken here blew my mind. It might have just been that I was really craving some Western cuisine, but as I took my first bite into the juicy, perfectly breaded chicken thigh, fuzzy euphoria coursed through my veins. My friend claimed to feel the sensation of dopamine being released in his brain.
Hopefully that fried chicken fix will sustain me through the fall season, which turns from brisk to chilly rather quickly. Just in case, I bought a decent winter coat the other day for around $25, which—thanks to my haggling prowess—was significantly below the asking price. I proudly announced my feat to my host mother. Usually a very sweet woman, she laughed in my face and told me I had been ripped off. I was deflated, but I’ve picked up some pointers since then. First of all, it’s important to make the seller think I’m a local, because the starting price for a foreigner is usually much higher. Since I already look the part, I try to initially say as little as possible so as to not let my accent give me away. Once the seller names a price, I say “tai gui le!” (too expensive!) and walk away, at which point the price is usually slashed. The general rule of thumb is to make a counter-offer that is one fourth of the original price and negotiate up to the half-way point. While bargaining, I’ve had sellers mock me, call me cheap, act offended, and use other shrewd tactics to sucker me out of my money. But it’s all an act and I’ve learned to stick to my guns.
In other exciting news, I recently got a chance to visit some student dorms (actual Chinese student dorms, not the cozy hotel rooms that we American students are staying in). I will never take Wesleyan dorms for granted ever again. The typical Chinese dorm room houses six students and is barely bigger than a Butts single. There are three bunk beds per room, and students with the same major live together on the same floor. There are no showers in the dorms. Instead, students must make a trip to the communal bathhouse, which can be unpleasant in the winter when your freshly washed hair turns into icicles. Although privacy must be hard to come by in a one-room sextuplet, you’re guaranteed never to feel lonely when you have five roomies.
I also want to give a shout-out to some furry friends I met at the reggae bar last week. After my friends and I sat down on our favorite outdoor sofa, we discovered a cat and her four kittens snuggling underneath the pillows. They had soft ginger colored fur and got cuter after each drink. Then something that can only be described as “fucked up” happened. A passerby came by, snatched up a kitten and quickly walked away with it in his bag. I can only hope that he felt a sudden urge to adopt a pet and provide it with a loving home.
I’m also making progress on my hunt for scorpion kebabs. My sources tell me that I can find them after dark by the Forbidden City. I’ll try to get my hands on some before the next column and report in full.