Saturday, January 17, 2009


I ate a lot of duck in China. Two kinds:

1. The kind that looks like a duck. Beijing Duck -- so good, but they make sure to provide the duck's head in order to prove it's duck. I made sure the lazy susan was spun the other way as often as possible.

2. The kind that is called pig. While I didn't actually see any heads or discernable features, the Theodore H. White story stuck with me:

After a year of growing friendship, Chou Enlai invited me to a banquet in my honor. We went to the finest restaurant in Chungking, the Kuan Sun Yuan, to dine—Chou, the Communist headquarters staff and myself, the only Westerner.

The reader must remember now how far I had come from my Jewish home. I knew I had been for months eating nonkosher food, but always tried to delude myself that the meats I ate were lamb, beef, or chicken. I was still so pinned to Jewish tradition that to eat pig outright seemed a profanation. At Chou Enlai's banquet, however, the main course was unmistakably pig, a golden-brown, crackle-skinned roast suckling pig.

"Ch 'ing, ch 'ing," said Chou Enlai, the host. "Please, please," gesturing with his chopsticks at the pig, inviting the guest to break the crackle first. For a moment I held on to my past. I put my chopsticks down and explained as best I could in Chinese that I was Jewish and that Jews were not allowed to eat any kind of pig meat. The group, all friends of mine by then, sat downcast and silent, for I was their guest, and they had done wrong.

Then Chou himself took over. He lifted his chopsticks once more, repeated, "ch 'ing, ch 'ing," pointed the chopsticks at the suckling pig and, grinning, explained—"Teddy," he said, "this is China. Look again. See. Look. It looks to you like pig. But in China, this is not a pig —this is a duck." I burst out laughing, for I could not help it; he laughed, the table laughed, I plunged my chopsticks in, broke the, crackle, ate my first mouthful of certified pig, and have eaten of pig ever since, for which I hope my ancestors will forgive me.

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