Adventures in China — Loaches for Lunch

It was our first day off and our minder Benny came early to pick us up from the hotel.  As soon as we got into the car, he announced that we were going to have “farmer’s food” for lunch.  In China, that could be lunch in a farmer’s home and not a regular restaurant, or it could be in a restaurant that serves authentic, local food.

“We are going to have fish for lunch,” Benny was rubbing his hands with glee.  “The fish live iin mud.  They do not live in water.”

In the back seat, J and I exchanged a look: “I certainly am not going to eat any fish that do not live in water,” J muttered.

Benny drove in the general direction of the “restaurant” and, at every intersection, he stopped, put his head out of the window and asked the passers-by where we could find a restaurant that served loaches.  Like all the other trips he had taken us on, he really had no clue where we were going.

Anyway, at about 2 p.m., way later than our usual lunch time, we hit upon the restaurant.  It was just a shop front with two tables for the customers and several basins on a ledge in front of the shop window.  “Come, look, ” Benny beckoned to me, “see how fresh they are!”

In each basin there were some forty or fifty black, snake-like fish.  Because it was so crowded, they were mostly squirming rather than swimming in the water.

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A loach

By this time, Benny was close to drooling.  “How spicy do you want the dish to be?” he asked me.    I gave my usual answer, which was, “As mild as they could make it.”  But, this time, my preference, despite that it was in response to Benny’s question, was totally ignored.  “No, no, no.  You want to have it spicy, if not, it won’t taste good.”  In Sichuan Province, the land of spicy hot pots, regular spicy food could easily cause third degree burns.

As the husband and wife who owned the restaurant were cooking our lunch, Benny made one of the young helpers move one of the tables to a grassy area outside the restaurant.  “For atmosphere, ” he looked at me and smiled.

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Alfresco dining, Chinese style

What atmosphere?  The patch of grass had not been mowed for months, and there was garbage strewn all over the place.  So, there we were,  sitting in the sun, with grass up to our shins, waiting for “the most delicious meal we would ever have while in Sichuan.”

When the food came,  there was the huge tureen of loaches in a red hot chili sauce, another tureen of pig’s trotters and seaweed soup and boiled beer with goji fruit in it.The chili sauce was so hot that I spent a whole ten minutes coughing after the first mouthful.  J would eat neither the loaches nor the pig’s trotters so he was slowly getting drunk on the rather delicious boiled beer served from a large kettle.

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Pigs’ trotters and seaweed soup

Benny ate his fill and what was left over, he took away in a clear plastic bag to take home.  He even managed to get the owners to give him two squares of tofu to put in the chili sauce.   He held the bag up to show me as we were walking back to the car, “Mmmm, just think how the tofu will soak up the chili sauce.  My son thinks this is the best food in the world!”

He never did ask if J and I had had a good lunch.

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Living with cancer 1

I don’t have cancer, my husband does, but it feels like it does not matter at all who has the cancer.

Cancer has been a part of our lives for a little more than two years now.  Looking back, I realize every aspect of my life has been impacted by it.  Looking around me, I realize that while in this day and age we hear the word “cancer” almost daily, few really understand what late stage cancer involves.

Take treatment, for example.  It seems to me that most people assume that treatment makes the patient well again.  In reality, that is not the case at all.  Even if the treatment is efficacious, be it radiation or chemo or surgery, there are all kinds of side effects, both immediate and long term, to contend with.  Radiated skin, for instance, must always be protected with a strong sunscreen because it is extremely sensitive to the sun’s rays — and that’s for the rest of one’s life.  That may be a minor inconvenience, but cancer patients can also develop deep vein thrombosis, sleep apnea, neuropathy, and countless other serious health problems.  My husband’s cancer treatment closed his esophagus permanently and he depends on a G-tube for his life; his food, liquid nutrition supplement.

In many cases, treatment does not cure.  The best that it can do in those situations is to keep the cancer manageable.  Chemotherapy can be a way to buy a bit more time.  However, the last time I said that to the medical oncologist, her response was, “If it even does that.”  She was not heartless or cruel, just realistic and I appreciated that.  As a caregiver, I need to be told the truth so that I can prepare myself for what may eventually transpire.

When friends call up and ask, “How is he doing?”  that, I find, is the hardest question to answer.  It is also an unfortunate fact that people do that a lot.   What they would like me to tell them is probably something along the lines of, “Oh, he’s doing so much better!” or “The cancer’s all gone!”  But cancer is not the flu, one doesn’t take to one’s bed for a couple of days and get back to 100%.  I find it unimaginable that even when I have told our friends that the cancer has metastasized, they still seem to expect a miraculous cure.  I refuse to lie and tell them what they want to hear and yet, my husband is not on his death bed.  The decline is slow and it eats away his days without his even being aware of it.  The best that I can manage is, “Well, he is stable.”  There was a time after we were told about the metastases that we were told no treatment would be ordered because there were no symptoms.  It’s another way of saying the cancer had got to another part of the body but it was not acting up.  I could fully understand the doctors’ rationale; here you have a patient who is capable of living normally, why put him through the misery of chemotherapy just yet?  That, as one can imagine, was a concept that I could not get our friends to understand, tried as I might.

Today my sister remarked in an email to me, “Visiting the very sick is an art form.”  Unluckily, not very many people are aware of that and even fewer would even take time to work on the “art.”