The governor came close and introduced himself to each of us, and we made acquaintance. It was for sure that he knew almost anything about us. When he and I shook hands, I told him I was from Romania. “Our countries have a long history of friendship,” I mentioned. It wasn’t wise to insist about that good relationship since Romania overturned the dictatorial system on December 1989 and left the block of the communist nations.
Anyway, for the four of us to be exclusively invited to dinner by the elite of the elite in China was a great honor. The ruler made a sign with his hand to have us sit down and he took the seat facing the door. The other two companions joined him, without introducing themselves. Definitely at least one of them knew the English language, but never showed it. The authorities wanted to be sure our interpreter’s translation was accurate.
The servers began to bring the meal, course after course. They filled the table with trays and bowls I’ve never seen before. Each of us had a personal waiter who started to pour what we wanted in our glasses. The governor got ready to give a toast in our behalf, and we all raised our cups. Our young translator had his with alcohol. The Chinese authority had another glass, and our friend did the same. The atmosphere was relaxed and we started to eat. The rice and noodles were covered in saucy pieces of meat and wonderful vegetables. I didn’t know what I was eating, but I tried many meals and I liked almost everything.
The governor asked us questions about our jobs and families in the US, and we also shared about our church’s love for the Chinese people. The authorities might have had the idea that we afforded to take such a costly journey because we were millionaires, which wasn’t the case.
A huge fresh fish was settled in the middle of the table and I saw the governor cutting in the meat and placing the pieces in the little boiling bowl in front of him. Seconds later, he started to eat, dipping the piece of fish in a sauce. My friends and I looked at each other, and then we did the same.
We ate fish at home when I was little, but it was seasonal and pretty expensive. My parents never bought frozen fish, but the living ones that were caught in the rivers. If the fish weren’t alive in the seller’s basin, nobody would buy it. It was common that after my dad would scale the fish and remove the innards, after cutting it in pieces, the meat would still move. Sometimes, when he would fry the fish in halves, the meat would jump on the floor. It was a reality I grew up with, even though it looked grotesque.
I continued to cut and place the meat in the boiling water for as long as the governor did that.
Then it came the challenge.
“I’m sure you would not eat our last course,” the man in power declared. “Why?” I asked. I didn’t wait for the answer and announced, “I will.”
By that time I understood it wasn’t only a cordial dinner, it was about winning, and the Chinese ruler was sure the Americans would lose. The man laughed and made a sign to the main server to bring in the new dish. I started to pray, “Lord, don’t let this be worms or bugs. I can’t eat that.” I was ready to cut and eat crocodile, snake, frog, and snail, anything but worms and bugs.
On the other hand, I didn’t want the Chinese to win. It was about respect, and I was ready to pay what I had to pay to gain that respect for our team. The interpreter looked at me and shook his head. His face was pretty congested from trying to keep up with the governor’s taste for liquor. I took a glance of my friends and I could see they were done with eating. From my perspective, that was a race between China and US, and I had to win.
The brown bowl was placed closed to me. “You can’t eat one piece,” the ruler said. He leaned forward and got two fat worms the size of a thumb between his sticks. Jovial and confident, he placed the crunchy animals in his mouth and chewed them.
I froze. I knew I had to eat that.
-to be continued-
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