Eye of the Chicken
A journal of Harbin, China

Tuna Time
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Well, I've been here for about two and a half weeks, and cultural fatigue is beginning to set in. There are many reasons for this, including but not limited to:

  • I got an email today that punched all my buttons, making me feel really insecure about . . . well, about everything. (Shyer people than me often think that outgoing people have oodles of self-confidence, but I beg to differ.)
  • Barb's gone, so the honeymoon is over, so to speak, and it's time for me to figure out what I'm really doing here. (Much easier if you have a plan as well as a plane ticket. Oh, well. Too late now.)
  • Yesterday I studied statistics until my eyes bugged out. At 8 pm, when they would no longer focus, I sat down to knit and watch some mindless television. The English-language channel was showing a compelling documentary about the relationship between birds and dinosaurs - in Chinese, with subtitles. Can't read subtitles when your eyes are tired or when you're knitting . . . I finally settled on CCTV's version of MTV - really much more akin to Ed Sullivan than MTV.
  • It was -13 Fahrenheit when I woke up. Now, I do like the cold; it's crisp with an absolutely haunting beauty. But it's also formidable. It's hard to shake out the door to go to breakfast in those temperatures. When I did go outside, I planned my route carefully so that I could hit all the stores I wanted to get to in one trip, and wouldn't have to go out again.
  • I went to the local yarn emporium to get some red and yellow fingering-weight wool, but I was just too whipped to want to bargain, and to try to ascertain if I was actually getting wool or not, so I left empty-handed.
  • Campus is livening up, which is good in some respects (the dining hall will be open for dinner beginning tomorrow), but it also means more crowds.

So I felt like I needed a little pick-me-up. "Aha!" I thought. "That's why I brought the mayonnaise." So I bundled up and headed out for tuna and white bread.

Unhappily, tuna is not as easy to find as I had anticipated. I saw lots of cans of fish, but most of the cans were more or less fish-shaped, leading me to believe they contained actual fishes. The only fish I could find in a round can was mackerel:


Now I'll admit, I wouldn't know a mackerel if it jumped on my fishing line, but the round can seemed to promise hunks of fish rather than entire little bone-, head- and tail-laden corpses, and you know, you can mash up all sorts of things with mayonnaise and they taste good, so I figured, why not?

The bread posed similar challenges. I went to the bakery and was presented with two alternatives:




Dear reader, what would you have chosen? Would you choose the thing that looks like an actual loaf, or would you go for the Wonder bread stand-in?

I chose the Wonder bread, because past experience has taught me that things that look like loaves of white bread often turn out to be very sweet, and to contain things like nuts or raisins, which was not what I was after. (And as I stood there evaluating my bread choices for a very long time, with the shop clerk at my elbow, waiting to assist me - or maybe to make sure I didn't steal anything - cultural fatigue settled on me in force. Practically everything is like this when I'm on my own; either I don't get what I expect to get, or I can't find what I want, or getting something involves contorting my limited Chinese to exaggerated lengths, saying things like, "He won't walk" to mean "My washing machine connector won't work because it won't connect securely to the faucet; I believe the threads are stripped. Can you send up a janitor to fix it, please?")

I came home cheerful and optimistic, though. However, when I opened my mackerel, I discovered that it had been packed in tomato juice:


Not the sort of thing you want to mash up with mayonnaise at all. I took a bite, thought about washing it all off, and then decided there would probably be bones, anyway, and abandoned the project. Unfortunately, I poured off most of the tomato juice before it dawned on me that I could make some noodles and have a passable spaghetti alternative . . .

And then I noticed that the label had in fact shown tomato:


Amazing what you don't see until you see it, eh? All I saw was what I hoped was a fish of a size too great to fit in the can I was holding.

But all was not lost; I went around to Corner Coffee, a sort of international student hangout right by my dorm, where I knew they would have a tuna sandwich. And they did:


There it is. A budget-busting dinner of a tuna sandwich, a bowl of borscht, and some Bailey's hot chocolate. Comfort food if ever there was such a thing.

Even if the mayonnaise was sub-par. (But no matter; tomorrow I'm going to get some hard-boiled eggs at breakfast. Egg salad is almost as good as tuna . . . and will have to do until I find the actual fish.)

Amazing how familiar food re-energizes one. I'm ready to polish off my stats homework and tackle my self-imposed Chinese homework, now, too.

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