The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Bad #1 and #2

1. Slow Service

There’s a hotel directly across from our dorm, the first floor of which houses a very good, and fairly inexpensive, restaurant. Their noodles are good enough to impress my Shanxi friends, and most of their dishes are priced so low that even if they didn’t taste too good you’d still feel like you were getting away with something. (Note: It’s either sad or simply amusing that I’m 33 and still firmly in the “if it’s cheap it’s good” school of thought. Seriously, if they had “Cold Buzzard Carcass” on the menu and it only cost 2 RMB, I’d probably order it.) There’s only one catch: there’s no way to know how long it will take to get your food. Sometimes the service is normal and you’re in and out in less than thirty minutes. Other times it’s like you’ve stumbled into a Soviet soup kitchen on Christmas Eve. Scott and I went there for lunch the other day, earlier than usual in the hopes we’d get decent service, and made the rookie mistake of not noticing the big red banner along one side of the restaurant welcoming conference attendees. (I don’t know which conference. It doesn’t matter, really.) That typically means food is already being prepared for roughly fifty Chinese people, and any other customers will be lumped into the “when we can get to it” category that encompasses probably 95% of the people in this country. Thirty minutes after ordering we were still waiting for noodles. NOODLES, people. If we’d ordered Baked Alaska or fresh Maine lobster I would have understood, but ordering a bowl of noodles in China is about like ordering a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the States. There’s nothing more basic. When you’re still waiting after thirty minutes for noodles, you’re being ignored. We complained several times and eventually got all our food, but our “quick” lunch break turned into an hour-long affair.

2. Losing Touch with Your Water-Delivery Guy

About a month ago I decided to stop ordering water from my usual place. (Note: If you don’t know what I’m talking about, everyone here has a little water dispenser in lieu of drinking from the tap, which you don’t do unless you want your bowels to put on an amateur re-enactment of the Indonesian tsunami. You have to order jugs of water to use with the dispenser, hence the delivery person option.) I did so because the water tasted. . .odd. I don’t know how to describe it really, but water’s one of those things you don’t mess around with. In all probability the meat we eat in little hole-in-the wall restaurants is dodgy, too, but it’s been wok-fried into near-oblivion with several different sauces mixed in so you don’t know. You can fake cat meat. You can’t fake water. So I switched to a different delivery guy and paid a little extra to have brand-name water. Yep, I’m a high roller. Well, this worked great until earlier this week, when I called his number and got a message saying it was out of service. Interesting. And so much in keeping with life in the mainland. You just can’t count on anything, really. Not even the library. Or the librarians. I went to our school library last week to check out some books, and as I went in, one librarian, who’s always made to relate things to me in English despite my having spoken with the whole staff multiple times in Chinese, said to me, “Just for reading!” No context given. He just stood up and said “Just for reading!” in a cautionary way, as though he knew I was planning to build a little fort out of the French Philosophy section, or set fire to their Proust collection. This was unlikely, but I wasn’t in the mood to stand around and talk, so I frowned, nodded, and said, “Sure. I guess.” I got my books, went to check them out, and the same librarians gestured apologetically at the computers, saying the whole system was down and I couldn’t check anything out. How “just for reading” was supposed to communicate “the computer system is down” I don’t know. So to summarize: I’m trying to figure out how else to get decent water delivered, wondering if my normal delivery guy just forgot to pay his phone bill or got knocked off by a rival water-delivery syndicate, and having to plan my trips to the library more carefully.


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