The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The Good #3 and #4

3. Ordering books

Somehow, despite the skyrocketing popularity of digital books, publishers in the West still haven’t figured out that there’s no longer a reason to price books up around the twenty-dollar range. I really don’t see the point of paying the same price for electrons that I do for paper. Chinese publishers, by contrast, sell books for WAY cheaper. Not bootlegged books, either. Since I know I’ll be leaving soon, I’ve been ordering a bunch of things online that I think might not be easy to find in the U.S., all in Chinese of course. Is there anything better than brand-new books for cheap? I think not. A four-volume set of dark comedic satire by Yan Lianke. The complete poetry of Luo Yihe. All of Lu Xun’s Za Wen (short essays and thought fragments). None of them over $10 U.S. The complete anything by a contemporary western writer would be five times that much. No snarky comments about nobody knowing the Chinese writers, either; the ones I just mentioned, if they had been reliably translated, would be considered on a par with the best writers the West has ever produced.

Did I mention the books were cheap?

4. A new kind of fried rice

Wow. Double wow. I went to a big outdoor market in a different part of town recently and stopped in at a random Hunan restaurant for lunch. Without knowing precisely what it was, I ordered the Hunan Fried Rice. Well, as it turned out, it was fried rice with bacon and chili peppers. Now I’m a huge fried rice fan. I’ve ordered it in hundreds of markets, and enjoyed almost every serving. This, however, was something special. I don’t know if this will sound superficial or not, but one of the things I’m going to miss most about China after I leave is the unexpected discoveries. I’ve been in China eight years now, and this is the first time I’ve ever had Hunan-style fried rice. There’s a reason I’ve never gotten tired of Chinese food. There’s so much of it, and it’s so varied, that I’ve never yet exhausted the possibilities.

Oh, and it’s crazy cheap, too. My Hunan fried rice cost me $1.


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