I’ve written before about Xiao Chen, one of my favourite black cab drivers, and my go-to guy whenever I need to get home late at night. We’ve had lots of great conversations, many of which I think are worth sharing. So many, in fact, that there was too much to put in a single post, and I saved some for a second installment. I haven’t been able to get back in touch with him yet, since my SIM/phone broke over the summer. So, this is a kind of nostalgia post. Hopefully I find him again soon!!
Xiao Chen thinks it’s great how much I’ve travelled, that I speak Chinese and enjoy Chinese food. He’d said things along this line many times before I understood the context of his remarks. He talked about how when he visits the south of China he feels so out of place – the food, the weather, and the language are all so different. He is amazed that I can adapt to a different country when he doubts he himself could adjust to a different place within his own country.
That said, he is really interested in travel. He would really love to visit Australia (especially Sydney, which he has heard is a really beautiful place) and England. People have told him it rains a lot in England, but that doesn’t deter him because he likes rainy weather. He’s not interested in visiting America, though – sorry, American friends!
One time Xiao Chen asked me, out of the blue, “do Australians eat rice?” Believe it or not, I’ve heard this question many times. But, as always, Xiao Chen showed a lot more interest in the answer than most. I said yes, Australians eat rice, but that we also eat noodles, potato and bread. As an immigrant country, we have all sorts of different foods; what each person eats regularly depends largely on their family background, but many of us eat a bit of everything. (He was surprised that we eat noodles, even after I explained that we eat both Asian style noodles and Italian style pasta).
Xiao Chen thought this was all great. He especially liked that I don’t remember learning to use chopsticks – I’ve used them at least occasionally my whole life. What truly stunned him, though, was my explanation that in western food potato is considered a staple (starch) food more than a vegetable. This bewildered him – he asked how we prepare it if it’s not a vegetable. In China, potato is cooked just like any other vegetable – cut into slivers and stir fried, for the most part, or stewed in casserole-style dishes common in the north. Mashed potato and baked potato, though common in the west, are unheard of in Chinese cuisine – although roasted sweet potato is a common winter snack.
The next week, Xiao Chen asked if Australians eat pork. I told him yes, but we eat beef and lamb more often. I explained that pork is more expensive than beef, which blew his mind. Pork is the cheapest and most readily available meat in China, with chicken breast meat not far behind, whereas beef tends to be more expensive. He said he would eat beef maybe once a month, but pork just about every day. A fun thing about that conversation is that my grandparents in Australia are almost as fascinated by the contrast as Xiao Chen is.
Xiao Chen is genuinely amazed that in two countries so far apart people eat the same things – like pork and rice. He’s not alone in that amazement; I’ve been asked many times if Australians eat this or that. (To be fair, I was asked similar things – like “do you have pizza in Australia?” – when I lived in the US). One thing I love about having this sort of conversation is that it helps the person I’m talking to see the similarities between us, rather than the differences – and that is always a good thing.