Curiosity + China = way more than I bargained for

China’s the kind of place where you can ask a totally innocuous question:

“Hey, what’s that?”

…and get the most bizarre answers, like this one from last week:

“That’s PíxiÅ« (貔貅). Businessmen like PíxiÅ« because it doesn’t have an anus, so it can eat fortune but the fortune can’t ‘exit’.”

“… … ah.” (See Pixiu in Wikipedia.)

It’s easy for foreigners to get used to being surrounded by stuff we can’t name, can’t read, don’t recognize or don’t understand. It becomes so overwhelming that we don’t think to ask or even want to ask. But curiosity in China is worth it. There’s a lot of crazy-to-us stuff in Chinese culture, all around us, just sitting out there in plain sight. PíxiÅ«s aren’t uncommon; these pictures are from the front desk of the gym where we exercise.

All you have to do is ask. Take, for example, the alcoholic drinks pictured below that are often seen at the front check-out counters of restaurants. They’re usually in big glass jars filled with all manner of marinated/preserved-in-alcohol animals like snakes and seahorses and turtles and who knows what else.

Sure, just peering into their interesting-in-a-bad-car-crash-sort-of-way depths is surprising enough for most lÇŽowàis that we don’t even think to try the labels. I saw these particular jars regularly for three YEARS before I finally tried to read/translate the outside of the container, and…

Red Ginseng Three Penis* Tonic Liquor
The nourish-kidneys-and-strengthen-male-virility type, Original “Folk Recipe”
滋肾壮阳型 来源《民间方剂》

This isn’t in some scuzzy adult store in a nasty part of town (if it was I probably wouldn’t be blogging it); it’s right up at the checkout counter of a regular neighbourhood family restaurant. Much like the menu of the dog meat restaurant near our old place, which I translated as a student just to get some vocab and ended up with way more than I bargained for.

I’ve encountered too many “No way!” “Way!” moments in China. I don’t know why they so often involve body parts. But I do know that next time I ask, the person could make up a completely bogus, far-flung explanation for whatever it is and I’d totally buy it.

*P.S. — You are undoubtedly wondering, “Which three?” Well, the ingredients aren’t listed on that label. However it turns out that there’s a famous, traditional brand of “three penis liquor” 三鞭酒 that can be found on the shelves of the average neighbourhood supermarket that does list the ingredients. I found this one at the supermarket closest to us, two minutes up the road. (Cost about $2.)

Zhang Yu’s Specialty Three Penis Liquor

The long list of ingredients begins with: “high-quality baijiu 优质白酒, edible alcohol 食用酒精, soft-ified water 软化水, seal penis æµ·ç‹—éž­, deer penis 鹿鞭, dhole (Asiatic wild dog) penis 广狗鞭….” And, in case you’re also wondering, there’s a very good chance that those are Canadian seals.

P.P.S. – This is begging for a better title. How would you answer this question: “Curiosity + China = ______”?

9 thoughts on “Curiosity + China = way more than I bargained for”

  1. Well, the title must’ve been good enough for me, cuz I clicked thru from google reader ;)

    But I have to admit that I often don’t. It’s not that I don’t *want* to read, I’m just embarrassingly lazy. Would you possibly be interested in turning on full-post RSS feeds? I’m sure the blogosphere would reward your generosity with a storm of new readers, one of whom might even buy you a bottle of three-penis liquor.

  2. I’d like to use a full-post RSS feed, but I shortened it because I got tired of chasing down sites that were stealing our content. Some would just steal text, others just pictures, some (cough coughchinatravel.netcough) were importing the entire rss feed as content for their site. I had to send them a bunch of mean e-mails. Maybe I’ll make the excerpt bigger or something.

  3. I hear your pain on the stealing-content front. On the other hand, I’d venture to guess the pain is mostly psychological, by which I mean to say that you probably won’t lose any noticeable audience or revenues to the content stealers — it’s just that it makes you mad. So you don’t have much to lose by opening up the feed. Anyway, it looks like the most recent post showed up as full feed, so I’m happy ;)

    If I had some, I’d toast a glass of 3P liquor to you.

  4. Hmmm… tempting. I’ll think about it. Maybe this time when they start stealing my content again I can beg them to let me freelance and correct their websites’ chinglish instead of sending them nasty e-mails.

    I thought the whole point of full-text feeds was so that you don’t have to bother visiting people’s blogs. At least that’s what I use them for. (by the way, I can’t pull up sinoglot.)

    @DK – what on earth for? did you lose a bet or something?

  5. I thought the whole point of full-text feeds was so that you don’t have to bother visiting people’s blogs.

    That’s what i use them for too. What’s the Sinoglot issue?

  6. Just fed 三鞭酒 (Chinese men’s health tonic called “Three Penis Liquor”) to my youngest sister’s fiancee and his groomsmen and the rehearsal dinner last night. They didn’t know what it was before that drank it, of course. It doesn’t taste good, but it’s not kick-you-in-the-face kind of bad like cheap 白酒 baijiu is.

  7. hmm, I might have tried that liquor as well…but it might have been a slightly different bottle as there is quite a lot of 白酒 looking like that. hmm I just reelly do hope that it was another one :=) I haven’t seen the 貔貅‘s yet. hmm maybe I just did not notice them until now, but next them I will for sure :=))

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