Waving turtles at traffic

After so many years here, we rarely see anything “new.” But this recently made me do a double-take:

turtlefisher

I’ve passed this woman twice now, and each time I asked about her on Weixin (what we use in China instead of Facebook). It’s a handy way to get interesting answers to cultural questions (like that time my superstitious neighbours made me uproot trees I’d planted in our shared grass area). Also, “What turtle?” 什么龟 and “What the heck?!” 什么鬼 are near homophones (shénme guī/guǐ), so it’s fun. You usually get a variety of answers because even if various regions share similar traditions, sometimes the stories and reasons behind them are different. But I couldn’t get much of a consensus on this one, except for: “It’s a scam!”

turtlefishing

Weixin friends gave me various explanations. Here’s a sampling:

  • She’s advertising a traditional turtle soup (very nutritious!) 炖汤很滋补。见过有人停车买。
  • She’s selling turtles 路边卖老鳖
  • She’s extorting Buddhists, who will pay her to let the turtle go free (but then she’ll go catch it again!) 悲催的乌龟先生被人贩子以积德行善名义高价卖给有缘人(一般会是信佛教的人)去放生,然后他会偷偷的跟着买家等放生后用一种技巧召回乌龟,继续卖。周而复始……我弟弟亲眼见过,而且这样的人喜欢在河附近的大马路上卖乌龟。有人会做大补的食物买去,也有人会被卖家说服了去放生。“Miserable Mr. Turtle, kidnapped in order to be sold at a high price to those fated to accumulate merit through good works (usually its people who believe in Buddhism) who buy them to set them free, and then he’ll secretly follow the buyer and wait until after its been released, and use a special trick to call the turtle back and continue selling it. Over and over again… My younger brother saw it with his own eyes, also this kind of person likes to sell turtles near rivers. Some people make a really nutritious food to sell, other people will be convinced by the seller to release it for merit.”
  • Chinese medicine 中药
  • She’s scamming people by passing off raised turtles as wild turtles. 骗人的 / 忽悠人的 / 这个人是骗子 / 这些人是骗钱的,很便宜的价格买进鳄龟,然后把它们身上搞上点泥土,再打扮成农民工的某样,说这龟是在河里干活捉到的野生龟,可以卖高价格,千万别上当。 “These people are scammers, they purchase cheaply priced turtles and put mud on them, then dress up like migrant peasant workers and say they caught this wild turtle while working at the river, they can be sold for a really high price, by all means do not be taken in!”

Visceral Chinese restaurant advertising

We recently had an interesting experience for us, as former North American suburbanites, when Jessica bought a live chicken in the neighbourhood market instead of chicken meat, and had it butchered. She said it was still warm when she was preparing it in the kitchen. There’s also this unforgettable infomercial that used to play in the back of Qingdao taxis, where a chef pulls the shell off a live crab. Anecdotes like that (which are in endless supply), and this photo from two days ago, hit one of the trillion interesting-to-me cultural differences between China and North America. Turns out that meat actually comes from animal carcasses! Did you know? Dead animals! Who knew, eh?
qingdaomutton
These skeletal remains are hanging outside a mutton restaurant that I passed by this week on my way home from work, basically as advertising: Hey! We have fresh mutton here! Aren’t these carcasses appetizing? Generally speaking (of course), in China there’s still much less of a disconnect between been food and its sources — in this case: meat and the fact that meat comes from the bodies of animals.

Contrast with North America, where meat is sold as far removed from its animal of origin as possible: skinless, boneless, sliced into plastic-wrapped rectangles — somehow it feels “cleaner” to us. But that’d be suspect for many our Chinese neighbours, who would instinctively question the freshness of plastic wrapped meat so far removed from its source.

The anecdotes are endless, like — and this is something that I keep forgetting — serving a fish with the head and tail not removed turns a lot of North Americans off. As if we prefer not being reminded that it was an actual fish before it became fish on our plates. Same with chicken heads. IMO, China’s approach to food makes more sense. North Americans don’t eat bugs, but they do eat crabs, lobsters and honey (seriously: do you know what honey is? Youtube it.). North Americans don’t eat dogs, but pigs and cows? — no problem.

North Americans have some weird cultural hangups when it comes to food. I suspect it has to do with cultural hangups East and West both have regarding bodies in general — though as anyone who’s spent significant time in China could tell you, those somatic hangups play out in different ways. Though I also suspect it just has to do with modern life in general; the century-old American worlds in many of our kids’ books (like Little House on the Prairie) seem much closer to China than today’s America when it comes to meat.

But whatever the reasons, when it comes to food, China is fearless.*

(*Unless you’re talking food safety and pollution, but that’s a different deal).

If you like dead animals and/or meat, there’s plenty to be found in the following posts:

Dog food (the other kind) in Qingdao, China

Dog dish
A dog dish (as in, a dog *in* a dish), in case you ever wondered what an entire dog stewed and served as meat looks like.
Dog head for you!
The host offers the dog head to an especially honoured guest (the one guy who drank baijiu instead of beer all night). Every part of the dog was in there, and by every part, I mean whatever part you’re thinking of right now.
gym buddies dog food
Dinner with the gym dudes. I think there was as much meat around the table as there was on it. One of them owns the restaurant.
More dog-eating adventures: Don’t eat dog? We sure missed that memo…

On surviving China’s infamous drinking culture: Baijiu