23 May 2006

The Restaurant in the Desert//沙漠中的饭店

A copy of the original can be found online at http://www.jasii.com/sanmao/skld/03.htm.

All rights reserved for this translation, I'd quote a license, but that might be too much work.

[in translation]

The Restaurant in the Desert//沙漠中的饭店
San Mao//三毛

My husband is, unfortunately, a foreigner. Talking about one's own husband like this sounds a bit wrong, but our married life has about as many conflicts as our two cultures have differences.

When I first decided to marry José, I clearly warned him that our personalities were very different, more so than one would expect from even our different origins. We might end up fighting with fists as well as with our words.

He answered, "I know that your temper is bad, but you mean well. Fighting might be inevitable, but we're still getting married." And so, seven years after we met, we finally got married.

I don't actively support women's liberation, but I also liked my independence and didn't want to lose it to become merely half of a marriage. So, I insisted, I wanted to continue to do as I pleased after we marry, or else it wasn't going to happen. At the time, José said to me, "That's what I want. Would I marry you otherwise?"

I was vastly comforted to hear him say that.

Being José's wife, I make do with speaking Spanish everyday. Poor foreigner, he still can't tell the difference between "人" (human) and "入" (enter) even after correcting him repeatedly. So, as a point of concession, I speak his language. (Our children, however, are going to learn Chinese even if it kills them. José supports this wholeheartedly.)

Back to our topic, the first duty of a wife is in the kitchen. I regard housework with pained loathing but do, however, enjoy cooking. Add onions and meat, apply heat, and it's transformed into fine cuisine. I have a lot of appreciation for this sort of art.

My mother, who lives in Taiwan, was very concerned, knowing that I had to follow José into the Sahara. But, as José earned the money, I had no choice but to follow my meal ticket.

We had an all-western diet when we first married. My family later mailed me a large relief bundle filled with vermicelli, seaweed, mushrooms, ramen, pork jerky, and other precious food items. I couldn't let them out of my hands for joy. And when the canister of soy sauce that one of my girlfriends from Europe sent arrived, my home-style Chinese restaurant was open for business - too bad the only customer ate for free. (Of course, later, friends lined up, clarmoring to eat my cooking.)

In reality, the stuff my mother mailed me wasn't enough for any kind of restaurant. Fortunately, José had never been to Taiwan. He only saw me puffed up with the confidence of a master chef after receiving the bundle, and put his trust in me.

My first creation was "vermicelli in chicken broth." José after work is always shouting "Is it ready yet, I'm starving!" He gave me his love freely for so many years, and now all he does is call for his dinner with nary a thought for the wife. Fortunately this "yellow faced madame" was secure in his affections. Anyway, he drank some of this "vermicelli in chicken broth", then he asked, "Hey, what's this stuff? Ramen noodles?"

"Would your mother-in-law waste postage on ramen? That's not it."

"Well, what is it? Give me some more, it's good."

I used my chopsticks to pick up a strand, "Oh, this? This is 'rain'."

He froze. As I said, I did what I pleased in this marriage, and talking made me happy. "This is the first rainfall in the springtime. Droplets fall on the mountains back home and freeze into strands. The aborigines who live up there carry bundles of it down into town. They sell it to buy rice wine to drink. It's a rare commodity, you know."

José was still silent, carefully examining the wife, then at the 'rain', then he said, "Do you take me for an idiot?"

I could neither confirm nor deny, and instead asked, "Would you like anymore?"

"Show-off. More please."

After that, he had spring rain quite frequently, but he still doesn't know what it is.

Sometimes, when I think about it, I conclude that José is very stupid. The thought makes me hurt a little inside.

The second time we had vermicelli was when I made "Ants on a Log". I fried the vermicelli in a flat-bottomed pan, then sprinkled ground meat and soy sauce on them. José is always hungry after work, and so took a huge bite of the stuff. "What's this? It's like white yarn, maybe plastic?"

"None of the above. It's nylon fishing thread. We Chinese process it to make it so soft and white," I answered.

He had another bite, flashed a shy sexy smile, then said, "So many strange names. If we really opened a restaurant, we can get a great price for this, clever woman!" He ate a lot of processed nylon thread that day.

The third time he had vermicelli, it was mixed with minced spinach and ground meat and stuffed into a flour wrapper. The concoction resembled a large potsticker. He said, "You put shark fin inside this, didn't you? I hear that it's quite expensive. No wonder you only put a little it." I nearly fell down laughing.

"Please tell your mother not to buy such expensive things for us. I'll send a letter to thank her."

I was greatly amused, and said, "Go write it now. I'll translate it for you. Ha!"

One day, before José came home from work, I took out my hidden stash of pork jerky and quickly cut it into tiny squares. Then I stuffed them inside a jar and hid it inside our blanket. Coincidentally, he had a stuffy nose that day and wanted the blanket when he went to sleep. I'd quickly forgotten about my treasure and was off on the side, perusing my dog-eared copy of The Water Margin. He lay on the bed, holding the jar and examining it from all angles. I looked up. Ack! Not good, Solomon's Treasure has been discovered! I rushed forth to take it from him, calling, "That isn't food, it's medicine, Chinese medicine!"

"My nose is stuffed, perfect time for some Chinese medicine." He had already stuffed a large handful into his mouth. I was furious, but I couldn't tell him to spit it out, and so could only remain indignantly silent.

"Kind of sweet, isn't it? What is it?"

"Cough drops," I answered huffily, "it's to soothe sore throats."

"Cough drops made of meat? I'm not that stupid."

When I woke up the next morning, I discovered that he had already snuck out with half the bottle to let his colleagues have a taste. From that day forth, those colleagues on seeing me would launch into fake coughs, hoping to con more "cough drops" out of me.

The time that a married couple spends together is mostly spent on eating; the rest of the time is spent on earning money for these meals and isn't all that interesting. I made sushi one day, wrapping seaweed around some dehydrated meat filling. José refused to touch it. "What, you're feeding me blue copy paper now?"

I slowly asked, "You're really not going to eat this?"

"Definitely not."

Fine. I grinned, and immediately took a big bite.

"Let me see your mouth," he demanded.

"You see? My mouth isn't blue. That's because I used the reverse side of the copy paper."

Fortunately I'm prone to exaggeration, often swerving off into complete nonsense.

"You're really the king of the braggarts, I can't even tell what's real and what isn't. I hate you. Tell the truth, what was it?"

"You don't know anything about China. I'm so disappointed in my husband," I answered, eating another one. He huffed, picking a roll up with chopsticks, expression mournful like that of a soldier being sent on a suicide mission. He chewed for an interminable amount of time, finally swallowed.

"Oh. It's seaweed."

I jumped up, shouting, "Correct, correct! My husband is so smart!" He thumped me on the head before I could jump again.

When my supplies ran low, the Chinese restaurant balked at producing meals. Western food made a reappearance. José came home from work, saw that the wife was unexpectedly preparing steak, and happily shouted, "I want mine medium rare. Have you fried the potatoes?"

After three days of steak, he unexpectedly lost his appetite. He had a tiny piece and refused to touch the rest.

"Too busy at work? Would you like to take a nap first?" Even the "yellow faced madame" has a gentle side, sometimes.

"I'm not sick. I'm just not eating well."

I jumped when I heard this, "Not eating well? Not eating well?! Do you know how much steak costs?"

"No, wife, I want to eat 'rain'. The stuff your mother sent tastes better."

"Fine. The Chinese restaurant is thereby open twice a week. How's that? How often would you like for it to 'rain'?"

José got off work one day and said to me, "Amazing, today my boss asked to see me."

"Is he giving you a raise?" My eyes positively sparkled at the thought.

"No -"

I grabbed him, nails digging into his flesh, "Oh no, we're done. You've been fired? Oh my god, we - "

"Don't grab me like that, crazy woman, and listen to me. The boss says, everyone's been invited to dinner here except for him and his wife. He's waiting for you to invite him to eat Chinese food."

"Oh, the boss wants me to cook for him? Well, I refuse to invite him. I'm happy to cook for your friends and colleagues, but I refuse to suck up to your superiors. I have some morals, you know, I - " I was about to begin expounding on the Moral Integrity of the Chinese people, but I couldn't explain it clearly. I also saw José's expression, and could only swallow my indignation.

The next day, José asked me, "Hey, do we have any bamboo?"

"We've got lots of chopsticks. Aren't they all bamboo?"

He glared at me, "My boss says he wants to eat bamboo shoots stir-fried with mushrooms."

We've run into a worldly fellow. Never underestimate foreigners. "Sure, invite them to dinner tomorrow night, no problem. The bamboo will grow especially for this occasion."

José looked at me with such ardor. It was the first time since our marriage that he'd looked at me with the eyes of a lover, and it made me feel adored to the point of bursting. Too bad my braids had unraveled that day, giving me the appearance of a wraith.

The next night, I prepared three dishes and left them warming on the stove. I found some candles for the table, and spread a white tablecloth. I even layered a piece of red cloth diagonally for contrast. Everyone enjoyed the meal thoroughly, and not just for the food. I cleaned up nicely, even deigned to wear a long skirt for the occasion. Before getting into the car, the boss's wife said to me, "If the public relations office has an opening, I hope you will come and join us." I beamed. This is all due to the 'bamboo shoots stir fried with mushrooms'.

By the time his boss left, it was already very late. I quickly exchanged my skirt for jeans, tied my hair back with rubber bands, and attacked the dirty dishes. Reverting into my Cinderella appearance made me feel free again. José was very satisfied, and asked to my back, "Hey, the 'bamboo shoots stir fried with mushrooms' was really good. Where'd you get the bamboo shoots?"

I laughed, "Oh, do you mean the cucumbers stir fried with mushrooms?"

"What? You can fool me all you want, but you tried to fool my boss?"

"I didn't fool anyone. This is the best 'bamboo shoots stir fried with mushrooms' that he's ever had, he said so himself."

José picked me up, splashing his beard with soapy water in the process, shouting, "Huzzah! Huzzah! You're that monkey, the one with the seventy-two transformations. What's he called...what's his name again?"

I patted his head, "The Sainted Monkey King of the Heavens, and don't you forget it this time."


hi, that is great translation.
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