Scoundrel Time

Hot Pot

For 李美其


My friend and I selected vegetables,
mushrooms, meat, and long strands of sliced seaweed.
I am illiterate, in China,
so she read out loud and checked all the right boxes.
Our server beamed as I snapped pictures
of her soft hands stirring sauce into meat
and lighting the hotplate embedded
in the centre of our table. I caught
my friend’s open, expectant expression
as she watched the wok build steam. I caught
the eye of the small girl sitting at the next
table. I watched her, watching me. I know
that I am alien in my strange skin.
The girl twined her fingers into her mother’s
blue-dyed hair. I said to my friend, while we
were eating, ‘It happened again, yesterday.
An old man, in farmer’s clothes, saw me
come up out of the underground. He came
running over to shake my hand. He kept
saying, “Hello! Hello! Hello!” I’m glad
that I could make him happy, doing so
little, but it always seems so strange
that this should be so.’ My friend thought,
then carefully answered, chewing a fragment
of beef glazed in mild spice, ‘ I think I know
why you make old farmers so happy.
When they were very young, China was poor.
They’ve worked their whole lives for their country
to prosper, and now they are glad
because foreigners come to see what they’ve done.’
Eating Hot Pot is less a meal than a ritual.
You cannot eat a Hot Pot alone.
Friends sit together, read over the menu,
they consider what they each would like,
what would give their friends the greatest pleasure.
Everyone gets a small plate, a small bowl,
their own pair of chopsticks, but the meal,
the pleasure, results from their joined efforts,
from disparate elements merging,
converging into something marvelous
that could not have existed before.





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