Revenge Is a Dish Best Served in China

by Moya Duffy

I can’t remember what I did to make him so angry. All I can remember is his revenge.

It was early in our marriage and we were living in Hong Kong, traveling occasionally up The Pearl River to Guanzhou, the main city in Canton. By the late 1970’s life was getting better for most people in the cities of Mainland China. There was a whiff of capitalism in the air with many small shops reopening and even the odd foreigner turning up to do business.

Tom and I were two of those foreigners having started a toy import export business. Competition was fierce and our cash was dwindling, so I was pleasantly surprised at how agreeable he had been on this trip, almost solicitous, letting me wander the art shops while he finished up our business negotiations and arranged our last dinner.

“Are you sure your wife likes snake?” asked an anxious Mr. Zhu, who was originally from Shanghai and wasn’t too keen on eating reptiles. Snake is a delicacy only eaten in the South of China and often for nutritional reasons.

“Absolutely loves it,” smiled my duplicitous husband.

In my naivety I thought we had arrived at a pet shop. The front window was filled with curving boughs and leaves with possibly some movement in the upper branches. We went up the narrow stairs to a warm room filled with tables and chairs and some local people tucking into dinner.

We were in the most famous snake restaurant in Canton with possibly the best snake chef in China, and our fellow diners were delighted, as they knew the chef would demonstrate his extraordinary skills for honored foreign guests.

He arrived at our table carrying a basket, took off the lid and plunged his hand into a writhing mass, pulling out a black cobra. He held the lashing creature aloft, made a surgical slit and out popped the bile, which fell into the waiting glass of maotai, turning it green. This is the propitious drink that starts a meal of snake soup, followed by snake meat, civet cat and other delicacies developed to shore you up for a hard cold winter.  “Darling,” said the solicitous Tom. “We are honored guests and you are not drinking your maotai.”

Pale, furious, and feeling a little nauseous, I could only manage, “We’ll talk about gall when we get back to Hong Kong.”

Moya Duffy has recently observed that the more formal education she has acquired the duller the jobs. Modeled in London, a stewardess in NYC, a lay-about in Liberia and a university lecturer in Hong Kong.