A Taste Of Chinese Hospitality.............Part 12
Soon after, the train had started, the ubiquitous packs of instant noodles started appearing on the tables. Chinese travel with a loads of those, wherever they go. Hot water is available everywhere in China, be it a train, Railways station, bus stand or any public place. Maggi started selling the instant noodles in India a few years ago and minted thousands of Crores. This perhaps didn’t go well with other instant food manufacturers or what was the truth behind a big giant like Nestle coming under the fire and brim stone of FDA and FSSAI, the Food Safety Regulatory body, most of the Indians didn’t know it existed before it stepped in and banned sale of Maggi on the plea that some of the samples tested had impermissible levels of lead.
It is hard to believe that in a country where, fast food is selling at every street corner and little concern is shown to hygiene, a product produced by a reputed international company, which I am sure maintains better standards than wayside vendors, should become a subject of serious health concern by the food inspectors who are known for taking “hafta” (protection money) from the shopkeepers and big businesses for letting them function.
Lead, about which the concern has been rising ever since environmentalists have found voice, is present in small quantities in water. And from where does it get in water? From the discarded batteries, paints, plumbing i.e. water lines belonging to municipalities.It can cause learning disability in the young children besides other health problems in young and old alike. The process of removing lead from water involves high costs.
Chinese Green Tea and a typical Chinese container ( Pic from Internet)
But lead or no lead in water- Chinese need lots of hot water. Some people drink only hot water. Recent researches have shown a lot benefits of drinking hot water. Many Chinese carry small flasks from which they keep drinking plain hot water or the one to which green tea leaves or some dried flower buds are added. Unlike the Indians they don’t chew tobacco, or betel nuts or eat betel leaves and spit coloured juice everywhere, but spitting in China is not uncommon, especially spitting phlegm and worse, stepping on it.
It’s disdainful, unsightly, but it is one bad habit of the country people, the nation has to suffer ignominy for. Another bad thing is smoking, but well that is a problem every country is trying to battle with. In China, offering a cigarette before beginning a conversation with a stranger even, is accepted social etiquette. I didn't see any of them playing cards, though it is one popular pass time in China but after invention of mobiles and computers people all over the world have become self centered.
The care taker girls distributed trash bags among all and some Chinese started munching their favourite "Sunflower seeds." Every now and then the girls passed by carrying a garbage bag, requesting the people to discard the trash in them. A girl with a trolley, selling soft drinks and assortment of eatables moved up and down the aisle.
I had seen people carrying Styrofoam trays of packed lunch, the only one that is served on the Chinese trains. There are no pantry vans on Chinese trains to serve you hot snacks at the risk of burning the train down, every now and then.
30 RMB Meal on Chinese Trains ( Pic. from the internet)
I called up Andrew to know about the meals available on the train and learnt that only 30 RMB packed meal was officially served on the trains. The other instant noodles packs that the people were carrying were their own. He said, that there was a possibility of getting chicken meal but not a pure vegetarian meal. I wasn’t in a mood to have a full meal but there was no other option. I went to the vestibule where the caterer served hot packed meals from a portable trolley like we see on the aeroplanes. It was difficult to tell her that we didn’t want beef but in China, there is lesser probability of getting beef because pork is the most preferred meat. However, it doesn’t matter what one has. People here are not lynched for having beef or pork. What I eat is my concern. Making the girl understand that I wanted chicken was however difficult.
Ni- Hao ( Hello in Chinese) 中文：你好
Sadly, after having lived here for so many years, I/we can’t make even simple conversations. Although I sailed on Central America bound ships for only about two years and got a chance of staying in Panama for six months, I picked up sufficient vocabulary of Spanish to communicate, but of Chinese even after five years, I don’t know even very basic words. I also had to tell her that I needed a plastic fork in place of chop sticks with one meal, because my wife still can’t eat with the chopsticks, but I can handle them fairly well. I made some frantic gestures and thankfully, she understood and after a lot of searching through her bag full of chopsticks, she managed to fish out one fork.
The meal was clean but not enough for the price tag it carried. Most of it was boiled rice, with very little vegetable and meat to go with it. Perhaps in China too, the contract goes to the suppliers who grease the palms of the officials. But serving the meal in disposable Styrofoam trays is much better than using, steel trays, we see the catering staff in India washing them in the toilets. Styrofoam is actually recyclable but it needs a backup industry. However, when there is a choice to be made between Hygiene and environment, hygiene gets preference because human health should be the first concern of every human being. In India, go nment spends a lot of money on medical care for the poor but in return little effort is done by the people to keep their environment clean.
True, there are constraints, like lack of water, sanitation and resources, but the biggest impediment is the lack of will. I remember that people living in deep jungles of Amazon, where I would go during my employment on ships, would keep themselves and their shanties cleaner than what people in India do. Every new deadly virus, once if it finds its way to India makes her its home. India, though is one of the best places to live on this world, yet we would not like the viruses to fall in love with it. SARS, Swine Flu and now Dengue has spread its tentacles all over the country.
Maggie is already back. In China, Korea, Japan, it is nearly impossible to make do with English, especially if you are very particular about what to eat and what to avoid. There habit of drinking hot water is indeed a habit worth adopting but in a country like India, forget hot water, you should consider yourself lucky if you get even some cold water when you need it.
Navneet I always enjoy reading your China travelogue and this too with some good pictures of Chinese food, their obsession for hygiene and cleanliness and hot water. Yes hot water is particularly very good after food but my wife who has number of oriental friends says that they keep on taking such water through out their day.Yes Maggie would be back soon and yes as you rightly said there was some "background" to the ban of such a known product. The elucidation about "lead" was interesting.
A diplomat who traveled frequently said that he used to carry pictures of things he would to have use or eat in China because explaining what you want was found to be difficult, in the country where English was still not generally understood.
Thanks Mr. Sekhar for your comment.
Nice blog telling about your journey through time and place!
Thanks, Navneet Sb.
Hahaha- But you were a stauncher fan of PG Woodehouse :), you can live each character so well that they all come out live in your recreations.
Forgot to mention this... I am a great fan of Beetle Bailey..Have read scores of them in my school/ college days
Thank you Navneet
I can read Hindi...it was my second language in the school and college.Thank you..
Thanks will send it shortly. I wrote it in the days when Google tool and other easy to use software had not come. The RTF fonts were written using key combinations, I explored by hit and trial about them and wrote book on computer. Then I found that the Adobe could not convert that to pdf and some gibberish appeared too. I am writing it in Rich Text using Google tool. Will send it to you in a few days.
Thanks again Navneet for your continuing blog. I also like the idea of those packets of noodles and hot water.
Aside that, as you probably know, much of the ancient roman water pipes they say, were made of lead, Some attribute that to a resultant cognitive decline of the romans. Which caused for errors in judgement, and consequentially the politic. The decline of their empire overall, perhaps by that thinking, all caused by lead in water.
I am still waiting in this place, for any notion of any of the bankers who caused the financial crisis of 08 to be held responsible and charged. And now as the statute of limitations has passed, it seems none will ever be held accountable. I see politicians here seeing jail on occasion, but only the politicians who have fallen out of favor, or who are to small to mean anything. So India I think is not at all alone in this. :)
The decline of their empire overall, perhaps by that thinking, all caused by lead in water...Haha Ron, yes and I think we are all slower than the present day children because when we were growing up, lead was being freely used everywhere. All our swings and toys had lead. Unused batteries were discarded without care. Even the containers had lead joints and God knows where all elsewhere it was used. About the politicians, the lesser be said, the better. Here in China too, great news is being made about tackling co ption but except for some small fish being caught and that too some (ex-officials), nothing much else is heard
Wonderful read as usual..
I like this concept of carrying noodles and getting hot water everywhere ...What a convenient arrangement !! One will never go hungry and one can be assured of " clean meal."
Now, our trains are serving much better meals and in neat containers.
And you won't believe this ( we travel a lot by train) , we have calls from the Railways asking us about the Cleanliness/ cooling in the compartment etc. etc. feed back!! I think things are improving Navneet...the people should cooperate!! Many of the very well-to-do people also behave as if they own the toilets and could do what they want!! What a pity !!
By the way is your book in Hindi ? ( Mai bhi bana Minister ).
If God were to appear in front of me and ask be to get a boon from Him, I'll ask Him to let Lightning strike all the corrupt Politicians and goondas and the actors who go scot free after running over people, The nation will be purged off these unsavourable elements。P S，I enjoyed reading your reaction when Sulekhikha's name appeared on the phone
Thanks UshaJi for being the first one, as always, for reading my blog. :) I am really impressed to learn that the Indian Railways is asking for feedback. It's not that India is not improving or there are not enough people who want to bring the change but there is a lot of resistance to change in India. People are happy with the status quo. My book is in Hindi- I can send you an e-copy, if you can read Hindi and though self praise is no recommendation, I can assure you that you will find every page hilarious. It is a satire on our political system. Smart Sulekhika is my muse its brush with reality. Because of our divergent views on every subject under the sky, I get a lot of ideas and humor is my way of quelling fear :)