The Potato “Christmas Tree”

This is our favorite potato “Christmas Tree” vendor. The tree is one, delicately, spirally sliced potato, dipped in special flour/egg batter, deep fried to golden perfection and sprinkled with special herbs and spices. And, of course, the requisite four striped slather of ketchup — all on one, long bamboo skewer! The thinness of the slice makes it a hybrid somewhere between one very long french fry and one very long potato chip. We are not sure how to eat it. If you eat it like boiled, corn on the cob, you will get ketchup on your face somewhere. If you pick at it, tearing off pieces, remember it is one slice. Some pieces may crumble and fall. Be aware, too, of ketchup drip. One thing is for sure, always stand upwind to avoid ketchup splatter and be sure to get some napkins. They aren’t offered with the product, so you may have to ask for them or bring along your own supply.

This time a side story was developing. Whenever we stop at vendor, we usually attract a small crowd. What do the Americans think is so good? What are they eating? A woman stops with her white dog. My wife is a dog lover. She starts interacting with the dog, talking to it and tussling with it. The owner is initially pleased, but soon the dog wants to play and talks back (dogs bark when they get excited and playful). The woman wanting to hush the dog decides to buy the vendor’s deep-fried chicken item on the menu. She offers the dog first bite, but is sniff and licks and decides “no.” The woman almost absent-mindedly puts the piece in her mouth, but checks herself at the last minute and asks the vendor for an additional skewer, one for her and one for the dog. The dog, however, is not interested in the food. It wants to play. She is having troubled handling the dog in one hand, her purse, and the food with skewers in the other. She becomes flustered and makes some remarks (in Chinese) to the vendor, which I guess is something like: “He doesn’t like your food. Hey, what kind of food are you selling? Is the meat bad? I want my money back.” He laughs and holds up both hand and replies (also in Chinese), and, again, I’m guessing something like, “No the meat’s good. All sales are final. I have lots of happy customers.” I think, however, that there must be lots of MSG in the seasoning and spices and the dog just wanted to eat natural.

So, as this dialogue is happening, I’m hurriedly trying to video all this on my iPhone, because the vendor is about to hand us our potato “Christmas Tree.” Suddenly, I hear Mim say behind me, “Better watch out, the dog wants to pee.” So, I look down to locate the dog, at the same time the owner is handing me the finished product. I’m trying to stop the video on my iPhone with one hand while balancing the precious potato “Christmas Tree” in the other, hoping not to drop it, while trying to locate the dog so that he doesn’t pee on my shoes. I turn to give the product to Mim who has back away and I momentarily forget to pay the vendor, my hands and attentions full with other things.

I go back to pay, just as the dog quietly saunters over to the corner front, raises his leg and pees on the front of the vendor’s store, which is a roll-down, steel box (like for storage) container, except with upgrades for electricity, machinery, counter-tops, and even wall papering. All the businesses are equipped like these. Was the dog excited and just needed to pee or did it just post his review of the product — like putting it on YELP — for future reference?

Without language training and a cultural guide we are still trying to decode the everyday scripts people say and use when they interact with each other, like purchasing a potato “Christmas Tree” or interacting with dog culture or business culture. It can be fun and frustrating at the same time.

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