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i did not buy enough beer to deal with this disappointment
singapore sunset
amw
Okay, fuck that 重庆小面 place.

As mentioned briefly in my glimpseatmyday post, they recently refurbished the Walmart downstairs. Inexplicably, they moved the checkouts to the non-grocery side of the store, so everyone has to haul their full baskets past aisles of clothes and TVs and whatnot, but whatever. The highlight of the refurbishment was that they added a refreshments arcade after the checkout. There was always a 麻辣烫 (pick-your-own veg soup) joint and a pizza place out front, but now there is also a 兼并 (crepe/pancake) place and a sushi place and a bubble tea place and a coffee place and a goddamn fucking 面馆儿.

I mean, you all already know 小面 is my jam. It is stock (probably pork-based, but i'm not asking), garlic, spring onion, chili, Sichuan pepper, oil, noodle and bok choy. If you're lucky they'll put some crispy fried soy beans on the top, or perhaps some peanuts. That's the whole thing. It is hot. It is spicy. It will stain anything it drips on a violent shade of red. It would probably melt through the table if it wasn't contained. It is the grand boss of soup noodle.

So when you put up big signs saying 重庆小面 - literally Chongqing small noodle - you better fucking deliver.

Except, i should've known, because it's the exact same signs dotted all over this city. This is a "Chongqing" fast food joint.

I think i mentioned before - China has many of the American fast food joints, and it has its own burger and pizza joints too, but it also has regional fast food joints. And without fail every time i eat at one of these places it disappoints me. They're always the most prominent storefronts on main streets and all there is to find in malls and train stations. Their food is 1.5-2x the price of back alley eateries, but still cheaper than casual dining restaurants. Pretty much every menu has photos of the food and every dish has meat. And no matter what you order, it has no flavor at all.

Like, what's the point of a 小面 with no flavor? You might as well just be eating 方便面 (instant noodles/ramen). In fact, you can literally go to any convenience store in the city and have them heat up your 方便面 add a 豆腐串 (bubble fried tofu on a stick) and that would be faster, cheaper and spicier. So who are these guys catering to?

I mean, today, i was just craving it. I don't have a Chongqing style back alley place anywhere near my work or my home, so i wanted to give this place the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the first time i went they just got it wrong? I figured since they had just opened, maybe they hadn't gotten the formula right, or perhaps they saw a laowai and decided to cook without seasoning. But this was my second time, so i told the guy i really, really want it spicy. He's like really? I'm like yes fucking really. Why come to a so-called Chongqing style restaurant if they aren't going to make it spicy? Like, literally. There is no fucking point. You get these weak-ass Guangdong guys walking up ordering 微辣 ("micro spicy"), whatever, i get it, some people don't like heat. It's not a competition. But when someone walks in and says they want it spicy, then just give it to them real, for fuck's sake. He shrugs and tries to upsell me some bullshit side. Why the fuck would i want a side? No one ever tries to upsell you on a side at a back alley joint, they just serve you the noodle, because the noodle is the whole meal!

But of course he tries to upsell me a side, because this is Chinese McDonalds.

I mean, it took a while for this to finally sink in.

After getting my "really" spicy noodle, and being just as disappointed as the first time, i plonked in almost the entire jar of chili paste they had on the table. Still no spice. (Side note: where can you even buy something that looks exactly like chili paste but has no heat? What kind of cynical-ass factory is producing this ungodly creation?) A couple of minutes later i went back up to the counter, and i was kinda pissed because i had just spent 15 kuai on something that i could've made for free (and much tastier!) at home with literally just one tablespoon of doubanjiang and a handful of noodles and some boiling water. I confronted him: like, what the hell am i supposed to ask for next time if i want to eat proper spicy? Did you just not give me spicy because i'm a foreigner? Like, what do i need to do to actually get a fucking real bowl of 小面?

And he just looked at me blankly. Like, he understood the words i was using, but he didn't understand what i was saying. Eventually he looked away and tried his best to pretend i wasn't there. The other customers looked on in bemusement. And that was the moment it all clicked.

Chinese fucking McDonalds.

I mean, you've got these kids in front of house who have no idea how to respond when someone asks about the quality of the food. But of course! Why would they know anything about food? They're not restaurant workers. They're clerks. That's why they can't or won't hold the meat when you're at a place with no vege options. That's why they find it baffling that someone would even bother to come back and comment on the flavor of a dish. They're just there to press the magical slop #1 or slop #2 button and fling it out the window. Nobody cares if it tastes good.

Like, why would anyone eat at these places? The food is trash. The service is trash. Sure, they have a green smiley face on the health check sign and the back alley places have a red sad face. But come on, my own kitchen would have a red sad face if the health inspectors came round. You don't eat at a restaurant to avoid cockroaches, you eat a restaurant because the food is supposed to be better than it is at home.

It's just so disappointing that there so many people whose livelihoods are tied up in their hole in the wall, but the vast majority of urban Chinese don't eat there, they instead choose to eat at these soulless fast food joints that serve dishes bland as all get-up. The diners seem all too happy to make some rich businessman even richer while shoveling cardboard into their faces. The health inspector says it's good! Hey, at least it's not some 低端 (low end) joint! And anyway, it's far more convenient because i didn't have to walk two blocks to get there!

Hey, did i mention i hate the Chinese bourgeoisie? Yes, they are awful. Everything about middle class China is awful. They all want to drive cars and buy houses and eat meat and get private health insurance and send their kids to private school and lament the fact that they have to share a city with lower class migrants. I try to pretend they're not here, but they are, and they are just as insufferable as the European and North American and Australian middle class. And i say that as a near life-long member of the (upper) middle class. Their values are so alien to me.

And their food is garbage.
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Great post. I feel your outrage. And talk about yer glimpses of a day! Or one particular nicely contextualized outraged moment of a day.

The bourgeoisie are insufferably samey everywhere but with regional differences. The cars, food and cognac fixation is a local variation. The Chinese bourgeoisie are going to change the world, so we had better pay them close attention. I've found many disappointingly intensely racist and nationalist with a massive colonial chip on their shoulder. Not a good sign. On the other hand they do learn languages and travel a lot, if mainly for economic reasons. They are our future.

Yes, I feel sometimes I need to be paying more attention to the middle class here. I mean, I work with them, and most likely drink with them any time I go to one of those terribly expensive bars or nightclubs, but I find it hard to make a connection.

You're right about the racism, although that is partially just ignorance - there are still alarmingly few foreigners in this country and the indigenous ethnic minorities are very small minorities. A lot of places that are very monocultural have the same problem - even in Berlin I noticed a lot more blatant racism than in Toronto just because it's a much whiter city. I wonder if the traveling will help? I dunno... there's still blackface on TV here, so there's a way to go.

The nationalism is more worrying to me, since I think nationalism has a greater danger of exploding violently across the world. This is where I think Trump is shooting himself in the foot with his trade war. I can see a world where the west applies pressure while trying to win the hearts and minds of the new middle class, offering a path to better internet and better healthcare and women's rights and gay rights and all the stuff well-educated people want for themselves... but if it's just crippling companies like ZTE and Huawei for cynical economic reasons then imo all it's really doing is making the average Chinese Joe resent America, which plays into Xi's hands.

Definitely an interesting time to be alive, though.

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