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Pride and Shame

19 January 201503:48PMjapan-2015travel

'And will that be less spicy too, sir?'

We're sitting in a Sichuan restaurant. It's been a long day, and I am more than a little grumpy. Mostly, I attribute this to lack of sleep. I'd spent last night rediscovering - not that I'd forgotten - my total inability to sleep on planes. Matt, who likewise can't sleep on planes, is a little caustic himself, and we're both being rubbed the wrong way by Dad, who cheated by taking a questionably prescribed sleeping pill and is irritatingly chipper.

'No, give it to me normal.'

Possibly I am trying to prove something. Possibly I am just trying to make a point. Possibly my subconscious craves annihilation. Possibly I am hoping to scour the taste of Starbucks from my palate.

Most likely I am just not thinking very clearly.

'Very good sir.'

We're staying at the airport hotel because that's what you do when you're only in a country for twenty-five hours, but the room wasn't ready. Thus denied my customary shower and blissful nap, I have been traipsing around Hong Kong for about eight hours, fresh from a plane. At first I enjoyed getting to look like a total traveler in my zip off pants and North Face jacket, but after a while, the novelty starts to wear off.

The food shows up, and it is literally buried in chillies. Ostensibly there is chicken and crab in this pile somewhere. I think we might be in over our heads. This is confirmed when I get hiccups after one bite. My face is red with embarrassment - or, wait, no, that's just sunburn. Never mind.

The trickiest thing to find was gloves. Once we got to Stanley, which as far as I can gather is sort of a big market district, surprisingly adequate jackets and pants pretty much fell into our hands, for something like thirty (Australian) bucks each. Even socks showed up in the right sizes. Gloves though. None. Or they do have them, but they're not waterproof, just pretending to be. The dim sum we had for lunch is just not sustaining me any more, and we end up hitting a Starbucks for the second time in one day. Not my finest hour.

At this point I think the staff are laughing at us, with our silly white people ways and (my, in particular) obvious overconfidence in our ability to handle Sichuan Cuisine. We are probably tremendously entertaining. My face burns with embarassment, just as my mouth burns with chilli and my skin burns with overexposure to ultraviolet radiation.

Then, I remember that I don't actually have any stake in what these people I will never see again think of me. I finally start to enjoy myself at this point, and begin searching for fragments of remaining chicken in the bowl of chillies.

(We never did find gloves. I think we'll have to wing it.)

The bill arrives, complete with three business cards much like the one that led us here. We walk away, plates unfinished, clutching our tokens of pride and shame.

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