People to People in China: “Scorpion”

“Read the menu.  Hey, everybody, read the menu!” Jenny, the youngest delegate, said to the others seated at the famous Peking Duck dinner table.  “We’re going to have some scorpion tonight!”

I looked around the table.  Dishes of food were already being placed on the lazy-Susan and one of them looked strange.  It was a gelatinous slice of something amber with a sliver of roasted duck levitating in the center.  I quickly searched the jelly for any sign of bug pieces. And although I believed my findings were bug free, I avoided that dish all the same.

In cartoons or animated films, one technique of driving home an idea or image is to flash the “negative” onto the TV screen for a second or two.

Example: Daffy Duck gets struck by lightening? A black skeleton against a white background appears coupled with electric-current sound effects.  Seconds later, Daffy appears again – intact, but usually smoke is rising from his body and there are a few hash-mark smudges on his bill, simulating the results of his traumatic experience.  This effect also happens with “light bulb” moments or sometimes with another image those creating the show want to convey being “burned into the character’s brain.”

Why do I bring up this little video trick?  Because that process is the closest thing I can come to when explaining what happens in my own brain when someone so much as mentions the word “scorpion.”  If I were Daffy Duck and had just heard that word, the show directors would immediately zoom into a close-up shot of my bloodshot, terrified eyes, cue the famous “Psycho” movie music and show about two seconds of a black scorpion on a white background, flashing larger each time the violins shreaked their high pitched squeals.

“So, is THAT the scorpion dish?”

Someone else at our table must have been curious and had asked our guide Wendy about the potential bug-filled-jelly dish.

“No,” she smiled.  “You’ll know when they serve that dish.”

I looked at the “compliments of the house” tiny, ornate glass of hard-core Chinese liquor to the right of my plate.  “Maybe that’s why they serve the round of shots,” I reasoned in my head.

I tried the liquor.  It WAS strong.  Before I could sit my glass down, a warm sensation was taking over my gut.  Liquid courage?  Perhaps.  The meal continued and the dishes of roasted duck came to our group one after another, each plated to perfection.  There was such a variety of Duck Extraordinaire it would have been fitting for Regis and Kelly to narrate the event as the next big holiday parade. The Roasted Duck Parade, complete with high school bands and a crowned Duck Queen riding slowly along the avenue waving to the crowd in her giant duck-bill shaped throne.

Finally, however, the scorpions came.  I realized they were on our table because they weren’t covered in jelly or tucked into a steaming dumpling.  The segmented, creepy “food” was deep crispy-fried, piled on a plate  and being spun around the lazy-Susan like a novel new electronic or shopping channel Special of the Day.  Jenny put two on her plate, grabbed one each between the thumb and forefingers of her hands, and made them pretend-fight.  The delegation leader made a joke about her being a good adolescent therapist while my heart rate began to rise.

I needed to eat one of these bugs.  A childhood experience of discovering a scorpion inside a stack of cereal bowls had left me with a lifelong aversion to the creatures.  Evidently, I had been getting cereal bowls out of our kitchen cabinet to set the breakfast table when I looked down to see a scorpion resting in the center of the top bowl. As I understand it, I dropped my load of dishes;  I was startled, and evidently…scarred for life.

I really, really hate scorpions.

I watched as the plate was passed nearer and nearer to me.  When the infamous dish was handed to me, I grabbed one, put it on top of a sticky bun and proceeded to take a bite – tail side first.  It tasted like hard, stale crunchy fried…stuff.  I think my face also contorted.  Just a little.

So…take THAT, scorpions.