shanghaied in changsha

June 7th, 2014

Or, how I became a petty thief.

There are many situations wherein one’s morale, sanity, and general equilibrium are keenly connected to food. I’ve know this first hand, repeatedly, in two types of situation; while on tall ships at sea held from shore by weather, and while in foreign-speaking countries under challenging work conditions. What price sanity? No price too great, and that’s how I became a petty thief in Changsha, Hunan, China.

I work in a factory with a hand full of Germans, two hands full of Americans, and 80,000 Chinese. Working conditions are fairly brutal, to my way of thinking, if a lack of water, lack of lunch, lack of coffee, and lack of chairs and desks can be called brutal. It’s a twelve-hour work day, seven days a week.

I took a taxi to the supermarket today, along with a suitcase, to stock up on survival goods for the week ahead.  Oolong tea, green tea, rice crackers, dried fruits, an unknown selection of small Chinese snacks (none of which included the ubiquitous pickled and shrink-wrapped chicken foot), some paper plates, three ping-pong balls, and a paring knife. I need the knife to peel the apple I steal from the hotel every morning.

Pocketing an apple in a pair of stove-pipe slacks doesn’t work. Hiding it under a folded newspaper and sneezing at just the right moment gets one past the security/hostess stand at the 5-star hotel in which I currently reside.  An avaricious manager in the restaurant determined after several weeks that the company I’m with looked ripe for some fleecing, and suddenly started charging us $8.00 for a paper cup to carry out our morning coffee.

Apples, bananas, and an occasional yogurt were exacting prices in excess of ludicrous, and I, for one, was not going to get shanghaied in Changsha. I eat quite well now at the factory, and the golden moment in the midst of the long day consists of a sandwich, secretly assembled the night before from scraps on my plate from the dinner buffet. Small shreds of chicken tossed with a spicy Hunan pepper condiment, plopped onto some French bread and glued together with butter, swallowed into a zip-lock and dropped into the paper tote bag by my feet.

It’s really very delicious, and not simply because I steal it.

Hunan Pepper Condiment

Copyright © Katherine Stetson, all rights reserved.