CONFUCIUS, DOG FOOD AND MUSLIM NOODLES

CONFUCIUS, DOG FOOD AND MUSLIM NOODL

BY R J FURTH

We arrived yesterday afternoon in Qufu, the birthplace of the great sage Confucius. A tiny town by Chinese standards, Qufu is a lovely place of about 100,000 people. With no building taller than a few stories and less smog than we’ve seen since our arrival in China, Qufu has been a treat. Hundreds of Confucius’s descendants still live in Qufu 2500 years after his death and the city attracts hordes of tourists from China, Japan and Korea. We spent a couple of hours slowly trawling Qufu’s busy night market, which featured stalls that offered flat pancakes stuffed with chopped green vegetables, steamed buns, spiral sliced hotdogs sprinkled with spices (paprika? salt? msg?) and various items on sticks: beef, pork, squid. I have seen many stalls and shops  throughout the world that advertise their wares by displaying the head of their featured food: goats in India, camels in Morocco, fish in various nations. We saw a stall last night that had a small pile of skinned heads that were vaguely familiar. Alan asked in Mandarin (which improves daily) if the skulls were what we suspected. The man confirmed that he did, indeed sell dog food, and I don’t mean chow for your poodle. The strips of cooked meat were canine. And no, in spite of my interest in unusual food, we did not eat dog meat.

Our choice for our main course was a Muslim noodle shop, which meant no pork or cold  beer. Alan said that Muslim noodle shops are common around China, and in fact Sandy and I ate at one in Xian last year. The young man wearing a skull cap stood in front of the tiny restaurant making noodles from scratch. In about a minute he would take a ball of dough, stretch it, bend it in half, then repeat the process until he had created a mound of long, uniformly thin noodles, which he would then toss in a vat of hot water. Minutes later the waitress (wearing a head scarf) placed bowls in front of us, each prepared differently. One was in a beef broth, with small chunks of beef; another contained a simple chicken broth; the third had chunks of fresh tomatoes and garlic. All three were excellent. We finished the evening sitting at a street stall sipping cold beer.

We spent today walking around the three main attractions; the forest and cemetery that feature Confucius’s grave, the Confucius mansion and the Confucius temple. The forest was one of the calmest, most natural places that we’ve seen in China, and all three sites were beautifully maintained and spotless, although packed with tourists. The only annoyance was that each tour group was led by a guide equipped with a microphone, and wore a small speaker attached to their belt, regardless of the size of the group. We saw numerous groups of 2-4 people, yet their guide still spoke through their microphone. It was bizarre. Sitting near Confucius’s grave, we saw 6-7 groups, none bigger than ten people, the voice of the guide blaring from each. In order to be heard above the other guides, each guide turned up the volume of their speakers. The result was a cacophony of Chinese that shattered the harmony of this historical site. I’m not sure if this is a reflection of the Chinese love of electronics or their need to display their knowledge of technology, but it was a shame and unnecessary. Fortunately, a short walk away we found tranquillity in the forest where we could reflect on the teachings of the great sage.

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