Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Rice Essay

I have found that one of the fascinating things about Oriental and Southeast Asian culture seems to involve the regular consumption of rice. Beef-and-potatoes foreigners, in particular, can never understand how we can stomach a good three bowls of the white grains every day of our lives.

Adding to this, of course, is the fact that we can prepare rice in so many different ways. The Chinese fry it in oil and mix in hints of every other ingredient in the book. The Japanese roll it around raw fish and cover it with seaweed. The Filipinos boil it down to a sticky consistency and serve it for dessert. For that matter, there is even a common greeting in Chinese that asks "Ni chaer fan mei?" -- "Have you eaten rice today?"

All this, however, fails to adequately explain just how we can eat rice at every single meal and not raise such a big fuss about it.

My guess is that we've simply gotten used to eating rice. I suppose that we all probably got tired of eating the stuff at one point or another in our lives, but that we've still been eating it nonetheless. Technically, I think that we've reached the point where we're barely even conscious of the fact that we're eating rice.

You might as well ask an Englishman why he drinks tea, I think. The Chinese, who happen to be no slouches in the tea-drinking department either, would understand perfectly.

The Western world may not be able to consistently understand our eating habits, but I suppose that such a fact won't stop our edible daily allowance of rice.

I once sat in on a three-day seminar that was being conducted by an American trainer, and the entire experience was so self-sustaining that our meals (lunch and a mid-day snack) were wheeled in at noon, passed along at one to a student, and were collected again at the end of the hour. Like clockwork.

It took me until the third day to realize that our erstwhile American instructor hadn't touched his lunch in any of those three days. "It's always rice," he told me. "It was interesting for the first couple of months here, but right now I wouldn't mind if I never saw the stuff again."

"So you skip lunch every time you hold a seminar?"

"Yeah," he said sheepishly. "But don't worry. Usually the merienda makes up for it." (He pronounced the word fairly correctly, to his credit.)

When the day's merienda arrived a couple of hours later, we unwrapped the banana-leaf coverings and chewed our suman thoughtfully, all the while smiling at him as he rolled his eyes.

Male. Eyeglasses. Tall.
Male. Thin. Light.
Female. Eyeglasses. Short hair.
Er... I have no idea what she looks like.


eClair said...

Rice is rice and will always be rice. I suppose it's cultural thing. I mean, we grew up eating rice so it's perfectly natural for us to eat rice all the time ;)

Dominique said...

Ha! We'll convert those gwei-los yet!

Jac said...

Aww you didn't add me in livejournal? :(

Sean said...

Jac: I don't maintain posts in my LiveJournal; I just keep it to read other peoples' posts and place comments.

For the most part, my thoughts and observations are noted in this blog. LiveJournal's interesting in that it can hide "private" posts from readers, but that would contradict my ideas that one should write for an audience to begin with. Besides, most of my life is an open book anyway...

kat said...

For the record, I am of average height with long messy hair. :p Best way I can think of describibg myself.

And that's why I asked the machang question. ^_^

Sean said...

I'll leave it as is, Kat. Wouldn't want this little exchange to not make sense. :)

eClair said...

Machang! Kat mentioned machang. I miss Hap Chan Tea House's machang.