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Mao's Revenge E-mail
City Life - Practical Tips
Written by Daemon Borek
If you're North American you have heard the stories of Montezuma's revenge. Horrible stories of visiting Central and South America and getting a stomach bug that side-lines you from travel for days at a time while you pray to any God who will listen to make your body stop exorcising the demons of last night's supper.

It’s a common story for all traveler’s to share around a hostel bar table and can usually bring about a series of one-ups that clears out a table faster than a guy expressing his heartbreak at a Super Bowl party. And in this vein of naming the stomach bug based on a region’s leaders, I would like to present “Mao’s Revenge” for common use for those of us floating around this great land. Mao Zedong was not the biggest fan of foreigners, albeit with good reason, and would probably not be super impressed with the increasing amount of us here in China.

I can’t think of a better person to represent the scourge of all foreigner’s living here today. If you have been here for more than six months you know exactly what I am talking about. A seemingly normal meal, good friends, good times, and then the heavens open and the black clouds descend upon your mid-section. You’ve got food-poisoning! It happens to best of us and the longer you are here the more you start to recognize the signs. The clammy hands, wooziness, your stomach starts a civil war with your other internal organs and then you know it’s time to lock the doors and hunker down for the storm. It’s going to be bad and there’s nothing you can do about it but make yourself comfortable and wait it out.

Now, I am in no way cracking on Chinese food. It is the mother of all Asian cuisine and is one the most varied, unique, and delicious cuisines in the world. But, having said that, this shit can kill ya! This article is more for the foreigners who just came to China and/or Xi’an, a rough guide to eating if you will. One of the most common culprits of “Mao’s Revenge” is the street food. Which is sad as China, and especially Xi’an, is the King of the world’s street foods. You can slip down any alley in this city and find a smorgasbord of delectable treats that entice all five senses.

Some of my best memories in China are of wandering a city and playing the “I’ll try that” game and oddly enough some of my worst memories came about 6-8 hours later. I once spent 4 days with food poisoning and a 40C (104F) degree fever in an apartment with no air conditioning during a 5 day power and water outage in Henan province in dead summer. Needless to say, on day 3, I was talking to my furniture and discovered that sofas are extremely opinionated about geo-politics, yet know very little about “Plato’s Republic”. So what are we to do? Do we just stay at home and cook and avoid all manner of restaurant? God no, we just have to be careful and follow some simple rules and while we are at it let’s dispel a myth or two as well.

Rule 1: Go Muslim!  

You live in Xi’an and this city has one of the larger Muslim populations, in China, and their food is a great combination of Muslim and Han traditions, take advantage! Also, their religion and culture comes from people who lived in a desert and understand cleanliness and food storage in hot climates.

Rule 2: Meat really shouldn’t be steamed.

This has burned me more times than I can say. Which kills me because around 1-2am alcohol always tells me to hit the baozi man up for 30 baozi and a beer, and then the next day hangover laughs at me as he joins forces with steamed meat to knock me out for the next 72 hours.

Rule 3: Never eat in an empty restaurant.

This rule was handed down to me by one of my first Chinese friends, smart guy and this has saved my life more than once. Think about it, the restaurant is empty for a reason.

Rule 4: Cook your own meat at Hotpot and watch the booze!

Sweet hotpot! One of my favorites, but lord have mercy, can this great meal go sideways faster than hiring a Grizzly Bear as a nanny. As the booze flows, judgment goes. Never trust booze to cook for you. Booze has the attention span of a gerbil on espresso and is focused more on the conversation at the table than the fact that the lamb strip you just pulled out is still unnervingly pink and cold.

Rule 5: Kaorou (Chinese BBQ) and Russian Roulette are the same.

When I am in a gambling mood or just in need of a protein fix I love to settle into some nice Kaorou. But, I always walk in knowing I have a 1 in 6 chance of getting something in my body blown out. What is life without some risk!

Myth: Cold drinks during spring and summer will upset your stomach.

I am not here to debunk Chinese medicine and/or piss off the Chinese population with this statement but, you guys are wrong………kind of. As a foreigner I am used to cold drinks, in fact, some would argue I have an obsession with ice. At no time in my life has this ever caused me to have problems until I came to China. This started for a different reason and I’ll use a story to explain. In 2004 I was studying Chinese in Jiaotong University during the spring semester. Our teacher warned us to avoid all cold drinks as the weather was getting hot and this can upset your stomach.

My classmate and friend, who is a rational and logical Canadian to the point where I have often wondered if he isn’t a Terminator sent from the future to crush the up-coming human rebellion said: “Couldn’t it be that the sudden change in weather has caused some of the food to spoil as the seller’s in the market have not yet adapted their storage methods to reflect the temperature change?”. So, let’s think about this for a second. The sudden outbreak of food poisoning is either due to poor food storage or cold drinks……yeah……….nuff’ said.

Myth: Only the hospital can save you now.

Garbage, the only thing a hospital is going to do for you is keep you hydrated and feed you an IV drip of broad spectrum antibiotics and antiviral medication that are capable of curing the Bubonic Plague, Spanish Flu, and some disease that hasn’t been invented yet. I kept the box from one of my buddy’s trips to the hospital and Googled the meds. Turns out they were giving him an antiviral drug that is used in the West to prolong the life span of terminal AIDS patients. I looked around the room at the other patients and noticed everyone was there for the same reason and getting the same meds. I told my aunt, who was the head nurse at a hospital for 30 years; and she said “I have never seen anyone administer that drug to any patient, EVER.” She equated it to using a Stinger missile to kill a mosquito. Just wait it out, you’ll be fine.
That’s it for the rules and myths surrounding “Mao’s Revenge” and I hope I have not dissuaded you from enjoying all the foods that Xi’an has to offer. It’s like anything else in life, danger is always lurking around the next corner but that doesn’t mean we should stay indoors and turn into Howard Hughes. Just be careful and remember this, if you haven’t shit your pants in China yet, you’re just not living! And on that note, I’m in need of a protein fix, time to hit the Kaorou and re-enact a scene from “The Deer Hunter".

Want to watch "The Deer Hunter" (1978) starring Robert de Niro, Christopher Walken (see scene above)? Click right here!
Please be advised that this movie is not suitable for children.

Our valuable Editor Daemon Borek has been with us since Saturday, 24 July 2010.

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0 #6 China Newz 2013-03-28 00:20
The first couple of weeks are the worst but after that you'll lose weight from your stomach sickness. So there are definitely a few pros to getting sick from eating foreign food, especially if you plan to work or study in that country for long.
+1 #5 Stevi 2010-08-26 04:43
Quoting Tintin:
I want to go home. I have enough from china, its uniform minded people and uniform food. it makes me sick. I have enough of that "beautiful china experience" and i am deeply disgusted and disappointed what i have seen here in the last years. I will return home and will never come back and i will tell anyone who cares how it is REALLY like here in "super high culture"- china. wake up.

ouh ouh..someone needs holidays..relax dude, yep, get out for a while and come back with a clear head. all will be good :-D
+1 #4 Tintin 2010-08-25 06:56
I want to go home. I have enough from china, its uniform minded people and uniform food. it makes me sick. I have enough of that "beautiful china experience" and i am deeply disgusted and disappointed what i have seen here in the last years. I will return home and will never come back and i will tell anyone who cares how it is REALLY like here in "super high culture"- china. wake up.
+3 #3 hotchocolate 2010-08-03 12:40
I don't see any hatred in this article, which -by the way- is great. noone called chinese filthy. but in fact food is generally being prepared here in ways and circumstances that one could call "terrible" (to use a nice word..) and one must be careful not to get sick. and that is what this article is all about.
+2 #2 Harland 2010-08-02 19:54
No, I don't know what you mean. I've been in China for years, eaten at plenty of dodgy places, and I've been food poisoned exactly once. Calling the Chinese filthy won't change anything.

PS foreigners helped China greatly during the anti-Japanese war, but they helped the KMT instead of CCP, is that the hatred you're referring to?
+2 #1 luitpold 2010-08-02 11:15
qui, it is the stuff sold here that kills you..china is a bacteria paradise. and regulations noone respect. back home in belgium, i never got that..still anyone else like chinese food? well i do not that much anymore..i stick with what i know and cook myself whenever i can.

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