My Six Week Adventure with Chopsticks
“If you reject the food, ignore the customs,
fear the religion and avoid the people,
you might better stay at home.”
Six weeks ago, if I was to get served a meal with chopsticks at home I would shamelessly smile, head high and say ‘oh no, could I have a fork please?’ and think nothing of it. Growing up I was a picky eater. I detested most of the Western food that filled our fridge, let alone any type of internatinal cuisine. Put something in front of me that smelled funny, looked strange or even had a weird name and I would turn up my nose and refuse. Or, if my parents weren’t having it that day, I would occassionally pile it into a napkin under the table when they weren’t looking. I had even used the plant trick, flinging food into the plant pot when my parents weren’t paying attention and then removing it when everyone had left.
Since being a child, I have become much less of a picky eater but even so, I had trouble trying new things until I was eighteen and began traveling. If there is anything that travel has done for me, it has broadened my food horizons. I am no longer afraid to try foods with a name I can’t pronounce and I was not afraid to attempt the contraption called chopsticks.
When I found myself in a small Chiang Mai restaurant one afternoon, I ordered a Thai dish. Noodles or rice of some sort, as it goes. Beside them was a set of chopsticks, sitting delicately on the side of the plate. It was the first time I have been embarrassed to have to ask for a fork, with the rest of the restaurant expertly wielding their chopsticks around with ease.
The next day, I was presented with chopsticks again. For my noodle soup. No fork or knife to be seen, and the spoon is useless against the mile long noodles. Determined, I picked them up, my fingers close to the end of the chopsticks that the food is supposed to go.
Within minutes I had a finger cramp and I still hadn’t managed to pick up a single noodle or vegetable. Discreetly, I watched the lady sitting at the table across from mine, attempting to copy her movements and learn that way. I guess it wasn’t discreet enough because moments later she laughed and walked over to my table, positioning my fingers higher up on the chopsticks. Immediately it was easier.. well, easier to move them.. sort of. Okay, it looked like it should have been easier, but I was still having an enormous amount of trouble.
I swear, eating should not be that hard.
This lady explained to me how I should do it and kept going on about how practice makes perfect and, try as I might, it took me a hell of a long time to finish that noodle soup. And I cheated by asking for a fork when I was halfway through.
Throughout the next six weeks, I was relentless. I tried to order as many dishes as I could that would be served with chopsticks. And I used those chopsticks, no matter how long it took me to finish my meal. Now, at the end of my trip, I am sitting here with another bowl of noodle soup with vegetable and now I am one of those customers who are effortlessly wielding their chopsticks like they are merely extra fingers on my body.
And I can’t help it, but I feel incredibly proud as I eat this. In fact, I just might purchase some chopsticks to use at home.