By Wayne Chan
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
I’ve heard that someone going through the symptoms of withdrawal can be dramatic, but it’s only been recently that I’ve seen the effects in person. Just to be sure, I searched online to better understand some of these symptoms.
The typical ones I found were depression, insomnia, irritability, social isolation, and anxiety. Did these match up with what I saw? Let’s see…check, check, check, and check.
Let me provide a little background. The person I observed going through withdrawal was my brother-in-law named Remington, who came here from Beijing to go through a training course. And the withdrawal he was suffering from wasn’t due to what people normally associate withdrawal from. No, it was from Chinese food.
You might say, “That’s ridiculous! How can anyone go through withdrawal just from not eating Chinese food?” Look, I agree with you. But, the fact of the matter is, I saw it with my own eyes.
The first couple of days after he arrived in town were easy. In fact, he didn’t even want Chinese food. After all, he lives in Beijing. Why on earth after flying 14 hours to the United States would he want to get Chinese food right after he got here?
When we asked what kind of food he wanted to try while he was here, his eyes lit up and he said, “Mexican!” We proceeded to go to a place surrounded by mariachis, bowls overflowing with chips and salsa, and a seemingly endless supply of refried beans. Now, before any of you start schooling me on the fact that this isn’t really authentic “Mexican food,” in my defense, number one, I knew that’s what he was looking for, and number two, we can save that for a future column.
After polishing off a taco, burrito, and an enchilada, we got back home and Remington laid back on our couch with a rounded belly and an expression on his face as if he had just sat through a marathon viewing of the movie “Manchester by the Sea.”
“That was a lot of food,” Remington mumbled. “I’m going to skip dinner.”
The next morning, I drove Remington to his hotel, where the training was being held. He would be there for three days.
The hotel, which will remain nameless, is in an area that I’m pretty familiar with. It’s an area with lots of hotels and convention halls, and it’s primarily geared toward people traveling on business. Since Remington didn’t have a car, his only dining options were the ones within walking distance.
Basically, what that meant was that no matter which restaurant he decided to go to, the only question the waitress or waiter would have to ask him was, “What else would you like on your hamburger?”
Three days later, I picked him up from the hotel to bring him back home, before he would head back to Beijing the next morning. I could tell immediately as I pulled up to the lobby, something had changed. This was not the same guy.
This wasn’t the “happy go lucky guy who is up for anything” guy. He wasn’t even the “I’m engorged with food so just leave me alone” guy. This was another guy altogether.
He stood there next to his suitcase right outside the lobby. His eyebrows were furrowed. His lips were pursed. His left foot was tapping the ground anxiously.
“How was the training?” I asked foolishly. Remington replied, “It was awful!” seeming to get more irritated that I would even ask.
After a few more minutes of tense conversation, it became clear what was going on. In fact, the training went well. He learned a lot, and the certification would help him with his work back home. But the food…
Three days of hamburgers! I can’t take it anymore! Every place I went, all they had were hamburgers! The one meal that wasn’t a hamburger was lunch, when the hotel brought in food for us during the meeting, and that was a sandwich, which is basically just a cold hamburger! If I have another hamburger, so help me!
At this point, I decided that jokingly offering to take him to our neighborhood “The Hamburger Factory” probably wouldn’t go over well, and probably wouldn’t be good for his health…or mine, for that matter.
I headed straight for a restaurant near us called “The Tasty Noodle House.” It’s one of my favorite Chinese restaurants. I drove there as if I was rushing him to the emergency room.
We arrived at the restaurant and I saw there was an immediate problem — no parking. I scanned the parking lot to make a beeline to anyone walking out that looked like they were about to leave. After a few minutes, a group came out in the nick of time. I was afraid Remington was about to get out of my car and pull one of the other cars out on his own.
We sat down to order, and to give you an idea as to how much he ordered, I was seriously considering whether we would qualify for a 15 percent banquet discount after he was done. The only thing left was waiting for the food to be served.
What is taking so long?!? It doesn’t take this long in Beijing! What, do I have to go back there and cook it myself? What is going on?!?
This was after two minutes of waiting.
When the food arrived, there was a frantic look of desperation and anticipation on his face. He practically didn’t even need to use chopsticks. The food looked like it floated off the table and sailed into his mouth as if there was some “vacuum effect” coming from his stomach.
With each mouthful of dumpling or noodle, he closed his eyes and his head tilted back, as if gripped in some kind of rapturous ecstasy. His skin tone literally darkened three shades, from a pasty white to a more normal human hue. You could almost see the MSG coursing through his veins, bringing him back to life from three days of deprivation.
After we finished and got back into the car to head home — without any leftovers, by the way — he tilted the car seat back and leaned back with his belly, engorged again and said, “I’m so full. I’m going to skip dinner.”
Just in case, I’m going to keep a cup of noodles in the car when I take him to the airport in the morning.
Wayne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.