“The Chinese Restaurant In The Middle Of The Desert” by San Mao

沙漠中的饭店
作者: 三毛

The Chinese Restaurant In The Middle Of The Desert
Author: San Mao
Translator: Kara Lee, with copious amounts of assistance from Morporkia. All errors are my own.

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我的先生很可惜是一个外国人。这样来称呼自己的先生不免有排外的味道,但是因为语文和风俗在各国之间确有大不相同之处,我们的婚姻生活也实在有许多无法共通的地方。

It’s really quite unfortunate that my husband is a foreigner. Saying that about my own husband sounds xenophobic, but seeing as countries differ wildly in language and customs among other traits, during our marriage, there have been a few areas where we truly cannot find common ground.

当初决定下嫁给荷西时,我明白的告诉他,我们不但国籍不同,个性也不相同,将来婚后可能会吵架甚至于打架。他回答我:“我知道你性情不好,心地却是很好的,吵架打架都可能发生,不过我们还是要结婚。”于是我们认识七年之后终于结婚了。

When I first decided to marry Jose, I told him clearly that we were different, not only in nationality, but also in personality, and that we’d likely get into arguments, if not actual fistfights, throughout our marriage. He replied, “I know you have a bad temper, but you’ve also got a good heart. Sure, it’s possible that we’ll try to kill each other, but we should get married anyway.” And so, seven years after we met, we tied the knot.

我不是妇女解放运动的支持者,但是我极不愿在婚后失去独立的人格和内心的自由自在化,所以我一再强调,婚后我还是“我行我素”,要不然不结婚。荷西当时对我说:“我就是要你‘你行你素’,失去了你的个性和作风,我何必娶你呢!”好,大丈夫的论调,我十分安慰。做荷西的太太,语文将就他。可怜的外国人,“人”和“入”这两个字教了他那么多遍,他还是分不清,我只有讲他的话,这件事总算放他一马了。(但是将来孩子来了,打死也要学中文,这点他相当赞成。)

I’m no Fem Lib flag-waver, but I was totally unwilling to lose, via marriage, the independence of personality and thought that I could maintain while single. So I emphasized that even after we married, I wanted to do things my way or the highway. Otherwise I would refuse to marry.

Jose said to me, “I also want you to do things ‘your way.’ If you lose your personality, then what would I have married you for?”

All right, hearing this gentlemanly sentiment placated me.

As his wife, though, I lost the language battle. That poor foreigner, no matter how many times I taught him the characters 人 and 入, he never could tell the difference between them. In the end I could only speak his language, thus letting him off that particular hook. (But as for any future children — they’ll learn Chinese even if it kills them. Jose quite approves of this.)

闲话不说,做家庭主妇,第一便是下厨房。我一向对做家事十分痛恨,但对煮菜却是十分有兴趣,几只洋葱,几片肉,一炒变出一个菜来,我很欣赏这种艺术。

I wasted no time in becoming the housekeeper, and the first item on my agenda was manning the kitchen. I completely loathe all sorts of chores, but I am fond of cooking: a few bits of onions, some slices of meat, cook them together and you get a dish out of it! I very much appreciated this particular art.

母亲在台湾,知道我婚姻后因为荷西工作的关系,要到大荒漠地区的非洲去,十二分的心痛,但是因为钱是荷西赚,我只有跟了饭票走,毫无选择的余地。婚后开厨不久,我们吃的全部是西菜。后来家中航空包裹飞来接济,我收到大批粉丝、紫菜、冬菇、生力面、猪肉干等珍贵食品,我乐得爱不释手,加上欧洲女友寄来罐头酱油,我的家庭“中国饭店”马上开张,可惜食客只有一个不付钱的。(后来上门来要吃的朋友可是排长龙啊!)

My mother in Taiwan was completely heartbroken to learn that Jose’s job would take him into the vast African desert wastes, and that I’d be going there with him after our wedding. But he was the one earning the money, so what could I do but follow my meal ticket? No room for argument there.

For a short while after getting married, I cooked only Western dishes. Later on an air package came to my rescue, and I received a whole load of rice noodles, seaweed, shiitake mushrooms, instant noodles, pork jerky, and other assorted delicacies. I was so happy I seized the package and never wanted to let it go. Then a girlfriend in Europe contributed a jug of soy sauce to my pantry, and my “Chinese Restaurant” was ready for a grand opening. A pity that the sole customer wasn’t a paying one. (Later on, the number of friends who came over wanting to eat with us lined up around the block!)

其实母亲寄来的东西,要开“中国饭店”实在是不够,好在荷西没有去过台湾,他看看我这个“大厨”神气活现,对我也生起信心来了。

In actuality the things my mother had mailed me really weren’t enough to open a “real Chinese Restaurant,” but luckily, Jose had never been to Taiwan. Jose was so ridiculously proud of his “chef” of a wife that eventually I, too, began to gain some confidence.

第一道菜是“粉丝煮鸡汤”。荷西下班回来总是大叫:“快开饭啊,要饿死啦!”白白被他爱了那么多年,回来只知道叫开饭,对太太却是正眼也不瞧一下,我这“黄脸婆”倒是做得放心。话说第一道菜是粉丝煮鸡汤,他喝了一口问我:“咦,什么东西?中国细面吗?”“你岳母万里迢迢替你寄细面来?不是的。”“是什么嘛?再给我一点,很好吃。”我用筷子挑起一根粉丝:“这个啊,叫做‘雨’。”“雨?”他一呆。我说过,我是婚姻自由自在化,说话自然心血来潮随我高兴,“这个啊,是春天下的第一场雨,下在高山上,被一根一根冻住了,山胞札好了背到山下来一束一束卖了米酒喝,不容易买到哦!”荷西还是呆呆的,研究性的看看我,又去看看盆内的“雨”,然后说:“你当我是白痴?”我不置可否。“你还要不要?”回答我:“吹牛大王,我还要。”以后他常吃“春雨”,到现在不知道是什么东西做的。有时想想荷西很笨,所以心里有点悲伤。

The first course I made was chicken soup with vermicelli. Whenever Jose came home he’d always yell “get something going, I’m starving!” In the end, the sole result of his years of devotion was a daily demand for food without even a glance towards his beloved spouse — though this did mean that I didn’t need to trouble myself over any possible loss of looks after matrimony. Anyway, as I was saying, the first thing I made was chicken vermicelli soup. He drank some and said, “Huh, what is this? Chinese noodles?”

“Would your mother-in-law mail noodles from so far away? Of course not.”

“What is it? Give me some more, it’s great.”

I picked some up with chopsticks. “This here is called ‘rain.'”

“Rain?” He looked at me blankly.

Like I said, my philosophy is to pretty much do as I like in marriage, so I just said whatever inspired me and came to mind. “See, these are formed from the first rains in spring that fall in the high mountaintops and freeze there. People who live there pick the rain and carry it down the mountains in bundles and trade it for rice wine. It’s not that easy to buy, you know!”

Jose stared at me blankly some more. Then he peered at me, then at the “rain,” and said, “Do you take me for an idiot?”

I kept my face blank. “Do you want some more or not?”

“Yes I do, you goddamn liar.”

Since then he’s eaten quite a bit of “rain,” and I still think he has no idea what it is. Sometimes I ponder to myself that Jose is kind of dumb, and that does make me a bit sad.

第二次吃粉丝是做“蚂蚁上树”,将粉丝在平底锅内一炸,再洒上绞碎的肉和汁。荷西下班回来一向是饿的,咬了一大口粉丝,“什么东西?好像是白色的毛线,又好像是塑胶的?”“都不是,是你钓鱼的那种尼龙线,中国人加工变成白白软软的了。”我回答他。他又吃了一口,莞尔一笑,口里说道:“怪名堂真多,如果我们真开饭店,这个菜可卖个好价钱,乖乖!”那天他吃了好多尼龙加工白线。第三次吃粉丝,是夹在东北人的“合子饼”内与菠菜和肉绞得很碎当饼馅。他说:“这个小饼里面你放了沙鱼的翅膀对不对?我听说这种东西很贵,难怪你只放了一点点。”我笑得躺在地上。“以后这只很贵的鱼翅膀,请妈妈不要买了,我要去信谢谢妈妈。”我大乐,回答他:“快去写,我来译信,哈哈!”

The second time we had vermicelli was when I made “ants climbing a tree.” For this dish, you fry the vermicelli at the bottom of a skillet for a bit, then top it with chopped meat and broth.

Jose was always hungry when he got back from work, and he crammed in a big mouthful.

“What is this stuff? It seems like yarn, or maybe it’s plastic?”

“Nope. This is nylon fishing twine, Chinese workers process it until it’s all white and soft,” I answered.

He ate another mouthful, grinned a bit, and said, “Will wonders ever cease! If we really opened a restaurant, this dish would make so much money. Sweet!” That day he ate quite a bit of processed fishing twine.

The third time he had vermicelli, it was chopped finely and mixed with spinach and meat as a filling in a meat pie, northeastern-style. Jose said, “Huh, you put some shark’s fin into this pie, didn’t you? I heard that’s really expensive; no wonder you only put a little bit in. It’s too extravagant, so please ask your mother not to send any more in the future. I’ll write a letter thanking her.”

I was laughing so hard I was rolling on the floor. “You write it, I’ll translate it, haha!”

有一天他快下班了,我趁他忘了看猪肉干,赶快将藏好的猪肉干用剪刀剪成小小的方块,放在瓶子里,然后藏在毯子里面。恰好那天他鼻子不通,睡觉时要用毛毯,我一时里忘了我的宝贝,自在一旁看那第一千遍《水浒传》。他躺在床上,手里拿个瓶子,左看右看,我一抬头,哗,不得了,“所罗门王宝藏”被他发现了,赶快去抢,口里叫着:“这不是你吃的,是药,是中药。”我鼻子不通,正好吃中药。”他早塞了一大把放在口中,我气极了,又不能叫他吐出来,只好不响了。“怪甜的,是什么?”我没好气的回答他:“喉片,给咳嗽的人顺喉头的。”“肉做的喉片?我是白痴?”第二天醒来,发觉他偷了大半瓶去送同事们吃,从那天起,只要是他同事,看见我都假装咳嗽,想再骗猪肉干吃,包括回教徒在内。(我没再给回教朋友吃,那是不道德的。)

One day Jose was about to get off work, and I took advantage of him forgetting about my pork jerky to quickly cut the stash of meat into small squares that I stuffed into a jar and hid inside a blanket. It just so happened that he had a cold that day, and wanted to sleep with an extra blanket. I forgot about my treasure and was sitting around reading “The Water Margin” for the ten thousandth time. He was on the bed, with the jar in hand, looking around. I raised my head and realized that my Precious had been discovered. I lunged to grab it, yelling, “This isn’t for you to eat! It’s medicine, Chinese medicine!”

“I’m stuffed up, so that sounds great.” He grabbed a handful and put it into his mouth. I was furious, but I couldn’t tell him to spit it out, so I said nothing.

“It’s kind of sweet, what is it?”

I said grumpily, “It’s throat drops. For coughing.”

“Cough drops made from meat? What am I, an idiot?”

When I woke up the next day, I found that he’d stolen half the jar to take to his colleagues. From that day forth, whenever a colleague of his saw me, they’d fake a cough, trying to trick more jerky out of me. This included his Muslim coworkers. (I didn’t give any to them; that would have been immoral.)

反正夫妇生活总是在吃饭,其他时间便是去忙着赚吃饭的钱,实在没多大意思。有天我做了饭卷,就是日本人的“寿司”,用紫菜包饭,里面放些唯他肉松。荷西这一下拒吃了。“什么,你居然给我吃印蓝纸,复写纸?”我慢慢问他,“你真不吃?”“不吃,不吃。”好,我大乐,吃了一大堆饭卷。“张开口来我看?”他命令我。“你看,没有蓝色,我是用反面复写纸卷的,不会染到口里去。”反正平日说的是唬人的话,所以常常胡说八道。“你是吹牛大王,虚虚实实,我真恨你,从实招来,是什么嘛?”“你对中国完全不认识,我对我的先生相当失望。”我回答他,又吃一个饭卷。他生气了,用筷子一夹夹了一个,面部大有壮士一去不复返的悲壮表情,咬了半天,吞下去。“是了,是海苔。”我跳起来,大叫:“对了,对了,真聪明!”又要跳,头上吃了他一记老大爆栗。

In any case, married life is spent either eating, or busily trying to make enough money to eat, so it can get pretty boring.

One day I made some rolls, much like “sushi” rolls; I used seaweed as the wrapper and put shredded dried meat inside. Jose refused to eat this.

“Are you actually asking me to eat carbon copy paper?”

I said slowly, “You’re really not going to eat it?”

“Nope, not eating it.”

Great! I happily ate a whole pile of the rolls.

“Open your mouth and let me see?” He demanded.

“Look, I haven’t turned blue. That’s because I used the reverse side of the carbon paper, so it didn’t dye my mouth.” I’m basically constantly bullshitting, so I just said whatever came to mind.

“You’re a damn liar is what you are. I really hate you. Just tell me what this is?”

“You don’t know anything about China. I’m disappointed in you as a husband.” I said, and ate another roll.

Then he got mad, grabbed one with his chopsticks, stared at it with the pathos of a samurai who knows he’s going on a one-way trip, chewed it for an age and then swallowed.

“Ah, yes, it’s seaweed.”

I jumped up. “Yes! You got it! Amazing!” I tried to jump again, but this time he whacked me on the head.

中国东西快吃完了,我的“中国饭店”也舍不得出菜了,西菜又开始上桌。荷西下班来,看见我居然在做牛排,很意外,又高兴,大叫:“要半生的。马铃薯也炸了吗?”连给他吃了三天牛排,他却好似没有胃口,切一块就不吃了。“是不是工作太累了?要不要去睡一下再起来吃?”“黄脸婆”有时也温柔。“不是生病,是吃得不好。”我一听唬一下跳起来。“吃得不好?吃得不好?你知道牛排多少钱一斤?”“不是的,太太,想吃‘雨’,还是岳母寄来的菜好。”“好啦,中国饭店一星期开张两次,如何?你要多久下一次‘雨’?”

Eventually the Chinese ingredients were almost gone and my “Chinese Restaurant” couldn’t afford to go on, so Western dishes started appearing on the dinner table again. Jose came back from work, saw that I was actually preparing steak, and shouted in surprise. “Make mine medium-rare! And are you frying potatoes?”

But after he’d had steak for three days straight, he seemed to lose his appetite. He cut a piece but then stopped eating.

“Are you too tired from work? Do you want to take a nap and then eat?” Hey, even this old lady can have a bit of warmth to her once in a while.

“No, I’m fine, I just don’t like this.”

When I heard that, I bounded up with a roar. “You don’t like it? YOU DON’T LIKE IT? Do you know how much steak costs per pound?”

“No, dear, I’d like to eat some ‘rain.’ The food from your mother is the best, after all.”

“All right, all right. The Chinese Restaurant will be open for business twice a week, how’s that sound? How often do you want the ‘rain’ to fall?”

有一天荷西回来对我说:“了不得,今天大老板叫我去。”“加你薪水?”我眼睛一亮。“不是——”我一把抓住他,指甲掐到他肉里去。“不是?完了,你给开除了?天啊,我们——”“别抓我嘛,神经兮兮的,你听我讲,大老板说,我们公司谁都被请过到我家吃饭,就是他们夫妇不请,他在等你请他吃中国菜——”“大老板要我做菜?不干不干,不请他,请同事工友我都乐意,请上司吃饭未免太没骨气,我这个人啊,还谈些气节,你知道,我——”我正要大大宣扬中国人的所谓骨气,又讲不明白,再一接触到荷西的面部表情,这个骨气只好梗在喉咙里啦!

One day Jose came home and said, “The big boss called me in today.”

I looked up with a glint in my eye. “Did he give you a raise?”

“No …”

I grabbed him so hard my fingernails dug into his flesh. “No? So you’re fired? Oh my god, we’re doomed, we’re …”

“Let go and let me finish, you lunatic! The boss said, everyone at the company has been invited to our house to eat except for him and his wife, and he’s been waiting for an invitation …”

“Your boss wants me to cook for him? No way, we’re not having him over, I’m happy to have any of your friends and colleagues here, but it’s just ass-kissing to invite your superior! I still have some integrity in me, you know, I-” I was about to deliver the mother of all lectures on the Moral Character Of The Chinese People, but I couldn’t really explain it well, and when I saw Jose’s expression, well, I had no choice but to choke down my “moral character.”

第二日他问我,“喂,我们有没有笋?”家里筷子那么多,不都是笋吗?”他白了我一眼。“大老板说要吃笋片炒冬菇。”乖乖,真是见过世面的老板,不要小看外国人。“好,明天晚上请他们夫妇来吃饭,没问题,笋会长出来的。”荷西含情脉脉的望了我一眼,婚后他第一次如情人一样的望着我,使我受宠若惊,不巧那天辫子飞散,状如女鬼。

The next day he asked me, “Hey, do we have any bamboo?”

“There’s plenty of chopsticks in the house, what do you think they’re made out of?”

He rolled his eyes at me. “The boss said he’d like to eat bamboo shoots stir-fried with shiitake mushrooms.”

Amazing; this boss has actually seen the world. So much for looking down on foreigners. “All right. Ask him and his wife to come eat dinner tomorrow. Don’t worry, the bamboo will grow itself.”

Jose gazed at me amorously. It was the first time since our marriage that he had looked at me with the eyes of a lover. What a rare favor bestowed upon me! Sadly, that day my braids were more like frayed ropes and I was doing a good impression of a hag.

第二天晚上,我先做好三道菜,用文火热着,布置了有蜡炬的桌子,桌上铺了白色的桌布,又加了一块红的铺成斜角,十分美丽。这一顿饭吃得宾主尽欢,不但菜是色香味俱全,我这个太太也打扮得十分干净,居然还穿了长裙子。饭后老板夫妇上车时特别对我说:“如果公共关系室将来有缺,希望你也来参加工作,做公司的一份子。”我眼睛一亮。这全是“笋片炒冬菇”的功劳。

The next night, I made three courses ahead of time, and kept them warmed at a simmer. I arranged candles on the table, which had a red tablecloth overlaid on a white one. It looked beautiful. This meal was a rousing success. Not only was the food fantastic, but I also cleaned myself up, and went so far as to put on a long skirt. After dinner, while our guests were getting into their car, they pulled me aside and said, “If our public relations group ever has a vacancy, we hope you can come join our company.”

My eyes lit up. This development was entirely credited to those bamboo shoots stir-fried with shiitake mushrooms.

送走老板,夜已深了,我赶快脱下长裙,换上牛仔裤,头发用橡皮筋一绑,大力洗碗洗盆,重做灰姑娘状使我身心自由。荷西十分满意,在我背后问,“喂,这个‘笋片炒冬菇’真好吃,你哪里弄来的笋?”我一面洗碗,一面问他:“什么笋?”今天晚上做的笋片啊!”我哈哈大笑:“哦,你是说小黄瓜炒冬菇吗?”“什么,你,你,你骗了我不算,还敢去骗老板——?”“我没有骗他,这是他一生吃得最好的一次‘嫩笋片炒冬菇’,是他自己说的。”

After seeing them off, it was already late. Quickly I stripped off the skirt and put on jeans, tied my hair back, and started scrubbing the dishes with vigor. It felt nice to go back to being Cinderella. Jose was quite pleased with everything, and said from behind me, “Hey, that dish was delicious; where did you get the bamboo?”

“What bamboo?” I said as I kept washing the dishes.

“The bamboo shoots you cooked tonight!”

I cracked up. “Oh, you mean the cucumbers stir-fried with shiitake mushrooms?”

“What? You–you–you can mess with me all you want, but you dare to pull that on my boss …”

“I didn’t pull anything on him. He himself said it was the most delicious ‘tender bamboo shoots with shiitake mushrooms’ that he had ever eaten in his life.”

荷西将我一把抱起来,肥皂水洒了他一头一胡子,口里大叫:“万岁,万岁,你是那只猴子,那只七十二变的,叫什么,什么……。”我拍了一下他的头,“齐天大圣孙悟空。这次不要忘记了。”

Jose hoisted me in an embrace, soapy water splashing all over his face and beard as he yelled, “You’re the best! The very best! You’re like that monkey … the one with the seventy-two transformation of what …”

I slapped him on the head. “Sun Wu Kong, the Great Sage, the Equal of Heaven! And don’t go forgetting it this time.”

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