Friday, March 10, 2006


My son and I ate at an Asian restaurant last night where the tables were set with chopsticks as well as forks.

In Chinese restaurant scenes in movies and TV shows, the actors-Asian or not-all use chopsticks to eat the food in front of them and sometimes to help themselves to stuff on other people's plates. Even in scenes where actors are eating out of take-out cartons in New York apartments, they're using chopsticks. Clearly, all the cool people know how to do this. (Though in a quick look around the restaurant last night, I found that all the customers were using forks. Clearly, midwestern suburbanites don't qualify as cool.)

Now we had a very obliging waiter last night, on his best behavior because he was training someone new to the place. I asked him to recommend a beer and he pointed right to a Japanese brand at $8 a can. He hovered around me like I was an 80-year-old grandma who might need help getting into my chair. (And believe me, there is nothing about me that telegraphs Good Tipper, despite the air of noblesse oblige in dealing with waiters that I have picked up from a friend.)

I thought this would be a good opportunity to get some help with the chopsticks thing. So I asked him to show me. His response was to run off to get some different chopsticks--chopsticks for beginners. What he brought was a pair of the same wooden chopsticks I already had, but with the non-eating ends rubber-banded together, padded with the red paper sleeve folded and jammed in between. He showed me how to hold them--nothing tricky there, and what do you know? It was easy. After five minutes practice with the chopsticks-for-juniors, I moved up to the regular ones and cleaned my plate.

You can teach a middle-aged woman new tricks.

Isn't it interesting that to manipulate the movement at the eating end of chopsticks, you have to keep the opposite ends together and relatively still? Surely there's a moral there, a meal to be made out of eastern philosophies' embrace of contradictions. (Or am I going to far? What is the sound of one hand clapping anyway? And Indians eat with their hands. What might that mean?)

But what will happen today if I pay attention to both the thing and its opposite?

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