\e sat down on a table in Guanghzhou, a city in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao greater Bay Area in the People’s Republic of China.
The buffet was set. A lot of food options suitable for people with various dietary needs graced the table.
We picked our choices and filled our plates. But as we moved on, the tray containing utensils only stocked chopsticks. No table knives. No forks.
There were murmurs from African media colleagues who were part of the Belt and Road News Network Media Workshop.
“Excuse me guys, I am sorry we do not have forks,” one of us asked.
“Please use the chopsticks,” came an announcement from the team leader who introduced himself as Phillip. His full Chinese name was not that easy for the Africans to pronounce.
Immediately, a quick lesson on how to use chopsticks given by a colleague who drove me to the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Lilongwe to process my visa for the trip, quickly came to mind.
I assured myself that I will be able to pick the food without any problems. I strategically chose a sit next to Beijing-based Economic Daily chief correspondent Zhang Shuang.
The lady, who goes by the nickname ‘Yoyo’ for easier interaction in a multinational environment, was amazed to see me enjoy the food with the chopsticks, albeit at a slow pace.
Then I signalled to the waitress. When she came close, I made my request, in mandarin.
” Shui,” I said to the surprise of Zimbabwean colleague Tafadzwa Mugwadi who instantly asked me what I meant.
I explained to him that I had requested for a glass water.
“Where did you learn that?” he asked.
I told him that I captured it from a Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith movie The Karate Kid.
Then the waiteress brought a glass of water.
My taste buds got ready for a cool sip. Having visited the equipment factory of home appliance manufacturer, Guangdong Galanz Group Company Limited in Foshan, I told myself that it was my opportunity to experience the cooling prowess of the Galanz range of refrigerators.
The waitress gracefully placed the glass on the table. But to my surprise, the glass contained warm water.
“The water is warm,” I politely remarked.
“Yes,” responded Yoyo. “It’s good for your health.”
A quick Google search led me to www.healthline.com. The website revealed many health benefits, including relieving nasal congestion, aiding digestion, aiding weight loss, improving blood circulation and decreasing stress among others.
I wiped my mouth and relaxed in my seat as we waited for the next instruction from our friendly and ever smiling guide, Phillip.
Then I recalled the other surprises in the Chinese dining experience.
It is a dish called Cat Ears that raised my hair at Kuntai Royal Hotel in Beijing. A salad of okra and partially cooked cucumbers, quite the opposite of how they are prepared in Malawi, inspired me to write something about the experience.
Grilled pumpkins, the sweetest that I have tasted so far, engraved a memory on my tongue. The fruits, cultivated using organic fertiliser, also form part of the sweet memory of the Chinese table.
The Chinese hospitality experienced at energy supply giant, China Resources Group Guangdong Thermo Power Plant in Guangzhou is also memorable.
We were pleasantly surprised to find freshly-cooked green maize, sweet potato and groundnuts in the picnic area located in the orchard at the campus. The simple preparation and taste made me feel at home.
These, I will be looking forward to partake, should another opportunity to visit China arise.
Meanwhile, I am widening my mandarin vocabulary beyond Ni hao (hello) and Xièxiè (thank you).
Who knows, the media industry may demand new ideas to go with new media and new technologies in the new era to help me share Chinese experiences in poverty alleviation, big data, environmental protection, urban planning and intellectual property protection.