To bing or not to bing! This post written by Judith. I have shamelessly stolen it because it is awesome.
Ravenous! Starving...energy levels sinking, powers of speech receding...I...need...FOOD...
Finally reaching the shitang - one cannot call it any other way, this Chinese university dining hall which resembles more a barn for feeding the hungry masses than a cafeteria - and there is was: food, glorious food! Or at least it should have been. Except What is there to eat in China, and in a shitang of all places? As a foreigner one is faced with stark choices - overdosing on grease and salt in every meal, or replying on the meagre supplies of pre-packaged supermarket food, sorting through sugary bread, seaweed or blueberry-flavoured crisps and of course obligatory meatfloss - too appalling in appearance to ever consider tasting.
Eating rice and oily, salty dishes for two meals every day for the first two months, it was enough. In class our teacher Wang laoshi had proudly announced that rice - mifan - was "haochi"! haochi? delicious? not this rice, mate! What we got at the shitang resembled more a mushy, grainy stodge with no taste, and on the odd occasion a greasy taste which was even worse. the broccoli, mushroom and egg-and-tomatoe dishes were just getting too disgusting to handle. We had to look for something different, at least for one meal of the day. Dissenting from Chinese efforts to harmonise us into the Chinese student-style of eating, we decided to defect.
For a while my dear companion in "The Search for Food" (a girl from my course who I should share many a crisis concerning the Chinese language, the Oxford university system, and of course BeiDa's own Wang laoshi with) and I while living on the beautiful Peking University campus thought we had found the perfect solution for lunch at least. A bottle of coke, some fruit salad, and Bing - Bing! The sound ringing in your ear like heavenly bells calling out that food - real food - was ready.
Bing you must image as a flat, almost pancake-like piece of fried bread covered in egg. Often it would come hot, golden-brown and crispy, tasting deliciously savoury, which after living in China for a while is a nice surprise when nine out of ten times you bite into a sandwich or piece of pizza to find it crunchy sweet and sugar-coated.
So bing it was for a while - our solution,no Redemption! No more searching for snippets of Western food or something not drowned in oil. We had said goodbye to the times of being overjoyed to have found a 'savoury crepes with cheese' just to be hit by the disappointment over its rancid flavour and revolting texture, and so more often than not leaving with an empty stomach but too nauseous to think of food until the next day.
Or so we thought... soon we discovered that the heavens bing had promised were dark pits of grease, uncooked bread, hunger or bloatedness, and sometimes both. After a week or two of unreserved joy over having proper lunch, we started to notice the draw backs of out bing-fruit salad diet. A piece of bing and some fruit salad would be just pleasant, leaving you not too full, yet not hungry any more. However, after about an hour, maybe two at most suddenly the fruit in our stomachs would turn into water and leave a black hole of hunger behind. With stomachs churning and concentration waning, we knew there was not much to be done until dinner time. During previous weeks we had already ravaged through the different possibilities and shops, but at campus this was a problem as there were no snacks other than sickly sweet biscuits to supplement the meal. So hungry we were until 6pm when finally it was time to return to The shitang. When we took two bing with our fruit salad instead of one though, the result was not more satisfying. At first bloated from the excess of food, swearing to never eat again, then hungry again, only delayed by another hour, we were stuck. To bing or not to bing was the question we faced daily.
Additionally the university had gone into summer vacation mode, leaving us exchange students in small numbers while the Chinese students were leaving like rats escape the sinking ship. The fruit salads, fresh and juicy up till then turned into mushy, old and fermenting fruit that had been sunbathing in the morning before sold being sold to unsuspecting foreigners. Bing-production was reduced so that either none was left by the time we arrived, or it was also old, but in this case cold, greasy and sometimes not completely cooked slices of rubbery bing - inedible in one word. And so the times of bin passed, the question of whether to bing became mute, and we resorted to a less pleasant diet of crisps and coke for lunch for the last couple of weeks.
At the end of July, saddened to leave China and our lovely BeiDa behind, we were not in the least disappointed to finally be having real bread for lunch again.