Sunday, 12 October 2014

Golden Quotebook: Bill Bryson on Chopsticks

Great statement by an unknown artist of genius!

A while ago, in an indignant article about the horrid Chinese habit of frying life dogs, I also gave you a gentle piece of my mind, dear reader, concerning Chopsticks.

Recently I ran in to another author of good taste and good sense, who also had a most amusing word to say about that most anachronistic invention. It comes from chapter 10 of Bill Bryson's 'Notes from a small island', and goes like this:

  • I can't say why exactly, but Chinese restaurants make me oddly uneasy, particularly when I'm dining alone. I always feel that the waitress is saying: 'One beef Satay and fried rice for the imperialist dog at table five'. And I find chopsticks frankly distressing. Am I alone in thinking it odd that a people ingenious enough to invent paper, gunpowder, kites and any number of other useful objects, and who have a noble history extending back 3,000 years haven't yet worked out that a pair of knitting needles is no way to capture food? I spent a perplexed hour stabbing rice, dribbling sauce across the tablecloth and lifting finely poised pieces of meat to my mouth only to discover that they had mysteriously vanished and weren't to be found anywhere. By the time I finished, the table looked as if it had been the centre of a violent argument.


  1. They allow you to easily catch and pass on hepatitis.

    PS Life dogs?

  2. And that's ALL they allow you to catch easily…

    Yes, my dear fellow: dogs skinned and then fried alive! Read the article.

  3. If it's only recently you've discovered Bill Bryson, you should read some more of him. Sometimes he is too obviously following a strict outline, but his writing his almost always sublime. I have read quite a few of his books, and if I remember correctly among the ones I liked most were e.g. Down Under; A Walk in the Woods; A short History of Nearly Everything; and, maybe, Neither Here, Nor There : Travels in Europe

  4. An interesting opinion, especially as I had this one objection to the one Bryson book I read: much as he was moving around without stop, he wasn't really going anywhere. It was just a walking tour journal, without a theme or a point. I guess there are people who enjoy that sort of thing, but I prefer Chatwin's 'In Patagonia', even though Mr Bryson seems a more likable fellow...

  5. I have a Professor friend who went to China for two weeks and every night, he would go to the restaurant and order Chicken. And every night, the waiter/cook would nod enthusiastically and confirm "Chicken". And he would eat the hearty meal, go home, and come back the next day. It was only two days before he was supposed to leave, when a bilingual colleague joined him for lunch that he found out that he wasn't eating Chicken the entire time, but he was in fact, eat Dog. He said he'll never go back there.


  6. Dear Ms Azra,

    Thank you for sharing this horrid anecdote. But please give me some clarification: that friend of yours obviously was no professor of biology, nor a cook, was he? How does one NOT notice the difference in taste and anatomy between a chicken and a dog??

    Your, faithful friend, ABM

  7. He is a Professor in Anthropology, Mr. Mittington, and certainly no Master Chef. I guess his culinary skills (and the ability to distinguish between anatomies) amount to nought. He must have pegged that incident as a "cultural experience".