Tuesday, June 17, 2008


"Wang, what's the name of this fruit?"


"Sanzhu," I repeated. "Do you happen to know what it is in English?"

"I think it might be...passionfruit; although, I'm not sure."

"This is passionfruit?" I asked rhetorically, examiming the plum-sized, purple-ish fruit.

I bought one and broke it open. The exterior is not a plum-like skin. It's woodier and feels like tearing thick, wet cardboard. I'm not sure what I expected, but I was surprised to see a white interior that segments apart like a tangerine. I put a piece in my mouth. The fruit was moist and sweet, and I was feeling the passion. The flavor was familiar, but I struggled to recall why.

"Maybe a little like raspberries," I said to myself quietly and without confidence. I wasn't satisfied with that answer, but I put another segment into my mouth and savored the juices. "Why do we not eat these in the states?" I questioned. We eat apples, and pears, and bananas. They're fine fruits, to be sure, but where are the passionfruits? Canteloupe and honeydew do not taste near as good as their frequency of consumption would suggest, I decide as I contemplate the issue further.

To make matters worse, we disguise some of the best fruits with horrible-sounding names. How many young children trudge up to their mother, tug on her sleeve, and request a pomegranite? The taste is divine, but the name sounds like the answer to a question I got wrong on my geology test. No, instead the child asks for a peach, and then cringes at the texture of velvet in his mouth and fuzz sticking to his tongue and lips.

I've seen a fruit in China that I think we can learn a lesson from--dragonfruit. What the dragonfruit lacks in taste, it makes up for in appearance. If you haven't seen one, picture an artichoke during breeding season. The exterior is crimson and decorative. A soft, white substance lies beneath with small, black seeds diffused randomly throughout. As far as taste is concerned, the closest comparison is a watered-down kiwi. It's nearly tasteless, only slightly sweet. However, with a fancy shell and a name like "dragonfruit", I'm convinced teenagers in arcades would trade their hard-earned game tickets in for these while the pogs and temporary tattoos sat collecting dust.

I plop the last white wedge into my mouth and ask the lady behind the register for half a dozen more. "Sanzhu." I say the name once more in an effort to commit this new-found delicacy to memory. I really hope this is passionfruit, I continue in my mind, because if its name ends up being something like "pomegranite" I'll be buying mangos next time...and maybe a dragonfruit.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Final Day in Dongguan...Until I Return

It was raining hard, but I smiled as I passed people on my bike. My right hand grasped the handlebar in front of me, while the left clung firmly to an umbrella that was whipped around by the wind. The bike was small and my legs were too long to make the ride fast or efficient. I traded nods and grins with strangers at a fruit stand. Waving was out of the question. I rarely wear sunglasses but I wore them then. I wondered if people realized that they were to keep moisture out of my eyes and not really a fashion display. My thoughts changed from sunglasses to my stay in Dongguan and how I'd be leaving for Nanjing the following day.

Finally, I lifted my eyes and found myself close enough now to read the characters on the overpass up ahead--Xitou. I'd be home soon. The rain stopped suddenly as I rode under a covered area. A rat stuck its head out from underneath an empty bag of chips, looked down, then looked back up and focused its gaze on me again to verify what it had just seen. That was about the same reaction I got from the man in the mechanics shop on the corner. I rode closer, so the rodent hurdled a couple bricks and dove into a hole. I tried imagining what the mechanic would have done had I approached the shop door.

My friend works as an engineer in Baisha, and I had just finished eating lunch with him and touring the factory where the fuses he designs are manufactured and tested. The assembly line fascinated me. Employees worked in harmony with the rhythm of the machines. I stepped forward with my hands on my hips and my countenance feigning authority and experience. A young-looking female tapped her uniformed co-worker on the shoulder and indicated in my direction. I lifted a fuse up to my face and rolled it around in my hand, only putting it back down after giving my nod of approval. Could my poker face convince them I was someone important? "What is this white kid in basketball shorts doing here?" I read their thoughts, and that's the closest translation. All things seem to be made in China and I wanted to witness it. Afterall, I thought as I rounded the corner and turned down a narrow alley, this is my last day in Dongguan for a while, so I might as well make it interesting. My brakes screeched as I slowed to stop. I wiped the water off my face with an already wet shirt and pushed the rusty kickstand down with my foot. Tomorrow I'd be in Nanjing.