I return from Chengde, where I went to see the Emperor’s Summer Palace, and arrive in the capital of Hebei: Shijiazhuang, otherwise known as one of the most polluted cities in China. I will briefly say I did not notice it. I was expecting the people to have three legs, for the dogs to meow, but there were no such abnormalities. It seemed like a normal city.
I visit Shijiazhuang to meet a good friend and his family. Shijiazhuang happens to be famous for its donkey meat, but that is another story. I had teased this friend over experiencing China’s take on Pizza Hut many a times. There was nowhere else I wanted to go. A little disappointed, because there was not much to do in Shijiazhuang, and I would be leaving the next day, he drives me to a local Pizza Hut, and the disastrous meal begins, all of it my fault.
I openly laughed when I was brought a menu. It was as he had said: a tad more respectable than our own in the States. I was almost tempted not to get pizza because of how mouthwatering the pictures were of the other items.
To my utter amusement and befuddlement, my friend purchased a soup. At Pizza Hut! Looking at the other tables, which he would not allow me to photograph out of this unusual Chinese characteristic known as po leet nees, I found that most did not even have pizza at their tables.
And I was not surprised.
Unfortunately, I wanted pizza. I am a pizza fiend. What is worse… I am an American and unrelenting in my expectations.
Pizza Hut in China is not like Pizza Hut in the United States. Their pizzas are works of art. There is no pepperoni pie. Each creation has a theme accompanied with a small list of toppings and quirks. Unfortunately, I do not eat pizza with toppings. My character has often been assaulted because of my obsession with plain pizza. All of these whacky and original designs looked great, but I did not want them.
I wanted a plain pie of pizza, and I would suffer for it.
I will begin with saying that I have frequented Pizza Hut in my youth. I have never had any trouble ordering a plain pie of pizza. This would be my downfall.
“I don’t think they have plain pizza, John.”
I laughed at my friend. Others turned to see why this American was laughing. Don’t have plain pizza? Did he think that these miraculous designs were born this way? They had all started as a plain pie of pizza. How difficult would it be just to take one out of the conveyer belt before all of the toppings and quirks were added?
Too polite to tell me to suck it up, my friend calls over a waiter and begins a fifteen minute, perhaps more, conversation involving much pointing at the menu and to the dazzled American across from him. I had not expected this, and often I tried to interrupt him with questions on why they were talking so heatedly. I could not understand a thing.
I was ignored.
After fifteen minutes, my friend turns to me, and he points to the seafood pie. He says, “Is it all right if they give you the seafood pie, but they don’t put all of the toppings on it?” The seafood pie was the simplest pie, it being just toppings. I have no complaints. I am a little confused as to why it took fifteen minutes to come to this, but I don’t complain.
At this point, I am mortified. I thought it would have been a simple request. Nothing crazy on the pie. Just normal pizza.
My friend, ever cautious, says, “Just a cheese pizza?” I give him the thumbs up.
If I had only known…
His soup arrives after five minutes, and I watch him eat. He finishes his soup, and we wait ten minutes. After twenty minutes, I ask him, rather heatedly, how long it regularly takes for Pizza Hut to dish out a pie. He replies, equally heated, that they do not often adhere to these special requests. Of course, having had Pizza Hut for nigh my entire life, I do not think of this as a special request. I am a stupid and spoiled American.
The pizza arrives! And it is half the size of a Pizza Hut personal pan pizza. Each slice was little more than the size of my eye. Of course, I do not complain. I am rather snide about it, though, because it was expensive, on par with Pizza Hut’s own prices in the United States.
Regardless, I am famished. I take one the slices, take a bite, haa haa, too hot, let it sit for a while, and then begin my feasting anew.
I think it was after the first eye-sized slice that I realized something was wrong. I tell my friend, “Pizza’s kinda dry.” Now, I have a need to complain to someone about food. I am very critical, and I cannot bottle it up. Many are too embarrassed to eat with me.
After having said this, I look at the slice and frown. Playing surgeon, I lift the cheese a little to see just how much tomato sauce they used.
I begin to laugh. There is no tomato sauce. It was not dry. It was barren!
My friend, hardly able to lift his head, so great is his embarrassment, asks why I am laughing. I was sure he would join in my mirth when I told him that the Pizza Hut pizza slice I was brought had no tomato sauce. To me, it was the most ridiculous thing in the world.
He did not share in my amusement.
“What are you talking about?” he asks. “You said you wanted a cheese slice.”
The reason why my friend had spent fifteen minutes arguing with the waiter over the menu was because of how absurd a request cheese pizza had seemed. The waiter could not understand why someone would want a slice without tomato sauce. That had been the bulk of the argument.
I will forever be shamed by my childishness and the subsequent disappointment. I should have just ordered a steak.