Great Meals

Most of the best meals of my life have been alone in the street. When I’m with people, the meal is background, something to do while we talk, not the center of attention. I just have to look at how often my friends and I talk about food, other meals, other restaurants, other outings, to know how little what we ate mattered. As long as it was somewhat good, it was good enough. I’m sure I’ve eaten a lot of great food with other people, but I remember the people, not the food.

Au Revoir in San Diego was amazing, but I don’t remember the food as much as I remember the waiter telling us how amazing, wonderful, and fantastic the special was, flank steak with fig sauce. Without pausing for breath he finished his adulation by telling us it was sold out. A Taste of the Himalayas is the same way. I think I have always had the tikki masala, but I remember the people I went there with more. Hotsauce, the Dancer, my ex’s sister, friends, family. Flashes of memory clear as day, like I’m still there. I remember comments about the food more than I remember the taste.

The day Hotsauce earned his name. The comment I should have never made. Friends that I never saw again. The owner telling us what we should order. Darkness falling off the Herald’s arm in a cafe. Laughs, fights, complaints, and more laughs. The last thing I ever cared about was the food.

When it comes to food, I prefer to be alone, to order something awesome, to be surprised, to focus on what I am tasting without having to focus on the social construct. Without anyone’s schedule, or trying to figure out what to eat. Un lonche de chicharones, tacos de barbacoa, quesadillas con carne, birria, niuroumian, wonton soup, and a thousand things I don’t have a name for. A rusting cart with a propane tank strapped to it with a line of locals.

The only thing better is finding one of these places after kung fu. It gets harder as I get used to it again. It’s hard to get back into the horses, correcting all the mistakes I picked up practicing other systems. Kung fu is like language, if you stop it doesn’t just wait for you, it slowly dies. When you try to go back to it, it’s easier to learn again, but still not easy. Horses are the hardest, when done right. Everything else is a trick you practice, but horses are pain embodied. There is no way to learn but to suffer, no way to become stronger without healing damage. When you do it right, you can tell the difference. The muscles pull in a way they don’t when you aren’t low enough, or aren’t in the right position. Like touching your toes, it’s easy to cheat but it only stretches you if you keep your knees straight.

I have this memory, the moment when my mom told me about the divorce, the day I started to hide in books, that I wish I could go back to. To hide in kung fu instead, with the teachers I now know were around back then. I would be in much better shape, and I would already know the things I’m fighting to learn now. That’s the problem though, it’s not a desire to change my life or who I became, but just a desire to cheat the system. I want to bypass the hard work, like a montage, but not lose anything.

It makes it worse when I see people who already have abilities I lament not having. One of my students is eight and she speaks five languages. I’m helping her perfect her English, but that’s fucking aggravating. It’s good to know that if a child can do it, anyone can, but I want that now. I want to talk to so many people, and I just can’t. I’m working on it, but I am not even close to my goal. That’s the problem with being in Taipei, everyone speaks English, at least a little. That’s the problem with going home, what use do I have for a dozen languages in a place that only tolerates one?

I wonder what I really am now anyway. My Chinese teacher asked if I was sure I was American after I told her I don’t like coffee, alcohol, or soda. I’m from San Diego, I spent most of my time in Mexico telling people I was Mexican. I don’t know that it really matters. I don’t really fit into any mold for long anyway. Be like water. Better to flow than to stagnate.

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