Ode to cray­fish as a cure for smart­phone ad­dicts

China Daily (Canada) - - BUSINESS - By BAI PING

used to cringe at the sight of peo­ple pulling apart cray­fish, a pop­u­lar sum­mer dish for Chi­nese ur­ban res­i­dents.

They suck, pinch and peel the crus­tacean to ac­cess the tiny part of the body that is ed­i­ble. Then with red, hot sauces around their mouths, they lick their orange fin­gers and gulp down a beer be­fore at­tack­ing the next “lit­tle lob­ster”, so called for its re­sem­blance to its noble cousin.

Re­cently, I had my first taste of the dish while on a work as­sign­ment in a river town in Hubei prov­ince, known as the cap­i­tal of cray­fish. When I asked for a stan­dard por­tion, I was shocked to be served 2 kilo­grams of cray­fish boiled with spicy and numb­ing sea­son­ing in­gre­di­ents, all for less than 120 yuan ($18).

Some may want to avoid the food as be­ing messy and un­healthy. But many more are crazy about the dish, be­cause it’s cheap, tasty and, cu­ri­ously, it also im­proves din­ers’ ta­ble man­ners by keep­ingth­e­m­away from their cell phones, at least dur­ing the meal.

One friend put it more sim­ply: “With their fin­gers drip­ping red oil, who will touch their cell phone?”

In a coun­try where al­most ev­ery ur­ban res­i­dent owns a cell phone, it’s com­mon to find peo­ple who can­not take their eyes off their screen ev­ery­where, which in­spires the Chi­nese term di tou zu, mean­ing peo­ple who lower their heads, or cell phone ad­dicts.

At a restau­rant, din­ers of­ten ask for a Wi-Fi pass­word be­fore they look at a menu. Young cou­ples can be seen tap­ping their smart­phones with one hand and shov­el­ing food with the other. When food is served, cell phone-wield­ing pa­trons take pho­tos of en­trees and self­ies be­fore they lift their chop­sticks.

The phe­nom­e­non is not just lim­ited to eat­ing out. In my home, my wife and I have re­peat­edly re­newed our pledge not to pull out and check our cell phones at the din­ner ta­ble, whether for mes­sages from the of­fice or friends. But we’ve found it dif­fi­cult to ig­nore that ring or beep, while be­ing fully aware that we could risk ne­glect­ing each other and our chil­dren.

Mo­bile phone ad­dic­tion has also be­come a headache for restau­rant own­ers who cater to younger pa­trons, as they com­plain about slower ta­ble turnover rates and longer work­ing hours for staff.

One restau­rant in down­town Bei­jing has taken things into its own hands by of­fer­ing 50 per­cent dis­counts ev­ery Mon­day for din­ers who will leave their cell phones in metal boxes printed with the slo­gan “Lock up your phones, fo­cus on food”.

The weekly of­fer has dou­bled thenum­berof its pa­trons on the day, woo­ing gourmets who come for cheaper food. But its im­pact on the aware­ness of ero­sion of tech seems to be min­i­mal. One pa­tron said in an on­line re­view that he used his cell phone three hours on end af­ter the meal at the restau­rant.

Ob­servers worry that the trends, if not curbed, could hurt the so­cial func­tions of the Chi­nese eat­ing cul­ture that plays an im­por­tant role in peo­ple be­friend­ing one an­other.

Ear­lier re­search re­sults show that al­most half of Chi­nese city res­i­dents con­sider din­ing out the most com­mon so­cial ac­tiv­ity, fol­lowed by sports and karaoke singing. Close friends or col­leagues like to visit crowded, noisy and jovial restau­rants as good places for bond­ing. But, cell phones could de­stroy the at­mo­sphere for so­cial­iz­ing.

With such thoughts, I’ve be­gun to have a new opin­ion about the cray­fish craze. It’s heart-warm­ing to see din­ers joke, laugh and talk, face-to­face, around piles of cray­fish on the ta­ble, and with their cell phones put away.

This year, tens of thou­sands of cray­fish restau­rants have cropped up in ma­jor Chi­nese cities, with the coun­try be­com­ing the world’s largest pro­ducer of the crus­taceans, ac­count­ing for more than 70 per­cent of the to­tal global an­nual out­put, even though they are orig­i­nally from North Amer­ica.

The ques­tion is, how­ever, what could be the next Chi­nese so­cial food sans a cell phone when cray­fish is out of sea­son in a cou­ple of months?

Con­tact the writer at dr.baip­ing@hot­mail.com

XU KANGPING / FOR CHINA DAILY

A diner en­joys a pop­u­lar dish of cray­fish, with spicy sauce and sea­son­ing, at a restau­rant in Hangzhou, cap­i­tal of eastern China’s Zhe­jiang prov­ince.

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