When I was in 4th grade, I came home sick from school one day to find my mother slaughtering our gaggle of ducks. To be fair, I knew in advance that she was going to do this. But, being nine, I did not really understand the scope or consequences. I went in through the back gate on the advice of my in-town grandma, Nana, who had collected me from school. The first clue was the little rope hanging from a redwood tree, the feathers ringing the inside of the noose. Apparently, that did not work out so well as I found out when I entered the sliding back door off the back patio, an overwhelming stench greeting me and permeating the whole house.
Stunned, I sat in a chair in the family room watching my mother singe feathers at the kitchen sink. After about 10 minutes I asked Nana to take me back to school. She obliged. For a year or two, I would gag every time I went to the freezer in the garage and saw those tiny oblong bodies lying next to the ice cream. Under protest, I never ate a bite then or since.
Today, however, in the capital of Peking Duck, I was cured.
Ty, our tour guide, took us to the “hot and noisy” (a Beijing term to describe the atmosphere) the flagship restaurant of Guang Ju De, a three story restaurant in the center of town, nicknamed Big Duck. There are several other locations, one near a hospital called Sick Duck. We were the only foreigners or Big Noses (da bis?). The ducks are force fed at a ranch outside of town to get them big and fat. “Cruel!” Thing 3, my nine year old, proclaimed.
We ordered the set meal and a few other items, nicely labeled in English, along with our one big roasted crispy brown duck. The duck was a far cry from the pale and puny imitator my mother served up in the early Seventies. Robust, it fairly gleamed with confidence, knowing it would satisfy all comers. The duck slicer, if he is worth his salt, can slice the duck into 186 slices of crispy duck skin and meat. Bundle a few slices in a pancake with some plum sauce and scallion and you have a tasty little packet of duck love. Things 2 & 3 abstained from the duck fest. Thing 2 had had two duck sandwiches the day before which did not settle well with his tummy, the contents of which came rushing back at him at 11:30 at night the day before. Thing 3 balked on grounds of cruelty. Sigh. That is the sound of history repeating itself.
We received a certificate in an envelope with the trillionth duck number served since 1864 which I think I will frame for posterity. On the one hand, I am glad my mother is not tromping everywhere with us. The sights here involve a lot of walking. Today, for instance, we saw the Capital Museum and the Temple of Heaven and a group of Chinese families with adopted Chinese babies, a sight the tour guide had never seen before. Maybe we can just go on a food tour instead?