Franchises of the Fujian based chain, 沙县小吃 (Shaxian Snack Bar) have sprouted up all over China, and Shenzhen is no exception. However, Shaxian Snack Bars aren’t upscale, in fact, the standardized fast food chain veneer notwithstanding, each Snack Bar seems your ordinary mom and pops dive. Moreover, with all the razing and rebuilding going on, the small restaurants and stalls suddenly appear and just as easily vanish. Currently burning up the web, this bit of satire about the real reason for the success of Shaxian Snack Bar brings together two of my favorite things — political satire and food (中文版).
“The war is over.”
The Snack Bar owner had a cigarette hanging from his mouth and his ass in the chair in front of me, as his eyes darted this way and that. A wisp of smoke came out of his mouth.
I was no longer happy. I had been enjoying a basket of steamed buns and a large portion of wonton, thinking about ordering another drumstick. Actually, I wanted a large rib from the large rib set meal, but it couldn’t be purchased independently, so I was thinking about my options. That was when this middle aged man plopped his ass on the chair in front of me, a lone customer with a smile on his face, and said that meaningless sentence. And he was smoking.
“What war? Also, how much is a large rib from the large rib set meal?” I asked patiently.
He turned and went into the kitchen, returning with a clay pot of stewed eggs, dried tofu, drum sticks, and a large rib.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Eat whatever you want, it’s free. If you want rice, let me know and I’ll get it for you.” He passed me a spoon and added, “Listen to what I have to say. I need to talk about what’s in my heart. Everything is over.”
This was a deal. I nodded my agreement.
“Look,” he pointed to a nearby Lanzhou Pulled Noodle stall, where the owner and several waitstaff sat at a table outside the door, each one holding some cards, “What are they doing?”
“Playing cards.” I had found a particularly well marinated egg in the clay pot.
“No. Look closely.” His face wore a cynical expression.
I put down my chopsticks and observed them carefully. Their hands squeezed their cards, but for a long while no one moved, their expression wooden, as they sat without talking.
“Aimless.” He lightly tapped the table, “I understand what they’re feeling.”
I ignored him, halving the marinated egg with my chopsticks and enjoying the marinade.
“You know, right? Bin Laden is dead.” He spoke as if telling me a secret.
“Uhn..” I mumbled a response because the egg filled my mouth and the yolk had my mouth stuck in place.
“Thus, the war is over. 战争结束了。They lost, we won.” His expression doleful. “But we have one thing in common, from tomorrow forward, we are lost lambs.”
I looked at the owner again, his dark skin, coastal features, and that honest bearing of Chaoshan people.
“Owner, has business been slow?” I asked. Is there something wrong with your head? Has your wonton gone bad? Did you poison my marinade?
“Have you seen the Commerce Department stop by to collect money?” He asked.
“Not to my knowledge.”
“Have you seen hooligans stop by to stir up trouble?” He asked.
“Again. Not to my knowledge.”
He lifted his body and got close to me, whispering in my ear, “That’s because I’m AQB.”
“Ha?” I said. Mother fucker.
I looked at the owner again. Dark skin, coastal features, and a sense of great historic mission.
“I didn’t open a snack bar. I’m a spy.” He sat cross legged, with a strong fortitude, his eyes looking far away.
“Ha?” I said. Hang your mother.
“Shaxian Snack Bar hasn’t opened throughout the entire country in order to make money. Instead, our purpose is oppose Islam extremists from penetrating China’s cities. That’s why we are a special activity organization that was was specially established under AQB Ninth Office,” he said.
“Them?” I was shocked.
He waved his hand.
“Lanzhou Pulled Noodles?” I turned my head to look.
“Not only.” He looked left and right. “There’s also Wu Zhong Snack Bar, Xinjiang Big Plate Chicken…”
“No way.” I looked over at Lanzhou Pulled Noodles, where I frequently ate.
“It’s even darker than you think,” he said.
“You’re lying! Where is there that much money to hire that many people?”
“The Middle East is full of rich people,” he said.
“No, not them. I mean this many Shaxian Snack Bars…”
“Do they pay taxes?” he asked.
“What the fuck?”
“Do they pay high rents?” He asked.
“That many taxes that reach new highs every year; all that land and every year a new Diwang.” He paused to give me a moment to think. “Where does all the money go?”
“Aiya, you mean it wasn’t eaten, drunk, and embezzled away?”
“Idiot!” He jumped up, veins bulging as if he was going to box my ears. “This is why our officials have had to endure all that criticism!”
“You mean to say…” I revealed my shock.
“Yes.” He drew a circle around the entire restaurant with his finger. “It’s a spy organization. The country’s shield.”
“Have you heard about the 500 billion Stability Fund?” He then asked.
“In fact the actual investment is more than ten times that amount,” he said passionately. “China doesn’t have any corrupt officials!”
“No corrupt officials?”
“Not even one!”
“It’s all a cover. To confuse our international enemies!” He said, “You see all those fat and blotted officials…”
“It’s a cover?”
“They suffer disgrace in order to achieve their goal. They have given much for the country.” He looked at me gravely.
“Think about it.” He was a good teacher. “If even a penny hadn’t been spent on wining and dining, if even a penny hadn’t been embezzled, and our officials were simply pretending to be incompetent and corrupt, making our international enemies think that all of our wealth had been digested internally…”
“My God!” I was stunned. Rocked by the enormity of the truth. The room went silent and the two of us looked at each other wordlessly.
“The Central Government has made its move.” He so emitted the victorious brilliance of a strong country that it stung my eyes.
“We are almost omnipotent,” he said proudly.
“Humph. You know Bin Laden is dead, right?”
“You just asked and yes I know…” I abruptly stopped, finally understanding the meaning of his question.
“We told where he was,” he said softly.
“My God!” Another shock, “This means that Shaxian Snack Bar defeated Bin Laden!”
“No,” he said slightly embarrassed, “To be accurate, this information came from Absolute Taste Duck Necks, Number 2 Division, but we’re all comrades in arms. If you use the code ‘A Sincere Eulogy’ when you buy duck necks, you’ll get a twenty percent discount.”
He stood up and sang, “I’m ready to give my blood to battle,” before dejectedly sitting down again.
“What?” I asked.
“Everything is over,” he said unhappily. “Bin Laden is dead, the al-Qaeda group has been removed from China, and so Shaxian Snack Bar will be dissolved.”
Then he muttered, “I don’t hate Bin Laden, he also had an ideal, and because of his belief he was willing to sacrifice his life for others. But this is what our chief wanted, so we did a dirty deal with the Americans.”
“I will have leave, giving up this position of so many years,” he inhaled deeply on his cigarette. “I’ve seen many things you’d find it hard to believe. Floating in the steam of a pot of Tianma Pig’s Brain Soup are all the trials and joys, and silence; a pig’s past life and today’s existence. When chewing a roasted pigeon, the world can tumble and you fall into the sky. In the steamed rice hairstyle you see through the flash of a vast world to the beauty of the South. And all of this will return to dust, just like sliced scallion dissolves into meat filling. The time to leave has come.”
He rubbed his face and on his fingers became wet with dark tears.
This time when he stood, that strong spy disappeared and he was once again a Shaxian Snack Bar owner with black skin, coastal features, carelessly bussing the table.
“Go,” he said, “and don’t tell anyone.”
A few days later, I returned to that street, but both Shaxian Snack Bar and Lanzhou Pulled Noodles were gone. In the whispers of small business owners, how many dark secrets were flowing? I don’t know, but without the Snack Bar and Noodle Shop that street had become strange and listless.
However, I unexpectedly saw him again at Big Mother Dumpling. It was really him, wearing a uniform and greeting customers. I was moved and asked, “You’ve found new work?”
He didn’t address me, but moved his eyes. I followed his gaze to where the manager of a Kentucky Fried Chicken stared coldly back at us.
“The war isn’t over,” he said softly, holding my arm.
“A Sincere Eulogy,” I softly answered.