Hello from Taiwan. Joe Meiser and I are here this week. Despite the storm that ultimately caused us to miss our flight and stay in Japan on an unexpected lay over, it's been a great week. We are here working on Salsa projects and planning 2010. While this trip is about work, I always get to enjoy & learn a little bit too. Today, I'd like to share what a typical formal Taiwanese vendor dinner is like and ask you "Are you a rich man, a working man or a poor man?"
Before I get started, I want to say that these are my experiences. They are based on several trips to Taiwan. They are certainly not fact. If I share my experience and it's wrong, I'm sorry. If you actually know the truth or proper etiquette, please comment. If I've only gotten half of the story and you know the rest, share it. We want to learn.
To set the stage, think about your job and your organizational structure. Typically, the highest ranking person in your party sits next to the host. (This also means you drink the most!) You typically sit at a big round table with 8-10 of your friends, coworkers, partners and other important people. The table has a lazy susan in the middle that you turn to either serve or replenish your portion. Once you are seated, portion after portion of food is served. I've had as few as 5 or 6 and as many as 12-14 servings!
Depending on the event, there are one of three ways that food is served at your table.
1) It is a big formal dinner and you have a formal server. This means that for every course, the server divides up the food and serves you.
2) A secretary of the host functions as the table server and serves all the food.
3) You serve yourself when the food comes to you and then turn the lazy susan to the next person.
Today (Wednesday), we had a fun and special dinner with one of our favorite suppliers in Taiwan. This supplier makes our Salsa carbon fiber handlebars. Our relationship is very good and because of this, lunch is a bit more informal than most of the meals we have here. Today was option 3 (serve yourself).
Our lunch meal consisted of 6 courses today; jewel fried rice, oysters, squid, fish & mushroom soup, fried fish, & whole fish w/ginger. When the last serving came, our supplier turned the lazy susan to me to dig in for the first serving. Here in lies the question "Are you a rich man, a working man, or a poor man?"
If you are the first to serve yourself a portion of fish, what part you take answers the question. I did not know this as I dug in. After I turned the wheel for the fish to go to the next person, our supplier friend says to me "You are a rich man." I ask if that was a question or a statement? He said "You took the belly of the fish so you are a rich man."
So, here is your guide to self serving from a whole fish in Taiwan.
Stomach = Rich man because it is filled with fat and oil.
Spine area = Working man because the spine works hard for the fish to swim.
Head = Poor man because it is the left over.
So...If you are ever the first to serve yourself from a whole fish. Choose wisely.
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