On my walk to my part time job these days – a pleasing 5 minute stroll to what Chris "Eyes East" Amico has described as "one of the nicest office buildings I’ve ever seen. Not in China, mind you. Anywhere. This place holds its own" – I have been bemused by the sight of a freshly severed goat’s head set proudly atop a blood bespattered fleece on a ledge outside one of the little shops that line the side street leading to my swanky corporate tower. I know it is a freshly severed head because the blood has not congealed (much) and it is definitely a different goat every day because I have been carefully inspecting the horns.
I'm not really squeamish about this because, if you’ll forgive a little wander down memory lane, back when I was a very little Kim growing up in the South Downs of Sussex our family kept goats. Two nannies called Emily and Suzy and a dangerously stupid billy called Charlie. Charlie was so dumb that one day while tethered to a tree he walked round and round until the rope bit into his neck and then kept on trying to go the way he’d been going until he fainted, fell over, and throttled himself. Quite a feat to strangle yourself, but Charlie pulled it off. Good country instincts of waste-not, want-not meant that when my brother and I got home from school we were confronted by the flayed corpse of a billy in the bath. It was, I recall, a little alarming and weird but our parents assured us that Charlie was soon to be turned into lots of very tasty curry and that we were not to worry. So we didn’t -and he was- and since then I’ve not been much troubled by butchery.
But anyroad, I was nonetheless a little baffled about why exactly these grisly goats' heads were grinning at me from the shopfront. So after about a week I did as all good foreigners should when confronted with the mysteries of the east and asked a local, in this instance my wife. She winced at the description but immediately had the explanation. Apparently a few kebab shops are under suspicion of catching cats and dogs for their skewers (chuan) and so the goat is there to vouch for the authenticity of the wares. Of course! And how much more persuasive than a certificate from the Health and Safety!
I wonder how this sort of customer assurance would go down in my hometown of Brighton? I guess a few people would faint, a few would vomit, and a few would think it was connected to satanic rituals and call their village priest/try to get a piece of the action. Health and Safety officials (fascists!) would froth at the mouth and have a stroke before shutting the place down, or maybe the whole lane down. England doesn’t do that sort of advertising any more, although Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall might be allowed to do it in his River Cottage on the telly. In any case, there would be no end of bleating about it – though not from the goat of course.
Anyway, it's a nice snapshot of the new/old China cheek by jowl. The gleaming skyscraper next to the medieval alley. Of which more soon…
Anyone coming for a goat kebab in downtown Dalian this weekend? I can promise it's fresh.