National Day celebrates the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949. But don’t let the singularity of “day” fool you; National Day is typically a week long, and is sometimes referred to as “golden week.” It’s one of the two times Chinese workers have 7 straight days of holiday to go home and visit their families. It’s a time for fireworks and Chinese sight-seeing.
And the Chinese are serious about their sight-seeing. Bummed out about the line to get into the Washington Monument? Upset about the wait for Space Mountain? Those have NOTHING on Chinese tourist attractions during Golden Week. For real. Just see this photo of a shopping street in Beijing taken during this past year’s holiday.
see? want to see more? take a look at this cool little gallery of ‘golden week crowd insanity’ put together by the shanghaiist.
now, I say all this by way of explaining why I spent my national day on the roof of my buddy’s apartment slaughtering a chicken.
I mean, we weren’t about to go into the city! it’s crowded! there’s a lot of people and, I mean, you saw that photo! forget it.
so we did the next best thing. it’s actually something we’d talked about for a while. I mean, I spent two years in the peace corps and never killed anything bigger than a cockroach (granted, I must have killed thousands of them, but still…). And it’s really easy to pop by the local market and bring home a live chicken, duck, quail, etc. I even saw a guy on a motorcycle once, with a freshly slaughtered pig draped over the seat behind him. so why not, right? it’s a good experience.
or at least I thought it would be. I mean, no, it was. definitely. and I’m glad I did it. but it was a lot harder than I thought.
so first we had to do our homework. there were three of us, my peace corps buddy, his new sitemate who had just arrived in china a little over 3 months prior, and myself. and none of us had ever done this before. the sitemate grew up on a farm, and claims to have seen it done several times, but had never actually wielded the knife.. or hatchet.. or, geez, how DO you kill a chicken?
so we logged onto youtube. I’d had a good chicken/youtube experience in portland when my roommate and I learned how to clip a wing from a little 2-minute tutorial, so why not?
and youtube came through. there are all KINDS of how to slaughter a chicken videos, and we walked away with two methods.
first, you could nail two nails into a board, just wide enough for a chicken neck to sit between, stretch the bird across the length of the board, and use an ax of some kind to chop the head off (if you’re interested, check out THIS character from northwest ontario). option b includes hanging the bird upside-down from his feet, and slicing the jugular vein open in the neck with a knife.
both methods, you’re assured, are humane, quick, and easy. and we didn’t have nails or an ax, so we opted for plan b.
but first we needed to buy a chicken. the only real challenge here was first choosing the bird (“I mean, we’ll take that one I guess?”) and then stopping the woman before she killed it first.
I can communicate most things in chinese without tooo much of an issue, but what I can’t do yet is be subtle. so after a short laugh and a look of either respect or extreme suspicion, she handed over the bird alive.
we also needed a large chicken-sized pot. youtube told us that it’s easier to pluck the feathers out if you dunk the thing in boiling water for a second to loosen everything up.
so we put the live bird in the pot and carried it home.
once home, we tied the thing up with a rope we’d found outside and hung it from a beam on the roof of his apartment building.
this was the second issue we ran into. I see people going home with live ducks and chickens all the time. a day you don’t ride a bus next to a duck in a bag is a strange one. but what I hadn’t really considered is that while I see the birds being taken home all the time, I never see them killed. so where do they do this? in the street? presumably not, I’d never seen it. so, inside? surely no. so the roof of his 11-story apartment building seemed like our best option there. I mean we didn’t want people to see us and think we were weird or something..
so then I get handed the knife. I’m still not completely sure how it became my job, but everyone seemed pretty convinced.
which was fine. but, if you’ve ever seen me do anything I’m scared or unsure of, I can, admittedly, be a touch hesitant.
and I was definitely scared. I mean, I saw the youtube video, but still felt like I had no idea what I was doing. and I really didn’t wanna mess it up. and, I mean, it was killing something, and that’s weird.
soooo I might have hesitated a little. seriously, it was absurd. I must have walked up to the bird, taken a deep breath, and then backed out at least 30 times.
“jason, you ready this time?”
“yeah *exhale* I’m ready. hold the thing still. *deep breath* ok, one, two–ok wait! are we sure this is where I should cut??! there are so many feathers. I don’t know guys..”
went on for hours. finally I get my stuff together.
something that youtube didn’t emphasize, or perhaps something we didn’t really absorb, is the importance of a really really really sharp knife. cause I took three tries with the sharpest kitchen knife we had and got no where. the third time I nicked him and we decided that something needed to be done.
so we took him down while someone ran to get a cutting board and butchers knife. after another minute or two of getting my act together, I held the chicken’s head in my hand just off the edge of the board, my buddy stretched it’s body out over the length of the thing, and I came down as hard as I could with the knife.
and it worked! a giant pool of blood formed on the board and after one more whack the head was clean off.
there’s a photo of this too, but I’m gonna leave it at the end of the post, as it’s a bit graphic. so instead, here’s a picture of how thrilled I was at finally having succeeded. kinda say it all, doesn’t it.
with that part done, we hung the thing back up to let the rest of the blood drain out and went downstairs to start boiling the water.
luckily no one from the building happened to pop by the roof at all during this whole process. THAT would have been weird.
it turned out that the water wasn’t really necessary for most of the bird. the feathers came out pretty easily until we got to the wings. we dipped it into the water a bit and the rest came out.
next was gutting it. again, we turned to youtube for this too, and it more or less worked.
we cut a hole toward the bottom of the bird, broke through the skin and this clear lining that seems to hold everything in, and then started grabbing and (gently) pulling. some of it came out easily, some of it you really had to pull, and eventually the thing was empty.
from this point we turned the naked, empty bird over to the fourth member of our team. the college my buddy teaches at happens to be a culinary school, and there’s a foreign student from peru who studies chinese cuisine. we gave him a call and wished him good luck.
we started cutting vegetables while he took it back to his apartment and turned it into cuts of meat that we were familiar with. he was back in half an hour and had even saved the feet
we made a chicken curry, an egg and veggie dish, and our friend made kung pao chicken. it was all really really good.
granted, perhaps because of all my hesitation, it was going on 11pm or so by the time we sat down to eat, so we were hungry. but there was definitely a feeling of accomplishment in the room; we were proud! had there been any food left, we might have taken some back to the chicken lady at the market and showed off our victory. or even snapped a photo or two of the meal. but we were all too hungry..
and there you go. that’s basically it. that’s the time I killed and ate a chicken in china. happy national day, everyone
…once it was finally done: