Thursday, September 17, 2009

Monkey Brains

(A story told by a friend)

So, I was working for a Chinese company a while back, and yes, all that you have heard about Chinese companies are true. This company, for example, deducted the minutes you overspent at lunch from your vacation time – and we are talking about salaried employees who came back from lunch five minutes late! While other small companies would distribute turkeys to their employees around Thanksgiving holiday, we had never seen one in our company. The closest thing to a turkey you’d see was probably the owner.

You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the sales manager changed the commission structure to make it harder for anyone to make any decent money either. But that would be a different story.

That’s why we were very excited when the owner announced that we would have a New Year’s company dinner at this renowned restaurant one year. “The company must be doing very well!” We discussed among ourselves. A little something at the back of our heads was nagging, “I wonder what the catch would be…” I was sure we would never hear the end of this meal under all sorts of unpleasant situations, but for now, we were going to have a great meal with our fellow abusees. The catch could wait.

The restaurant was decorated colorfully and exotically. It was a Chinese restaurant, of course. We were told by the owner that they had the best Chinese food in the Bay Area, and he was right for once. Everything was delicious. I couldn’t recognize a lot of them, and could name none. But I didn’t mind – these were the dishes you normally wouldn’t order simply because you had never heard of, nor had any idea what they were. We are talking about banquet dishes, not your chop suey nonsense. We were so grateful, and so full. Everyone went home for the weekend very happy and very satisfied.

The meal was such a high point in our employment that we were still talking about it after the weekend. I asked a coworker what the name of a delicious dish I had was. It was a rectangular piece of something soft and white, wrapped with a thin piece of seaweed, then lightly fried to a crispy outer layer, but soft inside. I had several of them because it had great texture and taste.

"Oh that! Wasn’t it delicious?” She said.
"Yes. I loved it. What was it?” I asked.
"It was very rare, very hard to come by, and very expensive. It was mainly for rich people.” She said.
"Really? Wow, I can’t believe he would spend that kind of money on us.” I was flattered by this prelude. Imagine: we had been treated with luxury by Uncle Scrooge!

"You know what’s inside?” She taunted me with suspense.
"No. Tell me!” My curiosity was killing me.
"It’s monkey brains!” She declared with pleasure.

I covered my mouth and ran outside, trying hard not to hurl on the carpet in the process. While nothing really came out (it had been two days, after all) I did think for a second whether I should go to the hospital and have my stomach pumped. I gagged some more before it stopped.

I returned to the office with cold sweat and weak knees, and murmured to the coworker, “I can’t believe he did that to us.”

And can you believe what she said next?

"I was just kidding! Monkey brains are way too expensive. He will never treat us with that! It was just tofu wrapped with seaweed, silly.”

If I wasn't so weak from all that gagging, I think I would've strangled her.


  1. I loved it, the ending I mean.
    working for the chinese for 5 years and my respect culture and people,. Your friend clearly had a shitty company she worked for, and I loove the prank the co-worker pulled.and brain is bland and left a wierd dryish pasty after taste.
    The insult of all the stories we've heard, had to be to embellish the tale. My former employer, who wasnt even so, he never hired me, just a call, would you deliver for me today, for 5 years, barely speaking to me when Im there, go hurry comeback is mostly all I heard.
    I cant work today car die. no problem, you drive mine. he would say. You have money fix car?
    without 5 second hesitation, I go in one day and say life sucks i need a new home. no money. How much you need? maybe 1,500 i donno. we talk tomorow, you drive? ok yea. next day, closing time, you say rent money you need? a minute later I have envelope 2 grand. in hand. I could run, he cant dock my pay, I dont get paid, chinaman gave white man 2k . I call you tommow? sure I drive for you. it took me 3 months to pay him back, he not once asked for 200 a week or 500, I gave him what i could when I could, weeks went by, he never had his hand out expecting some that night. just thought Id share that. the start of the story upset me a little. I like some memories I have :D

  2. wow, that is a good chinese boss/neighbor. you are lucky. i think my friend has some more horror stories about that company. i'll see if i can get them out of her... :)

  3. I'd love to read more. That was more about the mischivous co worker. It is fare to say chinese that I know are to say the least tightasses and stingy with money.
    And I have a few stories about saving pennies. But your friends broad stroke of "all the stories are true" What they eat, I got free dinner authentic chinese food. brains is nothing. Im eating something and the chefs are shocked Im eating it, white people no like this... Is somethig they said often, how racist eh :)
    they would ask if I like it , ofc I do yummy. You know what is?
    No and dont you dare Fn tell me either :D
    But some companies just suck, it just so happens this friends was one. Lastly No they dont all eat cats either :D

  4. no they don't eat cats. i think they prefer dogs. :)

    not all chinese are stingy, and yes, some of them can be racists. i guess the bottom line is they are just normal human beings with great cooking techniques.

    i love brains. just not monkey brains. i hope to see your stories on your blog soon. are you going to revive it?

  5. I've heard that the Chinese eat both cats and dogs. I've also read an online article about a guy who tried drunken shrimp in Shanghai, whereby you eat shrimp that are still alive, but are drowned in alcohol so they don't pinch you:

    That whole story made me roll on the floor laughing! Unfortunately, a lot of workers in Chinese companies are treated poorly, but usually its American companies squeezing Chinese offshore workers, not the other way around. I guess China will own us all soon! :P

  6. danny - thank you for stopping by. i'm glad you liked the story from my friend.

  7. Hahaha, brilliant story :)
    This really cheered me up on a dull Sunday morning :)
    Keep writing, I think I'll follow you!

  8. alxandria-thanks for stopping by. i'm glad it cheered you up. :)

  9. Very interesting experience. Indeed. I love indian and thai food but cannot trust chinese (sorry guys , nothing personal). I wonder why...
    Please keep on entertaining us with your lively way of writing


  10. thanks lorenza. i like different cuisines and would try anything once, but i don't think i want to try monkey brains. :) thanks for stopping by.



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