#435: The Egg Stares

February 6th, 2015

It’s late at night. The whisper of an air vent and the clatter of the keyboard forming these words are the only sounds.

An egg stares at me from my desk.

Two weeks ago, a friend and I ventured to Chinatown for an afternoon of dim sum. In a second-story restaurant with tanks full of the largest crabs not currently fighting Ultraman, we laughed and joked over buns, dumplings and our inability to eat either with the chopsticks provided.

We spent the next two hours wandering in and out of shops, taking in everything from $800-a-pound dried sea creatures for traditional medicine to bakeries that sold cookies made with pork.

At the candy shop, after trying and tasting almost every sample there, we pick up some of that candy wrapped in rice paper and a chocolate egg I noticed en route to the register.

A few days later, I was about to dive into my egg when I noticed a few English words scattered amid the Chinese label. I read the words, then set the egg on my desk, where it has been ever since.

It’s not a chocolaty delight, full of wonder and whimsy and mysterious spices that you wouldn’t think taste good in a candy but, you know what, maybe they’re onto something.

It’s an egg. A chicken egg from a chicken, soaked in what a Taiwanese import-export site later told me was called “unique marinade” until it turned chocolate brown.

It’s a room temperature, dark brown, soft-boiled chicken egg that’s been sitting on my desk for two weeks.

“40 years of experience heritage, the most authentic Taiwanese specialties were made portable package!” the import-export website says in English that, while terrible, beats the hell out of my Mandarin (which consists of speaking English slower and louder).

“Under CAS quality specifications, using exclusive stewed methods and strict selected recipes, insist not add preservatives and artificial flavorings. Using the unique marinade pickled, give a unique spicy taste to spiced egg, whatever with drinks or snacks, definitely worth to savor!”

I lean over to my desk and pick up the plastic-sealed egg, gently turning it in my hand. I think about Chinatown, that weird, wonderful place for expanding horizons. I think about new experiences, about courage, about taking the plunge and trying something that could be truly odd and wonderful.

What makes Chinatown special isn’t the restaurants or stores packed with waving cats and obese Buddhas. Those can be written away as tourist attractions, spots for cheap dates and Jewish Christmases.

What makes Chinatown special is the dentists and lawyers with signs in Chinese. It’s a reminder that this isn’t just a place to buy dim sum and weird candy — it’s a community where people live their lives.

They just do it in Mandarin.

Who’s to say this egg won’t be delicious? Who’s to say I won’t try it and love it so much I run down to the Red Line daily to get my fill? Who’s to say the unique spicy taste to spiced egg is not definitely worth to savor?

You know what? Maybe tomorrow.

I put it back on my desk, as I have every night for the last two weeks.

The egg stares at me for another day.

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You are currently reading #435: The Egg Stares by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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