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Drinking life in and not letting the bugs bug you

By Craig McIntosh | China Daily | Updated: 2011-11-22 11:21

I poured another cup of green tea for my girlfriend.

We'd been sitting in the restaurant for about 30 minutes. By that point I'd already consumed my body weight in fried lamb.

"What are you doing?" I asked, as she picked up a spoon and started fishing about in her cup.

It was the first time I'd noticed her doing it.

"Pulling out the dead insects," she replied.

I can usually tell when she's joking right away - she's a terrible liar - but on this occasion I visibly paused to check her expression. Nothing. Blank. Not a hint of humor.

"What?" I said after a couple of seconds. "Insects?"

"Yeah. This is a particular flower tea, and it usually has a lot of dead insects in it. I'm just getting them out."

She resumed her fishing.

Drinking life in and not letting the bugs bug you

Looking into my shallow cup, I instantly noticed at least three small, dead beings floating on the surface.

On closer inspection, one looked to be still moving. There was an insect swimming in my tea!

I rescued him (he struck me as male, for some reason) and carefully placed him on my side plate. I was wrong. He was dead.

I don't know why I thought an insect could survive a spell in a boiling-hot teapot.

Now, the question was whether I carry on drinking the tea knowing that it's effectively an insect cemetery.

You should know, I was a very picky eater as a child.

My mother hated cooking back then, so simplicity was key to any meal. My tastes have broadened considerably, but I still wouldn't say I'm adventurous with my menu selection. By which I mean I draw the line at insects.

Once, in my late teens, a friend who used to work in a British potato chip factory told me about the day he found a wasps' nest in a ceiling nook.

He was ordered to bash it down with a broom handle, but his supervisor refused to stop the conveyor belt directly below.

"Debris was falling on the belt, and I'm sure some bits ended up in packets," I remember him telling me.

I never ate that brand of potato chips again.

A few years later, I signed myself up for a Thai cooking class. I was in Thailand at the time, so I knew it'd be authentic.

What I didn't expect was that it would be an open-air cooking class. There was allsorts buzzing around us: mosquitoes, huge hornet-type things, birds.

So, inevitably, when I uncovered my little bowl of coconut milk, it was instantly dotted with half a dozen suicidal flies. (What a way to go: drowned in milk!)

"Um, miss," I called to the teacher.

"There are insects in my food."

"Oh, don't worry. That's just extra protein," she fired back, obviously well experienced in dealing with the complaints of idiot Westerners.

I have no doubt my face betrayed the same amount of embarrassment that day as it did in the restaurant.

The look in my girlfriend's eye was the same as the cookery teacher.

It said, don't be so soft!

So I kept drinking the tea.

I need the protein anyway.

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