We lived in Taiwan for a year after moving there in the fall of 1998. This is fifteen years ago, and much of the time is blurred, with vague memories of scooters, pollution, and people. But there are some moments that stand out, and make us laugh all these years later. A lot of them have to do with food (and a lot, oddly enough, include ketchup!)
Maybe it’s because the food was so unfamiliar and this was how we negotiated the major culture shock, or maybe it’s because we were in our (ahem) 20s and ate fast food more often than we do today, but we were in the habit now and then of hitting a burger shop now and then for a greasy fix. There was a McDonald’s a short scooter ride from our apartment, and so we went there now and again where Kieran ordered, as he always did at home, a “hamburger with just ketchup.”
Now bear in mind that a lot of times at home, fast food joints would mess up this order (often giving him everything BUT ketchup, or mostly just ignoring his request). So the idea of a Taiwanese fast food worker, whose English was minimal (and our Chinese pretty much non-existent) getting this particular order wrong was not surprising. So Kieran often ended up scraping off the pickles, mustard, and other tidbits off his burgers rather than go back to the counter and try, to explain through frenetic pantomime, just what he wanted.
One particular day, we attempted to put in this order. The staff person seemed to understand the request and the burger was procured quickly…maybe a little too quickly. Sitting down, Kieran took a bite, and then another. By bite number three he paused and pried open his burger. Yes, indeed, he got a burger with just ketchup. The worker had taken him literally at his word and smeared ketchup on the inside of the bun, pressed the bun together, and presented it to us…with no patty inside.
It took us about five minutes before we could control our laughter enough to finish our lunch, and Kieran didn’t have the heart to go correct the guy, since he had basically followed our order by the letter, if not the spirit of the law! In retrospect, we aren’t sure if the really funny part of this story is the order itself or the fact that it took Kieran a couple of bites to notice that there wasn’t actually any meat in his hamburger.
We didn’t document this particular moment, but did celebrate ketchup in the photo above.