My year of chicken bus travel didn’t fully prepare me for chicken sashimi.
I’m still a rube at international business travel, which makes up in interest what it lacks in opportunities for sloth. The locals have to talk to me, for one thing, instead of politely looking past me like the grubby backpacker I still am at heart. Better yet, they get to choose my menu. Instead of noodle stands and Mr. Donut, there are yakitori business dinners, in which a whole, dismembered chicken is served to each guest over a ten courses, starting with chicken sashimi and working through skin, gizzards, liver, and lights to the feet. These were well-bred Japanese chickens, which probably had their own electric backside-washers, just like the Westin. Not one of the skewers tasted bad, but the squeamies made it gruelling. Was it guts or culture that revolted against chicken sashimi? No matter: when a Wonderbread dinner guest loudly Ewwwwwed each skewer, I felt obliged to make a good show. My host was a delightful Japanese man, who had learned English many years ago when a packaged-goods company brought him to suburban California for remodelling as an American marketer. He was a good guide to the equally exotic worlds of Tokyo business culture and giant multinationals, and for him I would stare down chicken faces. It reminded me of Alexandra Fuller’sta struggle to explain in Mozambique that she is vegetarian “…in a part of the world where the opportunity to eat a whole rat is a rare treat for millions of people.” As I dipped a skewer of chicken ovaries into the plump, raw yolk that might have been their last project, my colleague S. quietly passed me her undrunk beer to get it down. That’s teamwork.
The next morning, my hotel room smelled like chicken. S., K., and I swapped slightly hysterical emails about a lunchtime trip to Hermes to check out the new ChickenBirkin bag.