Shopping at the market was going well – that is, until it came to the eggs. I (Kevin) was walking up and down the narrow street, looking side to side. Who should I buy from? Buckets were full of eggs: white eggs, tan eggs, dark brown eggs, light blue eggs … blue eggs? I was initially going to reject the pale blue eggs, but then I saw an older woman, alone with only a small box of eggs. Surely she needed business.
“I want 10,” I said, handing her a 10 yuan (dollar) bill. That is equivalent to $1.75. Since eggs are cheap, I figured she would give me back a lot of change. Instead, she carefully bagged up 8 eggs and pocketed the 10 yuan.
I stood there, quietly, thinking. My purchase of 8 eggs should not have cost so much. Maybe she had just forgotten to give me change.
“8 eggs?” I said. “I gave you 10 yuan. I wanted 10 eggs, and I …” I couldn’t remember how to say I needed change.
The woman looked at me, puzzled, and then she rattled off a long discourse of very important sounding words. She spoke with passion. I’m sure I looked completely dumfounded because in fact, I was. I did understand her say the words “10” and “8,” but that knowledge didn’t help me in the least. Also not helpful was the fact that several people had now gathered around us. A man joined in the lengthy discourse, adding emphasis and volume to what the vendor had told me. I think he thought I was hard of hearing.
Part of me just wanted to leave – forget about the money and leave. And really, I should have done that. Instead, I took out 1 yuan. I was beginning to fear that in fact, I owed an additional 8 mao (15 cents) than I had already paid. While that notion seemed crazy to me, maybe the blue eggs had come from something different than a chicken. Maybe the blue eggs were extra expensive because they came from some kind of exotic bird. That might explain the reason behind the passionately long discourse.
When I showed the 1 yuan bill, everyone got very quiet. The vendor stared at me – a mixture of disbelief and frustration. “Oh, Lord,” I prayed.
The woman grabbed the bill, took another egg out of her box and threw it down into my bag. I exhaled, imagining the insides of the blue egg running over the bananas and apples. But after a moment, I nodded and said, “Thank you.”
I walked away before checking the contents of my bag. I really didn’t want to look, but I needed to. To my pleasant surprise, I saw that the egg was intact. But it did have a dent. Suddenly, I had an epiphany. Raw eggs break; boiled eggs dent. I had purchased boiled eggs. 8 boiled eggs for 10 yuan … though now, I had 9 boiled eggs for 11 yuan. Goodness.
But I decided to make the best of things and started peeling the shell. When I took a bite of the egg, my face contorted. I can’t remember tasting anything so salty. It’s hard to provide an adequate description, but I can say, the egg journeyed to the nearest trashcan.
With the remaining 10 blue eggs, I made a center piece for the coffee table. Why not? Maybe our friend who was coming to visit would like to eat them for breakfast. So this morning, I offered them to Doreen, but she graciously declined. She explained that salty boiled duck eggs are only eaten with porridge. Otherwise, she said, “Too salty.”
If there's any grace in it all, it's this: when I saw the woman with the eggs again, she returned my greeting with a smile. Who knows what God can do with a salty batch of boiled blue duck eggs? I'll just have to learn enough Chinese to find out.