It was a brilliant San Francisco morning, as I set out for Chinatown on foot. My calves stretched as I climbed the first hill under the famed pagoda. I wandered past the tacky souvenier shops with their dozens of boxed toy crickets chirping in unison. Looking (as I have done since I was seven) unsuccessfully, for my name "Ginny" among the racks of miniature personalized license plates and only coming as close as "Jenny." As I approached Stockton Street and the Asian markets -- the air began to change.
Chinese women and men of all ages shopping for their next important meal. A saavy, elderly woman with deep lines in her thin face selling live fish off an upside-down carton on the street. Greenbeans selected individually by exacting women. And then, the butchers...
In the iced glass cases, chicken feet, tongue, and whole ducks. On the floor, plastic tubs of slimy live turtles and frogs! I tucked myself into a corner of the busy store and observed a woman inspecting the live frogs. With her hand inside of a plastic baggie, she picked them up by their haunches and turned them over to inspect their white fat wet bellies and legs. I remained there discreetly, and like a game tried to determine the benchmark for the perfect speciman. White bellied or mottled? Energetic or quiet? Large or small? Chubby legs or muscular? I never caught on, but her final selection was handsome. Keeping with the California state law sign posted at the door, she brought them to the butcher to be killed. He placed the frog on the bloodied counter and with one important whack of his cleaver, chopped it's head off which was discarded. By hand, he then skinned the entire body in one motion, ripping to reveal the creamy, fleshy torso then legs. The butcher looked up from his table and began to whistle a familiar Shanghai tune. He and his two fellow workers were jovial and adept. I left the store knowing I had witnessed excellence.
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