Running a Red at your own Risk

Passable food

Like a traffic light, the three-color coded health inspection notifications posted in Shanghai’s eateries direct diners when to go in and when to stop at the door.  For tourists, these boards help to quickly settle the question of, “Do you think it’s safe to eat here?”

For locals, this question isn’t answered by public notifications. On this side of the plate, the boards make little to no difference for most Chinese patrons.

These sanitary indicators are still absent from many restaurants in Shanghai and yet they are still packed to the last corner seat during meal times.

Nonetheless, people are still willing to share seats with strangers at these establishments to get some steamedxiao long bao or freshly pulled Lanzhou lamian.Perhaps word of mouth is particularly favorable or the perhaps blind faith has taken control.

.After crossing that border, if you happen to find a stray hair or get a serious case of the diarrhea, well, those are just the cards that you were dealt.

What’s most surprising to me is that the government doesn’t shut down the restaurants marked with the frowning red face that indicates failure. You wouldn’t let an unlicensed ophthalmologist make your glasses or jump in a cab with a driver who couldn’t steer his car past a traffic cone, so why would you place your diet in the hands of a cook who probably hasn’t washed his hands since some air conditioner water dripped on him at a bus stop?

These upstanding establishments often mask their defunct diploma or place it in an inconspicuous spot in the restaurant. That way, diners won’t have to consider what kind of gruel they’re willing to swallow until they’re just about to close the bill.

The neutral yellow face yields a “pass” in English, but in Chinese it’s simply graded as 一般 yiban, or “ordinary.” You can argue that the translation is close enough, but to me passing usually means going beyond the quota, not just squatting on the surface.

And then there is the green smiley face, especially reserved for those restaurants bearing quality sufficient enough to be deemed “excellent.” So far every Starbucks I’ve walked into in Shanghai bears this grade along with those Chinese restaurants posh enough to buy their way out of an accidentally placed lizard head in the salad bowl. Besides these, there are few others that meet the cut.

Keeping your stomach safe is not always an easy task, but to most that’s just a simple reality of life. Official notifications in the form of public praise or admonishment can be used to steer clear of health risks, but much like traffic lights, they aren’t listened to anyway.

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