A plate of scorpions from your mother-in-law

What would you do if your mother-in law gave you a plate of scorpions?

This happened on my first visit to meet the parents of my then-girlfriend, now-wife, Xiaofang. They come from Henan province in central China – the birthplace of Chinese civilisation and one of the undiscovered gems which every Western tourist should visit. The ancient sites include Xinzheng, the birthplace of the Yellow Emperor who reigned from 2698 BC, Kaifeng, one of the ancient capitals of China and the White Horse Temple, the first Buddhist temple in China (named after the horse which carried the Buddhist scrolls from India).

The famous sites in Henan also include Shaolin, the home of Kung Fu, and on the relevant October day all those years ago, we were making a trip day there from Zhengzhou, the capital of the province. I was already slightly spooked out by my future father-in-law’s habit of coming to our hotel room, sitting in a chair in the corner, smoking, and staring at me. I can’t blame him for treating me with suspicion – as future son-in-law material, I was almost certainly failing in at least 8 of the 10 most important characteristics which the Chinese parents of a beautiful and highly marriageable daughter might look for in a prospective family member.

The scorpions made their appearance at an open-air lunch on the way up the mountains to Shaolin. I couldn’t exactly describe it as a restaurant, because there didn’t seem to be anyone else there apart from us, and it didn’t seem to have a roof. It was more like a dusty car park next to a farm building, with an outside water tap over a bucket to wash your hands in. But somehow they seemed to magic up dozens of dishes, with the scorpions (fried) in pride of place.

I’m sure my wonderful mother-in-law took at least a small amount of enjoyment from watching my discomfort. But actually, the scorpions weren’t at all bad. (As you’d expect, they were both spiky and somewhat meaty.) And she is certainly a master at combining generosity, fun and a sense of theatre – something we can all learn from.

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