A pair of straight wooden, plastic or bamboo sticks used by most asian people as an eating utensil. Most caucasians cannot properly use chopsticks, although they can learn. I was lucky enough to have a Japanese tutor early in my life.


More on chopsticks:
Contrary to popular american opinion chopsticks were not used by asian cultures because they "hadn't invented the fork". In actuallity the chinese had the fork long before the europeans (early europeans ate almost exclusivly with just a knife and spoon). The use of chopsticks is primarily cultural. Most asian cultures found spearing and carving up food at the table to be a barbaric practice. All food was served "ready to eat" already in bite-sized peices. Chopsticks were considered an elegant and (more importantly) civilized way to eat ones meal. I am inclined to agree. I find eating with chopsticks preferable to knife and fork. I also live in a community where it is not uncommon for westerners to be seen eating with chopsticks, however I have impressed a few people (my girlfriend included) with my chopstick skills. One japanese friend of mine said "Damn Eli you use those things pretty well for a gaijin!".

Barbarians eat with their hands
Europeans eat with forks
and civilized people use chopsticks

-Chinese saying
(at least according to my friend Terry)

In Thailand people did not use chopsticks for eating until fairly recently; traditionally, they used their hands. Today, however, only sticky rice is still eaten with the hands. Chopsticks are mostly used for consuming noodles (pad thai, noodle soup, and so on); I find this a little perverse, as slippery noodles are among the more difficult foods to eat with chopsticks. Jasmine rice, served curries, stir fries, and the like, is eaten with a spoon. A typical table setting in Thailand will provide the diner with a fork and a spoon; the spoon is the main utensil, and the fork is just used for pushing food onto the spoon. It may feel odd to you at first, but I quickly became habituated to using a spoon, and feel weird now if I have to eat rice with a fork.

So when you go to your favourite Thai restaurant for rice and tasty accompaniments and they bring you chopsticks, know that this is not traditional at all; they're just tired of silly farang asking for chopsticks in an ill-advised attempt to be authentic.

The use of a spoon and a fork for eating, as opposed to the hands, was at one point encouraged by the Thai government. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Phibun Songkram in the 1930s and 40s, the government attempted to solidify and legislate what "Thai-ness" should entail. Songkram's cultural reforms aimed at remaking the exterior of the Thai people into a form that was basically western in origin. The government tried to mold publicly visible performative aspects of Thai-ness like etiquette, dress, hygiene, and comportment, to resemble "civilized" western norms. Thus people were advised by public education campaigns to use a spoon and a fork to eat, wear western-derived clothing (pants, shirts, and hats for men, skirts, bras, and blouses for women), wash well, and be quiet and polite in public. The reforms reached an absurdly invasive level: men were exhorted to kiss their wives good-bye before going off to work, and extend a similar greeting on their return. (Thai do not traditionally kiss as farang do, instead holding their cheek against their loved one's cheek and sniffing; a "Thai kiss", one Thai friend calls this.) Though these government policies were much hated and mocked at the time, many of them were ultimately successful: Thai people today do, by and large, use western utensils for eating and wear western clothing.


Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian's interesting biography of Phibun Songkram, Thailand's Durable Premier: Phibun Through Three Decades 1932-19, has fascinating details about his policies and the ideas that lay behind them.

Chopsticks' origins are shrouded in mystery, an inscrutable genesis residing in stuff of legends. These two sticks that are used for Asian eating utensils, made out of any material available were an invention of necessity.

Eons ago there was an Emperor of China who was so paranoid about revolt and assassination against his regime and life put forth an edict: Metal utensils, or any implements thus made, were absolutely forbidden -- to use or own!

The Chinese developed the planets' oldest civilization and they certainly disdained eating their food with their hands: so thus the chopsticks were created!

Now the other theory promotes this as a story told the increasingly pushy "foreign devils" for the purpose of pulling the wool (or maybe silk in this setting) over their eyes after guest continually irritatingly put forth the inquiry of these utensil's beginnings.

Another interesting factoid concerning chopsticks concerns etiquette behavior that is expected -- if one wants to exhibit their good manners and upbringing. This is performed by one diner taking a morsel of food off one's plate and then placing it in the other diner's mouth. Westerners' who participated in this food sharing with forks would not "gain face" by emulating this, but maybe lose their meal.

Source: Strange Customs, Manners and Beliefs A. Hyatt Verrill; 1946

"Chopsticks" is one of the most famous and most-performed pieces of piano music in the world. Although you might include it in a list of "The playing of the following four songs anywhere near a pianist is prohibited", only the most boring and heartless person should sneer at it. The simple tune has brought pleasure to countless children, often being the first piano piece they master. It is far more fun than the monotonous dirge "This is C, Middle C, Left hand, Right hand, Middle C" with which I began my formal piano education.

As befits its simplicity, "Chopsticks" was not written by a famous German with big hair, but by a sixteen year old British girl, Euphemia Allen (1861-1949) in 1877. Perhaps in a desire to be taken more seriously, it was published under the pseudonym Arthur de Lulli. Sadly, this was the only work by Allen (or de Lulli), and little else is known about her.

The title of Allen's composition does not relate to oriental eating tools (although its unusual harmonic structure may recall non-Western music to some listeners). Rather, the word "chop" relates to the motion of the player. The instructions on the original piece read: "play with both hands turned sideways, the little fingers lowest, so that the movements of the hands imitates the chopping from which this waltz gets its name." For this reason, the tune was originally called "The Celebrated Chop Waltz", and was known in Russia as "The Cutlet Polka".

"Chopsticks" has been performed by a large number of professional artists, often in a spirit of parody, but sometimes in simple joyfulness. Liberace recorded it, and it is available on his compilation "The Legendary Liberace". Techno band Orbital have also included it in their live set. Classical composers have produced variations on the piece, including Alexander Borodin, who composed variations for his daughter Galia. These were published alongside contributions by Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov as "Paraphrases on the Cutlet Polka". Allen's original piece can be found in many books of children's piano music.


Sources:

Ditty Box Enterprises, "Euphemia Allen", Composers of Recorder Music, http://www.grainger.de/music/composers/allene.html, viewed December 12, 2002.

Esther Kathryn, "The Origin of 'Chopsticks'", Unitarian Universalist Church of Winnipeg, http://www.uuwinnipeg.mb.ca/articles0202.htm, viewed December 12, 2002. (Includes references to authoritative sources.)

Stump Me, "Stump Me Questions Answered in December 2000", Mindless Crap, http://www.mindlesscrap.com/stumpme/12-00.htm, viewed December 12, 2002.

Ian Watson, "Well-Rounded: Orbital / µ-ziq, Albert Hall, London" from Melody Maker, May 25, 1996, reproduced at http://www.songtwo.demon.co.uk/orbital/ofm.html, viewed December 12, 2002.


This write-up is definitely not a part of Everything Quests - Classical Music

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