This story goes to show that no matter where you are, poor (and occasionally dangerous!) business behavior will haunt you. I was visiting relatives in China with my immediate family, including my brother who was six at the time. My uncle who lived there knew all the best sights to see and restaurants to go to, and one night he took us to a place that was supposed to have great barbecued beef.
In China, rather than water, you are typically served some common tea as your complimentary beverage. When we asked for ice water, we would be given a bottle of water (along with extra charge), but we did not complain, since my mother in particular was not too confident about the state of China’s tap water. So as per usual, we sit down and my brother asks for water, while everyone else orders soft drinks or sticks to the tea. A few minutes later, the waitress returns with a bottle of water, uncaps it, and gives it to my brother. The adults are busy ordering, and I am the only one who notices him make an ugly face when he drinks it. When I ask him what’s wrong, he replies, “This tastes bad.” Noticing the label was a different color than the water bottles we usually get, I think that perhaps she has given him seltzer water or flavored water by mistake. I take a big swig and choke, spitting it out on the plate laying in front of me. The water tastes like cleaner fluid!
The adults finally notice us, and after I explain, my mother takes the bottle and takes a careful sip, also spitting the water back out onto the plate. She calls the waitress over and demands an explanation. Keep in mind that I am far from fluent in Chinese, so I caught only the general gist of what happened. The waitress apologizes and takes the bottle, promising to inquire about it. She comes out with the manager several minutes later (note: no bottle in sight), and the manager asks my mother to explain the problem. She has a quick temper, and she made her anger very apparent while retelling the story and demanding to know what was in the bottle, because unlike her and me, my little brother had swallowed a whole mouthful of that disgusting water. She points out that the bottle was already open when given to us and asked if maybe someone else used it. The manager replies that he did not see much wrong with the water. When my mother challenged him to show her why, he replied that it was gone. Essentially, he had disposed of the evidence, or at least told the waitress to!
Fortunately, we still have the water that my mother and I had spit out. Shoving the dish under the manager’s nose, my mother gets him to admit that there is definitely something abnormal about this water. Then she carefully pours the two mouthfuls of water into another empty bottle and takes it with her. She informs the manager that she intends to have the water tested and my brother seen in a hospital; if this restaurant has poisoned her son, she warns him, he will be sorry, both for that and for trying to cover it up. We leave immediately, ignoring his offers for a free meal, and spend the remainder of the evening driving around Beijing, trying to find a hospital that can see my brother and test the water.
Thankfully, my brother suffered no ill effects, but we were all terrified, because he was so young. Although I am not sure what was actually done, my mother informed me that the water had contained small amounts of some Lysol or bleach-like solution. The theory was that someone had used that bottle to hold Lysol/bleach for cleaning purposes, rinsed it out casually and filled it with water to drink later. Our waitress took the bottle and gave it to Kevin, covering up the fact that it had been opened already rather than simply turning around and picking up a new one. Very poor behavior on all counts, from employees practicing poor hygiene to attempting to erase mistakes off the record. At least the manager had the sense to offer us a free meal. I feel mean-spirited and nasty for thinking it, but I still hope that that restaurant went out of business, that the manager and waitress are in jobs in which they can do far less harm. Anyone who tries to make light of and hush up the possible poisoning of a six-year-old boy deserves much worse than that. 0327-09