Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
You could identify the shrimp and you could guess the huge fish was a carp and beyond that you just put a little of everything on your plate and congratulated yourself an hour later for trying the whole thing.
The food at the People's Republic of China celebrations is famous, and an old Moscow hand said that capital almost went to pieces when the traditional anniversary feast was canceled one year.
Well, in Washington they didn't fling open the doors, but the 150 guests invited to celebrate the government's 28th anniversary Monday night were treated to about 20 different dishes. Not to split hairs, they were all superb except one pastry that runs contrary to all Western notions of ovencraft; but the vegetables in particular were glorious, shredded and perhaps parboiled and firm and sweet and peppery.
Occasionally some old friends, such as a green pepper, was identified in a mixture, but mainly the pork and other meats were seasoned with inscrutable finesse by ancient gods, no doubt, and the carp - a fish very little understood in this town - appeared whole in a rich brown glaze. The speed with which it was reduced to a skeleton was a lesson to those who think cold salmon is the thing to serve.
Huan Chen, chief of the mission here, received guests in a lobby hung with remarkable long narrow landscape paintings thick with pheasants.
You proceeded immediately to a bar where such Chinese delicacies as Coca-Cola and pineapple juice were served, and then sat down in an improvised movie theater to see documentaries.
Unlike some of the others shown earlier by the People's Republic, on acupuncture, marine life and art treasures recently found in tombs, these films showed Chairman Hua visiting earthquake sites and receiving ovations everywhere he went. The point of the film was to show the nation is mad about Chairman Hua, and another film announced that Mao's widow and her cohorts were terrible people whose evil had been exposed, leaving the country to progress and flower under the new Chairman Hua.
Lyen as propaganda films, they seemed a bit heavy-handed but one delightful segment showed some soldiers sitting around the barracks lost in wonder at a picture of Jimmy Carter.
The room was banked along one wall with great masses of flowers, with the gift cards attached, and while most of them were inscribed in Chinese, you could see cards from people with International Harvester, Deere & Co. and Ralph Brown Buick - a straw in the wind, perhaps.
Mr. aide said many of the guests represented corporations that do business in the People's Republic, especially in the steel, masonry and lumber industries.
Others were from groups friendly to the People's Republic, such as Ed McGonagle, a member of the U.S.-China People's Friendship Association, which seeks full diplomatic and commercial relationships.
Among the things he noticed on a visit this year to Peking and other cities were railroad ties and telephone poles made out of concrete.
At one table for four (Western style) sat eight diners, including Tony Corn of San Francisco, a silk importer who honeymooned with his wife, Tracy, in China, and Ed Scott, with the District of Columbia's environmental services, and his wife who is a secretary with the D.C. school system.
Corn and Peng Chin-Po, an official of the liaison office of the People's Republic, both had had heart attacks, and the conversation turned to medicine. A briliant-eyed woman, Li Kuo-Chen, was at first thought to be a physician, but thanks to her excellent English it turned out she was "just a housewife" and married to Peng.
"Are you healthy?" she asked an American. "No pains around the heart?You are eating sensibly, not too much and not very much fat."
Every minute or two everybody clinked thimble-sized glasses of sweet red wine, somewhat like Mogen David.
It was thought unusual, but permissible, to clink glasses with a cup of tea. An affable air prevailed, with the Chinese insisting their American guests were not eating enough (a flat lie, however graciously intended) and some, not used to eating on any such scale, waddled a bit for the first hour or so.
Some of the Chinese liaison office officials got up to help put plates on the trays of the waiters who cleared the tables, and all of the Chinese wore the customary grayish uniforms of their culture.
Upon leaving the eight-story building that used to be the Windsor Park apartment hotel, there was a tremendous amount of handshaking, as at a French christening, and a man unlocked the front door to let you out and the feast was over.