Thursday, 13 November 2014

Giving the cat a bath (Singapore)

Made the mistake, during my teens, of trying to wash the cat.  Hands, arms, paws, claws, water -- all over the bathroom, all over me, not to mention the meows and yeows (from me as well!).  Never again.

(Singapore 1960s)

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Party drinking Oriental style

The Japanese do not pour alcoholic drinks for themselves at a social meal.

The Koreans apparently go by the same rule, as I discovered at first hand.  A group of some 14 Koreans from the Housing Board had come to London to study the UK’s housing policy, and I’d “adopted” one of them when he came to the university to enquire about English lessons for his teenage daughter in his poor English and my help was enlisted.  When they were going back, they invited me and their English language teacher to their farewell party.  I was the only woman.  When the Korean chap on my left poured out my drink for me, I didn’t think anything of it, as I knew the Japanese do that.  After a sip, I put the glass down, but the chap urged me to finish it as the glass is needed.  This is unhygienic enough as it is, but to be pressured into finishing off one’s wine in order to free up the glass for one’s fellow diners is not my idea of fun.

The Chinese way of party drinking is for one person (from the host side) to raise his glass to the guest, say something like “Here’s to our friendship”, then down it in one go.  Some people will turn the glass upside down on their heads to show it’s empty; some will tilt the glass forwards to show the other person it’s empty.  Then, it’s the turn of the guest to follow suit — not only to drink, but to drain the contents in one go as well.  If you are at a banquet and make the mistake of going along with the first person’s invitation to drink, you will then need to do the same for the other eight diners at your table.  If you don’t, you will make them lose face (see blog entry Chinese hospitality etiquette 01), so you’ll be forced to do it for all nine fellow diners.  When they’ve all individually proposed a toast to you, it’s then your turn to return the toast to each of them in turn.  This means that they’ll each down their drinks twice (once when they propose a toast to you, and once when you return the toast), whilst you will down yours 9 x 2 times.

Linguaphone, a world famous teach yourself language course company, sold some English language course to China in the 1980s, then sent two employees out a bit later to find out what the Chinese thought of the course.  Let’s call them John and Robert.  It was John who told me the story.  John and Robert were treated to a banquet, and the usual toasts, of 茅台 máotái (54%–55%, made of wheat and sorghum), were proposed, individually by each of the eight Chinese.  Robert was a 14-pints-a-night drinker, and thought the little glasses of the water-like liquid most innocuous.  After 16 rounds of this fiery liquid, Robert was starting to eat the flower arrangement in the middle of the table.  The Chinese just love to get someone drunk, so they were nudging each other and laughing, “Look how red his face is!”  Stone drunk, Robert was a deadweight and had to be half carried back to his hotel room, by two men trying to prop him up with a hand under each of his armpits, feet dragging along the ground.

My boss, Dr. Page, Chief Geologist at Conoco Taiwan, was once invited, alongside the Vice President, Mr. Bolleter, to a Chinese banquet-style dinner by the state oil company, our partners in our exploration for oil.  Both men are American, drink bourbon, and 6’ 6” and 6’ 4” respectively, so the Chinese expected them to be serious drinkers.  The toast was first proposed to Mr. Bolleter as Vice President.  The drink served, kaoliang (高粱 gāoliáng), is made of sorghum, looks like water but is 54%–63% — its nickname is “Firewater of Taiwan”.  When the proposer of the toast downed his (spirit drink size) portion of kaoliang and tilted the small glass forward towards Mr. Bolleter, the latter thought, “That’s a small portion,” and downed his too.  Then, a flush spread from his neck up his face to his forehead, and his eyes were bloodshot.  The host side exchanged knowing looks and smiled.  The big tall American bourbon drinker was beaten by their kaoliang!

Dr. Page noticed that there was a potted plant next to him, so he chucked his kaoliang into the pot and replaced it with water.  When the toast was proposed to Dr. Page and he downed it in one go, the host side looked carefully for signs of the flush — none came.  Everyone was impressed.  A lot of machismo is attached to the ability to drink alcohol (equally to chilli eating).

Throughout the rest of the meal, Dr. Page matched each proposer glass for glass, and gained a lot of kudos.  I don’t know what happened to the plant.  Undoubtedly had a huge hangover the next day…

(The Orient)

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Bums, boobs and bellies (Prague)

In August 2011, I’d taken the long distance coach to Prague, and back.  In the 220811 journal entry, written immediately after I boarded the London-bound bus:

“Bums, boobs and bellies” will be the title of a new blog— it wasn’t exactly a scrum but people didn’t quite respect personal space as they boarded.

(Prague 2011)

Saturday, 1 November 2014

The reader in Ukraine

Someone in the Ukraine's been reading my blog posts.  Is that you, Simon de Cruz?  If so, a big wave from London.  If you're not Simon, still a big wave from London.  Thanks for reading my blogs.