Wednesday, December 09, 2015

One of a million: Old bean, Changyu brandy and the cursed Japanese.

It comes with countdowns that the seconds seem more precious. I haven't blogged much in the last few years but there have been a million blogs that were unwritten because living abroad is not only a special time with so many insights and thoughts but is also a time where there isn't as much leisure to write, especially when you're censored off from the world. (I remind you that blogspot is actually blocked from China. I send my blogs by e-mails, which has a nice similarity to the foreign correspondents of old who telegrammed their stories in. If there is repetition in my content, it's because it's quite difficult to check past writing.)

I may have talked about Old Bean, which is the literal translation of how I call my father-in-law, 老豆. It's a casual name of "father" in Cantonese. My wife calls her father this and her mother "婶"(aunt) which is quite strange to a western ear. Old Bean, even by countryside standards, is a simple man. He's been told recently to cut back on alcohol, but previous to this I'd drunk a lot of alcohol with him, most of which was Changyu three-star brandy. It sells for less than five New Zealand dollars (at the current exchange rate) for a 40% alcohol in a 700 mL bottle. Unfortunately for all other wines, this is the value standard that everything is compared against. We bought Maotai, China's most famous baijiu, so famous that it's a metonym for foreigners for all baijiu, for his 66th birthday and he could not even fathom appreciating it because no matter how good it was, the price was almost certainly beyond that of Changyu that he appreciated on a daily basis. Simply put, price affects his sense of taste. Without it being at the right price, there is no appreciation.

But that's the way he is. Having drunk with him for over 5 years, I know his habits at the table. In my Qingyuan world at dinner you rarely drink from your glass without chinking it with everyone. But picking your time to chink, or detecting when someone else wants to chink, becomes the skill. Even when increasingly inebriated, you should have your wits about you because someone's hand might go onto the table and rest aside their glass indicating that thirst has arrived and that quenching is required. Pouring is another thing. The younger the person, the more incumbent pouring is and to judge how much to pour in relation to the responses of the pouree. And once we stop drinking brandy, switching onto tea. (Hydration is important!) It's the kind of ritual I'll miss.

Old Bean's family has been impacted by Chinese modern history, and history is frequently a topic at the dinner table - more history than any western family could recite and discuss casually with little notice. Yesterday at our kaufu's house (our maternal uncle), the topic of both the starting emperor for the Han Dynasty (Liu Bang) and the War of Resistance against Japan in WWII came up. The latter came up again over lunch today. Of course it was much less abrupt here: there was a Chinese wartime drama on TV, Changsha Defense Force. Chinese wartime drama is not a fine artform: they often rely on exaggerating Japanese wartime atrocities (as if it were required), disregarding history and overemphasising the amazing abilities of the Chinese soldiers who slaughter the Japanese with cathartic glee. (Have a look at either of these if you need to see for  yourself: I've had two moments to look at these dramas in the last week. The first was The Pretender, a popular series usually beyond the ridiculousness of the ones mentioned in those links, but still had the childish cowboyesque moments where there enemy is shooting and hitting nothing while the hero pokes out behind a small rock and nails five in between the eyes in short time. Soon as I see this my sense of appreciation, just like Old Bean's, switches off. No matter how good it is, I can't stomach it.

The one on TV for lunch was a little different: It represented the KMT (国民党) positively. Saying that is simple but it was the kind of theme that floors even a casual viewer like me. Historical interlude: KMT, the Nationalist party of China, was the power after the Qing Dynasty was overturned and the Republic of China began. But then the Communist Party rose and then the Japanese invaded. Part of the reason for the Japanese success in invasion was no doubt because the two forces, the established KMT and the Communist Army had mutual distrust. After the bombs fell in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end Japan's imperial aspirations, the KMT and the Communists fought it out with the Communist Party and Mao prevailing in 1 October 1949. The KMT wasn't vanquished though. They headed off to Taiwan where their successors still are, happily ruling in what eventually was a successful democracy with fisticuffs on the parliament floor.

In a censored, controlled media like China, KMT though are corrupt, foolish, doomed and evil, only marginally better than the Japanese, but only in that they were not inhuman and inhumane. And then suddenly, out of the blue, there is a TV show that shows them dutifully defending the Hunan provincial capital of Changsha. We all dropped our chopsticks at the thought. And then had a drink.    

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