Friday, January 23, 2004

Everybody's got something to hide 'cept for me and my monkey
I think most people have experienced what I call "movie moments."
A movie moment is when you're confronted with a situation that is so bizarre, untoward, sometimes shocking - anything from your significant other telling you that he/she is leaving you for a 12-year-old Angolan child soldier to maybe just a glimpse of your 257-lb. bus driver neighbor clad only in his brown socks - that your mind goes into a "remove" mode and pretends it's all only a movie.
I had a couple of those movie moments during my "Adopt a Barbarian for Chinese New Year Homestay Program" courtesy of my host, a man I whom I will call the "Strawberry King" because part of this portly, bullet-headed, flat-top cut man's wealth comes from strawberry farms. The Nelsons or Cleavers, this family wasn't. They weren't quite the Osbournes, either, but there were enough revealing details that showed me that pretty much all families are dysfunctional, whether they hail from from Shenzhen, China or Shelby, Mississippi.
Movie Moment #1: Setting: Qiu Family Breakfast table, 9:14 a.m., day after meeting the aggressively pleasant non-English speaking Strawberry King, his genuinely pleasant non-English speaking wife, also genuinely pleasant non-English speaking mother, pleasantly tongue-tied, virtually non-English speaking 18-year-old nephew, and engaging, English-speaking 16-going-on-26-year-old daughter, Joanne. (A prerequisite for Chinese host families was that at least one parent had to speak English).
I am reaching for another heaping helping of dried, salted fish to go with my rice porridge. Joanne has just finished tellling me about the three weeks she spent in the U.S. with a group of Chinese middle school students and how tired they were of eating milk and cereal for breakfast. I nod in polite, sympathetic agreement, and immediately begin craving a bowl of Count Chocula when the Strawberry King bursts in from the kitchen with an entire cold, roasted chicken - complete with head - in his bare hands and plonks it down on the table. Chicken grease and liquid ooze on to the surface from the impact.
Stravberry King: In Chinese, while fixing me with a demented grin. I can still smell the mao-tai (Chinese rocket fuel) and Remy Martin cognac fumes on his breath from the last night's "Welcome the Foreigner" party he hosted.BlahblahblahCHINESE HAPPY NEW YEARblahblabh!
Points at chicken. Smiles. Begins tearing chicken apart with his grease smeared hands, pieces of chicken flesh flyi round the table as Joanne, her cousin, mother and grandmother look on approvingly. He finishes by adroitly snapping and separating the neck and head from the body and placing it in front of me with its wilted, shrunken cocks comb and one black vacant eye socket glaring up.
Movie Moment No. 2:Setting: Qiu Family living room, 13 hours or so after the Chicken Dismembering.
Strawberry King is well in hisg cups after a "Farewell to the Foreigner" banquet we've returned from where he and his best friend, Mr. Ling, a SZ cop, tried to outdo each other by chugging entire wine glasses full of (at separate times) cognac, mao tai and very expensive bordeaux. Mr. Ling lost and was last seen doing a face plant into a plate full of fish bones, tofu, goose intestines and other culinary jetsam from the oily hot pot. I stuck with one beer and sipped half a glass of the bordeaux, despite their pleas to join in the fun.
Strawberry King, with Joanne's embarrassed translation, is telling me that he is "not a drunk." "He says drinking is his hobby," she says, laughing a little bitterly. "He wants to show you it is only a hobby."
With Joanne, her cousin, mother, grandmother and me in tow, the Strawberry King begins a tour of the home where his "hobby" is indeed revealed. First stop, three cabinets under the already fully stocked liquor cabinet. Inside are dozens of boxes of mao tai, designer cognac and bizarre sounding Chinese liquors. My favorite and one he is particularly proud of is something called "Bear gall premium herbal liquor."
It's expensively packaged and bottled and according to the Chinglish blurb contains bear gall from "premium black bears raised for theraputic health supreme in glorious times."
It also contains 40 percent alcohol and is recommended as a tonic for "inconviences and disability of liver, kidney, circulation, diabetics, gout."
Upstairs he opens three closets and two other large cabinets -- all stocked with more cognac. In one closet, which I am alarmed to see also contains a rifle leaning against the wall, he retrives and reverently opens a small suitcase-sized box of Remy Martin in a large crystal flask and urges me to hold it. I do so gingerly and then return it to him. Strawberry King smiles, hugs it to his chest, collapses into a chair and tells me via Joanne that it cost him 1,200 US dollars.
We leave him hugging Remy and troop downstairs to watch TV.
To be continued.
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