Wednesday, August 29, 2007

...and I shall be thinner in the morning...oh, wait, that doesn't work.

SW is back in the Philippines after a very interesting first visit to China. The holiday component was excellent -- thanks to AD, SD, BS and EF. The work component went well and every single person I met was welcoming and friendly.

A few memorable moments, in no particular order:

1) On Beijing subway:

Chinese woman says to me, totally out of the blue: “I don’t think you play any sports. Because you have a very big belly.”

Me: Uh…thanks.

Her: When I look at it I think of a baby inside it!

Me: Uh…I DO play sports. I just eat a lot too.

Her: You should exercise because you are handsome, but your belly is big.”

Me: I DO exercise!

NOTE: for any of you who don’t know me, I’m actually very svelte. It’s true that, in the wrong light and at the wrong angle, it might APPEAR that my belly does protrude a little more than one would expect given my athletic stature. Note also that it was just after a big breakfast and, as a large man (6’5”; 195 cm), I NEED to eat a lot. Not that any of you little people out there would know. Or care. At around 100 kg, I sit right on the upper end of the healthy range of the body mass index, I’ll have you know. Yet you teeny weeny fools would have me get by on a couple of dry crackers and a carrot. Exile’s too good for you. And I DO exercise most days, too.


2) Being forced to skull little glasses of this LETHAL Chinese spirit (50+% alc/vol; I saw one bottle that was 56%) at dinners AND lunches. The custom is to show respect by cheers-ing people around the table and downing the booze. My compromise was that I’d only have a couple of shots of the hard stuff and then stick to beer. It was weird getting tipsy every day at work lunches.

3) The spitting (more of a lowlight really). I know one must be open minded etc in other cultures and, consequently, I can more or less handle the spitting in the street (and the attendant hocking up of phlegm that precedes the spit). But I really struggled with the spitting onto floors in restaurants. Only a couple of guys did this, each at a different lunch. We’d be sitting there, then a cough, then turn 45 degrees and spit past the waitress onto the floor. The second day it happened, the floor was carpeted too (which somehow makes it seem worse).

4) Trying turtle (not a highlight, really, but memorable). They were cooked and served whole; you pulled the carapace off and dug around for the edible bits inside. The meat really did taste like chicken. Really. It seemed to me like a lot of work (each of us was given a clear plastic glove to help us pull it apart to eat it) for little reward. Admittedly, I just ate the meat (about a teaspoon’s worth I reckon) and left the innards alone, being the softcore person I am when it comes to innards.

5) At the same lunch, the carpet spitting guy drinking so much of the liquor that he threw up at the table as we were finishing up (not technically a highlight, either).

6) The tofu in the city of Fengtai (Anhui Province), renowned for its tofu. I like some forms of tofu, but not all (not so keen on the really spongy and really sloppy stuff). I wouldn’t by any means call myself a tofu freak. But the tofu in Fengtai – several different varieties – was awesome.

And, because I care, here is a photo I took in the Forbidden City in Beijing:

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