The Kitchens of Canton, a novel. Ch. 1: New Gary, IN

广州厨房印章-01

Jeff Malmquist is unaccountably flung into the near future to Gary, Indiana, now New Gary, a labor camp of a million Chicagoans. Their identities have been hacked and falsely incriminated as sex offenders and pedophiles, through the collusion of corrupt US politicians, the Russian cyber-mafia, and the Chinese Government (which runs the USA behind the scenes). Just as unaccountably, Malmquist is simultaneously thrust to the same near future into a full-scale replica of Ancient Rome, constructed in China for the wealthy country’s amusement. It is manned by a million Italians hired for the purpose, or so they believed until they found themselves serving their Chinese masters in the New Rome as slaves. As Malmquist struggles to orient himself in these nightmare urban labyrinths, he uncovers a code that enables telepathic communication between the two cities. The seeming solution to the code plunges him two millennia into the past, actual Ancient Rome, from which he extricates himself only by being shot once again into the future. But it is not the same future. The Chinese Empire rules the world. Malmquist is in Amsar (American Special Administrative Region), a vast slave colony that was formerly the nations of the Western hemisphere. If caught, he will be transported to Canton, the most opulent city the world has ever known, for the direst fate yet…

American Rococo

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American commercial architecture is defined by clean lines and open space.

There is a highly sensuous quality to the American retail experience, whether easing a toasty warm Potbellian sandwich or a Culver’s fudge pecan frozen custard sundae into your mouth, navigating the wide aisles of a Walmart (designed for people hooked up to oxygen canisters in their mobility carts), or perusing the apparel and guns at an outdoor recreation chain such as Gander Mountain. The latter’s elegant gun displays behind glass cabinets are laid out with the patient precision of a history museum curator. The hushed church-like atmosphere of the store, the combat green industrial carpeting, the wide wiggle room between the clothing carousels (reducing your risk of bumping into a customer with a concealed weapon), the durable feel of the fabrics’ weave in the fingers, the astonishing variety of pockets, the stylish camouflage patterns on everything from rifles to sunglasses, and the great deals ($5 for a genuine Australian Akubra hat) – all conspire to make shopping intensely satisfying, even for types who don’t normally enjoy shopping like myself.

The question of breeding (why foreign men get the “ugly” Chinese girls)

 

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A recent article in the The Nanfang (“Answering the age old question: Why do foreigners marry ugly Chinese girls?“) gives me occasion to address a conundrum I too have long pondered—particularly as the author, Charles Liu, devotes a scant 375 words to the topic, excluding his quotations of Xu Xiliang, the Chinese female journalist who first posed the question in the magazine iFeng Beauty. Liu doesn’t moralize to the extent Xu does on the “materialism” of Chinese society that fosters superficial glamour over inner beauty, but he implies as much in his avoidance of any coherent statement of his own. The cover photo too is mystifying, featuring an attractive Chinese woman where I would expect to see a plain-faced one, perhaps with a certain sex appeal (such as the lovely lady above).

Countless interracial couples have I witnessed over my two decades in China, usually white guys and Chinese females but not a few black guys and Chinese females as well, along with your occasional Chinese guy and white female (I have yet to see a Chinese guy and a black female). The run of Chinese women I have seen with foreign men have been ordinary looking. So were the men they were with. Not terribly surprising, given that most people are ordinary looking. I mean, what are your chances of landing a beauty in any country?

The many faces of Chinese “face”

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APATHY AND INDIFFERENCE

I begin my discussion with something that might seem unrelated but which turns out, on further analysis, to be the other side of the coin needed for an understanding of Chinese face, and that is the intriguing phenomenon of Chinese apathy.

Take the Beijing subway. We see the grim parade passing through the cars, the able-bodied leading the blind or crippled, singing or lamenting through portable loudspeakers to cut through the noise, alone or in pairs one after another, spacing themselves throughout the length of the train. It’s all to elicit maximum pity for a display of human pathos so abject it attains to performance art: a legless person crawling on the floor or pushing himself along on a homemade dolly, a teenage girl with burns so disfiguring her eyes are melted shut, people with stubs for hands, horrific skin diseases, and the like. Much more startling, however, is the look on the faces of many of the subway riders.

The breast etiquette project

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Courtesy of Jack Guard

Prelude at Annie’s

I’m at an Annie’s, a foreign-managed Italian restaurant chain in Beijing. It’s become a trendy place recently as a consequence of locals’ worries over the food safety of Chinese restaurants. There’s also the rising popularity of Western food generally, as growing numbers of Chinese come back from trips to culinary heaven in Europe and discover Western cuisine to be actually pretty good.

Take this branch at the west gate of Chaoyang Park for example, the original Annie’s (there are now nine of them). From when it opened in 1999 until a few years ago, most of the customers were expats needing a bite to eat after picking up necessities at a neighboring supermarket for foreigners, Jenny Lou’s. Now, you need to wait in line for a table even on weeknights, and almost all of the customers are Chinese. The staff have their obsequious service and plastic smiles down to an art form. Even the boys standing outside waiting for their next delivery bow to you like royalty as they open up both sets of doors. They also serve generous portions, and I guess it’s my third serious glass of wine that is giving me the inspiration to write the following.