Oriental Adventures - Family Matters

Grettings of the Season to you all!

We have spent a couple of days in Shanghai, but I must first take a post to catch up on events prior to our arrival in this megametropolis. Truly events have been transpiring faster than they can be recorded - I shall take to whipping my chronicler, redoubling these typing efforts until I catch up with the elusive present.

On top of the family dinner recorded in the last writing, there was a second family dinner: The Family Strikes Back. At this myself and Xinxin were heavily suprised by being awarded with a "Ru Yi", which translates roughly has "Goddamned Thing"

Fancying themselves a civilised folk the chinese have refined familial gift-giving to its very purest essence, creating a device that
a) obviously cost a lot of money
b) is difficult to carry safely
c) has absolutely no function whatsoever but to burden you with the obligation of a) and b)

Xin has suggested that it may serve as a "Beating stick" sufficiently elegant for her to remonstrate with me - I countered that it was an ideal size to be crammed into her flapping mouth whole. She incorrectly objected that it was too large, until I pointed out her error in not realising how much force I would be prepared to bring to bear in this endeavour. The hunt is on for other uses - the carved holes are too small to act as a pen holder, and though secret research has shown it to be a very fine back scratcher, if Xinxin ever actually catches me doing that I suspect it will lead to the beating stick argument times 9.

Dinner: The Revenge took place in a restaurant called "Shark Fin Palace". If the Forbidden palace was destroyed, and the ruins painstakingly rebuilt by a dedicated team of crack Las Vegas Casino designers this is how it would look - every surface is absolutely crammed with stuff, to the point where if there was a quarter as much it would look four times better. Example: a fountain in the middle of the giant walk in menu (no joke) is tasteful and elegant - when that fountain consists of six giant illuminated carp, you need to have a serious talk with your interior decorator. And that talk needs to consist of "Pack up your shit, Jones, you don't work here anymore. And take your giant fish with you."

I could write a whole update about the architectural horrors of the place, but there's a fair chance they'll send their army to kill me - I've honestly never seen anything with such a ridiculously large number of staff. There were sixteen staff working the front door - that's one per hinge! This sort of thing is only possible in a country where "prevents you starving to death as fast" is an acceptable working wage - leading to an amazing 5:1 staff to customer ratio, doubtless all trained in kung fu and ready to leap into an oncoming flying kick the moment a wronged lone hero approaches within a square mile of the building.

The food here continues to be excellent - I note with surprise and alarm that I've gained the mass of an entire infant tiger in the gut region since I've arrived, and warn you that come my return to the frigid wonderland of Canada in January this newsletter shall be renamed "Avoidance of fat-fuckery: no Bacon edition" for a few months. This is all part of the long scheme of the cunning Chinaman, seeking to lull me into a false sense of security while reducing my top speed, that I might not escape when they strike en masse. Here you see the cardinal tactical error! They think that I will cravenly act as they would, not realising that the Sturdy Irishman runs not from naught! Every kilo they add to my frame will simply be more mass with which I shall roundly smite them, standing firm and proud and breaking the tide of assailants with nought but determination, my patented chin-checking one-two, and any chainsaws I happen to find lying around.

In fact, it's time for us to leave for food once more - enjoy your day of boxing, knowing that I shall be sitting with chopsticks in one hand, pump-action in the other, ready for food or foe!

Your humble and well-fed expeditioner


Oriental Newsletter 4 - Attack of the Various Things

Nimen hao!

(That is the last piece of cutesy foreign-speak you will ever see transcribed here, faithful reader, and rest assured that I personally hunt down and punch every white blogger who ends pure english sentences with "ne").

It's hard to believe I've only been here about a week - it's like being a child, the sheer density of new information everywhere I look makes it seem like so much more time has passed. We've been in Jin Nan a few days now, and I've been shown off to a great big bunch of family members like some kind of prize dog - but a prize dog that's been remarkably well fed, so that's good.

The first thing I noticed about Jin Nan is the fog. On Friday it was serious super-fog, we're talking early nineties first-person shooter Turok fog where you can't see more than twenty meters ahead of you (because the computers back then couldn't actually render many objects, every hard-bitten save-the-world hero spent most of his time battling an impenetrable pea-soup whose job was to prevent the computer having a heart attack or the player from seeing where he was going).

But if Friday was video game fog, Saturday was horror movie fog, real look out the window and "Where has the world gone?" time. I was expecting the phone lines to be cut and hotel guest to start turning up with interesting collections of knife-marks, forcing me to use my one unique skill that seemed irrelevant earlier to outwit the killer (in this case, the skill being so pale that if I take off my clothes I can blend invisibly into the mist coverage, until I dramatically leap out of the smog and blind the killer with my direct whiteness).

I was distracted from hunting atmospheric-moisture-cloaked-killers by introduction to a large swathe of Xin's extended family. I was ushered into a room full of hyper-keen, super friendly small people who I could not understand and god help me but the only image I saw was of C3PO and the Ewoks, except I'm shining white instead of shining gold. Xin punched me pretty hard when I told her. (And if you're pointing out that C3PO could in fact understand those things, then screw your hyper-nerd pedantry for trying to ruin a perfect image).

The food was great, in a way that I'm getting dangerously used to, and then the food after that was great too. There was also beer that was actually moderately decent tasting, though not one single person in all of China knows how to pour a beer with less than 60% head, Xin has started intercepting waiters with assurances that "she wants to pour for me", tactfully avoiding the fact we both find their method of pouring heretical and evil.

Actually running out the door for food and even more family members: The Revenge, so time to put my best smiley face and tall posture on.

Oriental Newsletter 3 - Jin Nan Jive Master

We have left Beijing behind, and rest assured I could write a book about my experiences there, and travelled to Jin Nan. To most Chinese this is an unremarkably small city, since it contains a mere 125% of the population of Ireland, but contains the Oriental point of interest known as "Xin's parents". As you can imagine there was much curiosity on both sides before this meeting, though I wasn't expecting just how keen they were - we hadn't even gotten off the train before there was banging on the window from delighted relatives here to see the giant foreign specimen that their offspring had captured and dragged home with promises of spicy food.

Cross-cultural forces are in full effect here - they are absolutely positively dead keen to please me, but pretty much unable to communicate with me (beyond a few words from the father about deep subjects such as the current temperature of the weather), leading to the unsettling effect of a horde of people generating a palpable field of anxious eagerness that I can't defuse. I spent a few hours walking around the town centre today in a constant state of convincing them not to buy things for me. I was like some sort of ultimate quantum observer, terrified of looking at anything too closely lest I cause something to happen, in this case "happen" meaning "be bought and proffered to me by grinning people". I may also have to set myself on fire or start vaporising ice cubes once a minute in order to prove that I am, in fact, not cold.

Xin takes care of most of the communication, chittering and whooping with all the locals in the primitive manner they seem to enjoy. Looking at the scale of constructions around these places I can see they really are an industrious people - if only they used a language capable of communicating meaning, who knows what they could achieve? The process has already begun - amid the spiderwebs of fingernail scratchings they adorn their signs with, I see occasional fragments of the Queen's Own English - a phenomenon similar to that of an infinite number of monkeys generating Hamlet, I suspect, and one that may one day make communication with these keen souls possible.

On the first night Xin and family were keen to catch up, so I kept myself quiet on a couch - her father had anticipated this and provided me with a sliding panel puzzle to pass the time, and casually mentioned that he'd only heard of one person completing it. Of course, a challenge like that could not go unanswered! Alas this was a "diplomatic mission", so I wasn't able to pull out my trusty pump-action shotgun and blast the puzzle into fragments, declaring it solved, but few conundrums are designed to stand against the mind of a sober Irishman and soon the enigma was de-riddled. Two days later Xin still overhears them telling people about it on the phone, and since then I've pretty much been promoted from "boyfriend" to "Emperor Boyfriend the First of the House of Sun".

The second challenge of manliness was issued on the second night, when he took out a Go set and asked me for a game. I'm sorry to confess that my skills were not as good as they should be - if I was better I could have merely beaten him, but as it is I can't really pretend to be worse than I am without losing, and I accidentally obliterated the fuck out of him. He played white, I black, and by the end the game the board looked like a coal mine at midnight during a blackout.

The third challenge? Food! Prior to our arrival Xin had regaled her family with tales of my capacious appetite, and today we and some relations went to a buffet all you can eat for lunch - they acted casual and friendly in that strange language of theirs, but it was clear to my keen mind that this was the third challenge - to test my endurance, ability to stockpile food, and likelihood of surviving a nuclear winter. They were conferred advantages by their twisted asian biology, able to buy time with entire trips to the buffet and back to acquire nothing but a small piece of uncooked fish, a tactic unavailable to me (not only was it hideously unsporting, but I swore on the shores of Blessed Eire that I would never descend to the heathen savagery of eating animal flesh that had not been cleansed by flame). I was left with naught but my strength, dedication, and huge piles of steak and bacon.

One, two, three, they resigned from the battle with surrender-cups of Haagen Daaz ice cream until I was victorious - but wait! While I was distracted by a particularly delicious piece of pork, Xin's father had cast aside his icecream and brought back a bowl of wonton soup - trickery! Luckily I had prepared a reserve roll of peking duck against such foreign devilry, and was still in the game. I was ahead, winning, and he got up again! Suicidal! I steeled myself - if he wanted to turn this into a life or death stomach-bursting contest, he would not find me unmanned - but he returned with a mug of tea to help his digestion. Weakness, and I struck hard! I left to follow, but returned with a pint of beer instead - Victory! Xin translated that all were impressed, and I had secured righteous prominence in this culinary battle!

Another day of glory and investigation for your foreign correspondent - keep reading these adventuresome pages!

Oriental Newsletter 2 - Beijing Boogie

Oriental Newsletter 2 - Beijing

Greetings all, you homeward people with your drinkable tap water and your cities with populations smaller than my home country, salutations! My Oriental Adventures continue and have been so distracting this is my first chance to write - as such, gentle reader, I must warn you that the format of these memoirs is likely to be as rapidly fragmented as a monkey playing with a grenade.

The very first night here put me in fear of my life - myself, my guide Xinxin and her locally based cousin Yu were running a gauntlet of lake-front bars, complete with hawkers shouting outside trying to attract passersby, shining green laser pointers hither and forth. The only problem was that these beams were clearly visible in the air, meaning that either
a) The chinese have miniaturised Class 4 lasers and distributed them to the population with orders to vaporise foreigners
b) The air here is so thick with contamination you could cut it into bricks
Whichever was the case, I thought it best to get off the streets and we dove into an eatery, where - despite being so tired I actually lost the capacity for three-dimensional vision - we had some of the best food ever. The highlight was something called "Volcano explosion bone", super-spicy ribs, except when it arrived Xin asked them to cut out the bones - leaving nothing but a plate of "Volcano Explosion". And it was great. Also some awesome tumbleweed like vegetables which are the first non-meat item ever that has made me think of it wistfully after. Truly, these yellow devils work their inscrutable magic through the digestive tract.

The next best food was something called "Chili Chicken", a truly uninspiring name - you might as well call the Atlantic ocean "water pool". I haven't got the necessary camera cable to prove it to you yet, but the dish is just a giant bowl of super-hot chillis, in which fugitive pieces of chicken hide. They soak up all the wonderful face-melting capsicim while cooked, rapidly converting from "pieces of meat which are delicious" to "Anti-personnel weapons of a tongue-flensing nature, which are delicious". It's like something out of a horror movie, each bite stripping another layer of cells from your tongue and igniting the tenth circle of hades in your mouth, but you just can't stop! Luckily my Eire-blessed digestive system proved more than a match for this delectable devilry, and I defeated every last piece of food - but I can only imagine how many less sturdy bastions of caucasionality spontaneously ignited because of this tasty trap, their ashes left to join the rest of the dust in this foreign air.

We went to see the forbidden city, which was absolutely awe-inspiring. Truly magnificent stuff, epic-scale, and someday it's going to make the best bonus-level ever in a skateboarding video game. Tons and tons of incredibly sophisticated art and treasure, it expresses three central tenets of Chinese culture
a) Hierarchy
b) Respect for History
c) Fuck the disabled
Every single door had AT LEAST three steps and a raised metal bar across the floor, for no other reason than to screen out people who couldn't walk. I've got some photos, you really wouldn't believe how insistent they are on this point otherwise. My favourite example was at a different site, the Temple of Heaven, where only one door has a ramp over this bar - a ramp which leads to a long walk of about half a kilometer, at the end of which is another portal - one WITH NO RAMP, and, one imagines, artfully lacquered inscriptions in the mandarin style declaiming "haha legless bastard". And lest you fear that all this talk of inspirational beauty has corrupted this loyal servant of the Queens territories, be ashamed of your lack of faith! True to an internal promise to myself I found a spot that had been reserved only for the Emperor in the past (and by 'reserved' I mean 'a commoner spotted there would be tortured, killed and all the men of his family killed, all the women sold into slavery' - seriously). I stood there, cast my thoughts to find any lingering trace of the glorious figures of the past, and gave myself a good hard scratching. It felt good. Ave Eire!

This is nothing but the wonderfully flavoured tip of the China Iceberg of my travels, but I have to go now. I won't leave it so long until next writing, as we continue on my Guaranteed Happiness Travel Plan (TM) of "Eating food" and "Doing stuff until next time to eat food".

Luke, Professor of Eireness Abroad

Adventurer's Newsletter - Expedition to the Orient

Are you prepared for a roistering ride? Prepare to thrill to our new series, Professor McIrish and his Oriental Adventures! (Released in Mandarin as "Giant ignoramus white as the snow drunk in our treasured national heritage".

Yes, I sit here typing this words on the electro-fuelled typ-o-matic to let you know I sally forth to the Mystical Far East this morning. Alas, God has designed the globe to give people warning that such actions are unhallowed, forcing the sturdy adventurer to arise at a truly anti-religious hour early enough to defeat all but the stoutest brains. I will then be subjected to a cunning aerial chamber of mental endurance, left with naught but my own electrogizmodical contrivances to defend my brain from bored self-destruction.

Arriving in those lands to the East, which the sun shines upon ever earlier each day hoping to nourish the natives enough to grow to adequate height, I will be entirely reliant on my sexy and seductive sidekick, Xinxin, an escapee of this foreign climes who can navigate the polyharmonic natterings so unclean to a refined European tongue. In the event of trouble I plan to bring my superior height, weight and albinism to bear on Johnny Chinaman, which will soon see him running, have no fear of that!

I have no fear of these strange new lands - Xinxin has been preparing me for their insidious toxins by exposing me to increasing quantities of rice over the past year, and I have packed my best pair of Panda-chastising gloves (for I fear that modern animal-veterinarians, coddling their charges, have not yet tried the simple "punch to the jaw" solution for any species that refuses to have marital relations to ensure it's own survival).

The time comes to hail our chariot, so I shall await your word. Please remember, gentle reader, that e'en as I risk my sanity in climes unknown, your stories and status from a more Christian timezone will be even more valuable: don't delay, send a missive today!