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!