Saturday, November 17, 2012

From ‘Dreams of the Dragon's Children’ by Navroze Contractor

The Chinese are as noisy in the mornings as we Indians. I was woken by sounds of people expectorating, gargling, spitting, buckets being dragged, mugs falling, taps running, coughing and more coughing and plenty of talking.

In South China people eat everything, and that includes snakes. We decided to try it. The proposal was shot down by our Chinese friends. They were all from north China and thought the southerners were barbaric in their eating habits. ….

The resentment between north and south in China is as old as its history. Under dynastic rule, the ‘business’ community was considered the lowest and was often banished to the south. In those days the southern men, unlike their northern counterparts, had long hair, wore earrings and dressed in strange ways.

We had noticed that when the Chinese travelled they ate, talked animatedly and then, all of a sudden, just fell asleep.

More from the China Daily:
A senior party functionary was caught hoarding rations in his house and reselling them at higher prices with forged documents. He was executed in public with a bullet paid for by his family
Ian Botham’s century is ‘deliberate’ as Australia is on the verge of winning the third cricket test

Another bucket had the white powder ajinomoto, or MSG. In India we were all against MSG, but in China they use it by the handful. I never stopped being amazed at the speed with which they chopped vegetables and meat.

The Chinese are loud eaters. They slurp and suck at the chopsticks and the ceramic spoons.

……Shenzen …..It was an animal market. Pigeons, chicken, duck, sparrows, eagles, hawks, parrots, some other unidentifiable birds, and crows. Everything was for sale and everything was being cut and feathered. Women and men stood around bargaining and the sellers would cut the birds up, feather them, skin them and stick them in front of faces that nodded approvingly. Further on there were dogs, mongoose, snakes, pigs, cats, rats, and monkeys, anything that crawled or ran was being sold and slaughtered. The shocking thing was that after a bargain was stuck a limb would be cut off or some other part carved out without first killing the animal. There were screams from animals all around – dogs yelping and howling in pain, rats squealing and monkeys shrieking. It was horrifying. I had never ever seen so much cruelty towards animals.

We had seen no birds during our two weeks in south China.

During the difficult period after the Revolution, food shortage plagued the country and people had been forced to eat anything they could lay their hands on. Since they didn’t have guns and enough sling shots to shoot the birds, they used to make a collective din using drums, vessels and wood boards and not let the birds rest. The birds fell down from the sky in exhaustion.

The best country in the world to be a child is probably China. Since they have a very strict one-child policy, children are spoilt all out of shape. We had seen children create havoc in restaurants and no one ever said a word. They were adored, cajoled, cuddled and loved like they were going out of fashion. When they cross a busy road all traffic stops, and passers-by stop and clap.

When you see a Chinese child smile you simply crack up.

China can make you romantic and Mao had mastered the art of making an entire nation seem romantic. Chinese films depicted smiling peasants working in the fields, smiling workers toiling away. In 10,000 kilometres of travelling I never once saw a peasant smiling in his field or a worker smiling when he worked. But on the other hand I never saw starving, hungry, groveling people either. So it is easy to become romantic about China and lose your hold on reality. The greatness of Mao lay not in the fact that he romanticized work but in that he had instilled an incredible pride in the workers and peasants.

No matter how great a nation China is, by trying to remove other cultures and systems it has become boring. All mono-culture eventually destroys itself.

When children wake up, the sounds everywhere in the world are the same.

A conversation between mother and daughter began ………

But Mama, in the city there are so many things to see and do.
There are so many people, they spend all their time pushing others, trying to get ahead …
In the city I am never bored, there are cinemas, shops, restaurants, libraries, parks, museums …. whatever you want …..
Yes, yes, they have everything but people don’t care about you, no one knows anyone else, its so lonely …
That’s the best part, you can do what you want and no one will bother ….
Even if you drop dead on the roads ….
Who’s going to drop dead, for heaven’s sake ….
If not you, an old one like me may do …
Ma, you wont have to sit and make wan-tans at home for New Year; you can go and buy them from a shop …
Then I will have to do something else to have money to go and buy wan-tans from a shop, so I will have to do something …..
You could do something more meaningful ….
What is more meaningful than feeding people ….

….a Chinese saying: ‘One who turns disaster into victory, earns the help of men. One who lives modestly, earns the help of the earth. One who overcomes vanity, earns the help of the heavens.’

In China, if you are in a queue you are going to be pushed, then sqeezed and shoved and have to protect yourself from being crushed. The difference is there was no agro, it wasn’t meant to be rude. No one got mad and nobody broke the line except children. ….. I didn’t see a single parent reprimanding their kids, they were allowed to run amuck. I remembered what Mao had said: ‘If you want to plan two years ahead, grow rice. If you want to plan ten years ahead, grow trees. If you want to plan forever, have children.’

….ET…. said he had come very close to the Indian border ….. He remembered excitedly that there had been so many dogs and monkeys. They were considered a delicacy in China, but roamed in such abundance in India and nobody ate them!

In the old days the Emperor gave five punishments. For a lesser offence the crime you’d committed was tattooed on your forehead. Then your nose was cut off. Then your genitals were cut off. Then your legs were cut off so there would be no chains used on you and for the most heinous crime, after these punishments, your head was cut off. …. Till the nineteenth century in England there was death penalty for stealing anything more than five pence worth. I didn’t want to be in the old England or the new China, I wanted to be back in India.

We reached the check-in counter and the girl behind the desk gave us a big smile. We were shocked because no official had ever smiled at us.

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