The Art of Consumption

Aaaahhhh. Consumption and Chinese generosity – can there be a better combination? Not in my world.

A week or so ago, Mr. Zhao told Terry that some local people and some “foreigners” would like to meet with the staff and chat about the program and then take us out to dinner. Turned out that it was last night and I was “forced” in to standing in for Terry, since she is still Shanghai Partying!

There were six people all together. The most senior man was Mr. Choi, the regional head of the United Front Work Department, an agency under the command of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Its main function is to manage relations with the non-Communist Party elite, including individuals and organizations holding social, commercial, or academic influence, or who represent important interest groups, both inside and outside China. (Ed. note: There are, I believe, 8 of these regional districts in China. It occurs to me halfway through the evening, this is a big guy – what’s a kid who grew up in Ranch Park doing here.)

Along with Mr. Choi was his deputy, who apologized profusely for not having his business card, Mr. Gong and Mr. Cheng, Mr. Cheng’s wife Tulip (Ed. note: When she introduces herself, she says to me “Like the flower” “Beautiful” I say “Exactly” she says and laughs. Tulip and Peter are the “foreigners” because, even though they are Chinese, born and raised in Jiaxing, they now live in Richmond. Go figure.) and Tulip’s best friend.

We get the traditional welcome from Mr. Choi and then the purpose of the get together is explained. Mr. Gong (Alex) and Mr. Cheng (Peter) have an engineering business and an educational consulting business. The latter is being developed to support Chinese kids as they go overseas to go to school. They want to get to know us and offer their services to us. Now, I am not sure at this point if they are agents (Ed. note: companies (often sketchy at best) who charge families to find university placements for Chinese students), although the fact that they are sanctioned by our principal Mr. Xu and Mr. Choi leads me to think maybe not. We talk about what problems – language, cultural differences etc. they will face. Anyway, after we chat in the meeting room, we give them a tour of our facility and then it is off to dinner – the six of them, Mr. Xu, Mr. Zhou, Andre, Neil, Olly and myself. At the restaurant we are joined by Mr. Li from the company and a young lady who is the company’s office manager – making a Company of 14. (Ed. note: The part of Bilbo is played by yours truly.)

Chinese customs are interesting things. The tradition is respect authority, age and relationships, but in what appears to be a floating order. When we get to the restaurant the teachers, as guests, get the couches first. As more people arrive, depending on their seniority, the Chinese get up and offer their seats to them. However, if you are junior, find your own chair. Finally, it is time to move to the table.

“Geoffoo, you want pegio (beer) or baijou (52% Chinese liquor)?” I ask for beer and then they bring it and the baijou. We have explained the toasting process before – so I start with getting up to toast Mr. Choi and thank him for having us. I note that all the Chinese people are watching this interaction with great interest since I have a glass of baijou (maybe 3 oz.) in my hand to do this. Tulip keeps saying “Geoffoo, it is hot (strong), just a little”  “Geoffoo, it is hot, just a little”  “Geoffoo, it is hot , just a little”. Hey, I have the reputation of the western world on the line. Gambei! Bottoms up go Mr. Choi and I – and let me tell you it may have been the first, but it was not the last. I have learned though: for every Baijou I Gambeied, I Gambeied a white wine glass of pegio! Plus, I had to do my part and TERRY’S part too.

I have never felt more welcomed than I did last night. Alex, Peter and Tulip – our new friends – as well as Mr. Choi, Mr. Xu and Mr. Zhao made certain the four of us thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Between the food, the refreshments and the conversation we had a wonderful time. Alex showed me photos of his private area off his office – spectacular view, spectacular granite bar, spectacular pool table, spectacular couches – and told me I was welcome to visit anytime. Spectacular!

Peter and Tulip are wonderfully friendly and live in Richmond. I know we will develop a relationship with them once we are home.

You may notice that there are no related photos accompanying this posting. I took a photo of Mr. Zhao making a toast and at the same time Olly was making a video. It was the perfect display of Chinese generosity. Tulip, who was sitting in a place of honour next to Mr. Choi was out of her seat like a shot. Xi Jinping, president of China is making a  significant and very public attempt to reduce corruption and inappropriate use of taxpayer’s money (Ed. note: Hey, Stephen Harper, Christy Clark et al are you listening?). Tulip wanted us to know that if we took the photos, could we please be sure that they were kept for personal use only. We both deleted them and assured them they were gone – I think they were very relieved, although I am pretty sure that the meal was being paid for by Alex and Peter and not the government. As it is elsewhere, it is the perception that counts, not the reality. (Ed. note: Come to think of it, perhaps the concern would be that Alex and Peter WERE buying an expensive meal for Mr. Choi et al. Hmmm – I will have to reflect. Man, am I naive!!)

The Shoe Blog

This pair was at the Jiaxing South Train Station Sunday morning, waiting to go to Shanghai for a day of walking and shopping.

I do wonder how they felt 8 hours later...

I do wonder how they felt 8 hours later…

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