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  Dispatch: Tongue-Tied & Stomach Pumped

The language tells us much about Chinese culture, and the cuisine reveals dirty secrets about Chinese politics.
By Stewart Nusbaumer

Shanghai, China -- I've tried everything. I downed a terrifying quantity of local brew, which drove me insane, and then nailed me to the toilet seat for three days. I tried sobriety coupled with hard thinking. But a whacked American comet on the way to Mongolia -- the writer-spook-nut-satirist -- zoomed into my brain zapping me like a jackrabbit strapped in the San Quentin electric chair. I fell passionately in love, which was akin to lobbing a hand grenade into a deranged man’s mind. This has not been a Fodor's vacation.

But I'm not on my back yet -- in fact I'm ratcheting up my effort, getting serious about unraveling this mad house. Now I'm going after the the soft underbelly of the monster. American men may not be enamored with culture, but it's better than the brown squirts for three days and your brain fried in some foreign bazaar.

As the writer-spook-nut-satirist said, striking a pose of scholarly pontification with chin high and arm outstretched, with, I believe, a spec of Fluffy the dog in his beard, "In language resides the uniqueness of a people -- their history, their psychology, their environment, their aspirations. Language is an embodiment of the culture. That is why I'm going to Mongolia."

Learning Chinese will allow me to immerse myself in this madness and view the derangement from inside out, the only way insanity is viewable. Language will give me epistemological handles to hold onto in this violent whirlwind. Language will enable me to decipher the dog meat from the stringy noodles. Language is definitely the way for me to go.

Stop there! I used to live in China, so didn't I learn the language? I once survived in this Asian madhouse without being stomped and reamed, I once crawled around these Chinese landmines and exploding grenades without being mind blown, right? Well, not really. I've traveled in 101 countries and know the word "beer" 101 different ways, but there have always been tight spots where "beer" is not enough. There have always been times when I was fried bad. All I can say is as an American man, I prefer suffering to learning -- especially to learning a foreign language.

But the illusion that we-are-one-world and the world speaks English or should speak English is sinking faster than George Bush's Administration. The language of indentured countries has never been high on the world's respect list. When that country transmutes into a crazed bully then most people prefer to learn another language, even a totally useless language, such as French.

I should have seen all this coming. In the 1990s the Chinese proclaimed, "Next Century the world will be speaking Chinese." But I didn't know the next century would come so fast. So here I am in China in the new century, stomped and reamed, confused and clueless, thrashed by some reverse fountain of youth: in 2 weeks I must have aged 20 years. It's time to learn the language and get my good looks back.

Verbal Assault

The madhouse has many languages, including the lingua of the minorities. The Chinese government shows great respect to these minorities, as the U.S. government does for our minorities in New Orleans. But the linguistic life preserver in China is always Mandarin, while the minor languages exist for tourism and Amnesty International. They are verbal panda bears, cute and cuddly and profitable, but without foreign tourists and international heat they would be -- well, try saying "bear burger." What I need to learn is Mandarin.

Besides the boring stuff of consonants and vowels and grammar -- the latter in particular is useless for learning a language -- Mandarin has four important tones. The first tone, or high-level tone, is a nasty squeal that has been known to bring blood gushing from the ears. The second tone is rising, which starts at mid-level speech and shoots up to the nasty squeal of bloody ears. It is also called the sneaky tone, since one is unprepared for the ear bleeding at the end. The third tone, the low one, sounds like gargling smoldering charcoals. Not a pretty sounding mumbo jumbo. The fourth tone is falling, traveling from middle-range to smoldering charcoals.

For Americans the primary problem is vocalizing that nasty squeal. Our Chinese friends, however, always willing to help the foreigner, have perfected a technique to assist us. It is a very simple procedure. Have a Chinese whip a vicious clamp on to your testicles -- there, you articulated the squeal. For females, substitute nipples for a testicles. Normally it does not take many repeats before you have the tone down.

Along with the four tones, mastering Mandarin requires perfecting the three rather subtle emotions in the language. First is vein-popping anger, the most common mode of feeling when speaking Chinese. Next is the more refined hysteria; along with the veins the brain pops. Finally, there is the native ballistic. This mode is often accompanied by a visit to a hospital, which gives the aspiring linguist plenty of time to reflect upon the steep costs in learning Mandarin.

When all of this is brought together -- the testicle squealing, the charcoal gargling, the vein and brain popping, the hospital bills -- brought together into an eloquent, fluent speech pattern, you have established a solid base for conversational Mandarin. To achieve true proficiency, however, you need to learn more. You need to learn how to form grunts that sound more like vomiting than words (yes, the true Chinese speaker sounds like a hopeless drunk), learn how to insert a truly annoying sshhh in the background of every vomit, and finally learn how to divide vomits with well defined slimy spitballs directed at the current target of your linguistic outrage.

What you then have, in essence, is the capacity to vocalize a unique phonetic mishmash of orchestrated barfs and outrages expertly tuned for the abuse of your fellow man and woman. To the typical American this will probably sound like wild boars making violent love with hangovers in a raging typhoon; in fact you will be articulating an ancient, sophisticated language, one that has played a key role in the development of civilization from inventing gunpowder to perfecting genocide in Tibet.

On the other hand, it might be better to just eat your way to understanding these people. The two great pillars of all societies, even those precariously close to biting a heavy implosion, are language and food. I say it's time for lunch.

Eating Democracy

No one can discuss China without discussing its delightful cuisine: fresh, exciting, diverse, exhilarating, refined, and mysterious. I eat everything, it’s all delicious. The pig's feet, the cow's stomach, the crunchy bamboo, the eel's skin, everyone's tasty tongue. Sure I had a little problem with eating Fluffy, when raised on cows it takes time to adjust to dog. But I'm getting there.

"Uhmm, this is really good," I say to May Lay, my research assistant. A meal does not pass without me saying this several times. "It's," I search for the words, "it's like good spam, salty spam. Not as chewy as that jellyfish head, but more chewy than those ox's balls. What is this?"

There is intense discussion among the Chinese at the table. Finally, May Lay informs me, It's smaller than horse."

"What does that mean?" I snap back. "Most things are smaller than horse. I'm smaller than horse."

The discussion resumes, the jabbering intensifies, and suddenly stops. May Lay looks at me: "It's donkey."

"What?" I scream. I'm eating a Democrat!"

Mao Tse-tung had said political power comes out of the barrel of a gun. Now I learn democracy goes out your butt. Throwing my chopsticks down, I scream at May Lay: "Do you people eat Republicans?"

"I don't understand?" her dark eyes dart back and forth nervously.

"Do you eat elephant?"

"Oh no, Chinese never eat elephant."

"I thought so. You're a bunch of Republican fascists!"

If the Chinese want to speak in grunts and screams, vomit and spit all over the place, that's their business. If they want to eat darling Fluffy instead of a retarded cow, I can even handle that. But when they start eating democracy that is where I draw the line. After all, I'm an American man.

Stewart Nusbaumer is editor of Intervention Magazine. You can email Stewart at

Posted Wednesday, December 07, 2005


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  Live from China

By Stewart Nusbaumer


Astounded in China
China’s development is stunning and its power is growing quickly; will America become a lapdog for the Asian dragon?

Bombed in Beijing
Yes China’s development is stunning, but not as stunning as the Goddess of Tiananmen Square.

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It's a weird world with weird Americans making it hard to tell what is really real.

Tongue-Tied & Stomach Pumped
While their language tells us about Chinese society, their cuisine tells us about a very dirty political secret.

Drinking & Driving
Driving in China teaches you to appreciate airplanes; drinking the booze will probably turn you into a tea drinker.

Sexpots Galore
When sex merges with politics, the Big Dog authorities never win.




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