Dim Sum with Dim Wits and Tao
by John Kendall Hawkins
Chinese people do not generally pronounce "R" as "L" in English. Nor do they pronounce "L" as "R" at the beginnings of syllables.
China has been on my plate a lot in the last year. It's beginning to feel a lot like years yore, going to Boston's Chinatown for some dim sum, chopstick dancing, and the upscale pangolin soup they call Steaming Tao. If you've ever gone for some dim sum, then you know that you are sitting there quietly in a packed room, trying to keep the chaos of your hunger at bay, while some girls come around with a cart full of dishy varieties, often featuring dumplings, and you point, and they slide the plate onto your table, and the dipping and the slurping begins. Your and your friends looking at each other with noodle eyes, chopsticks awkwardly flailing, like an old but unfamiliar language. The last year has seen me eat more Chinese dumplings than one man should feel entitled to have in a lifetime full of accountability. Here comes the cart. So happy. Be alive.
Recently, I sat down with some egalitarian first mates and their anchors for some chow and lays of the land talk. Sue, Lenny, Fitz, and Carla. With views on the news of the day. Small talk, but potent with possibilities. The way you like it; no one person dominating; the morons laying low. Here's an excerpt of what we said during our brief encounter with the Orient -- what we later saw as a break from the necessary clash of our civilizations -- that Saturday at lunchtime in a warm aromatic room full of all kinds of wok-sizzled feng shui. Can you say, soy sauce?
A young and pleasingly balanced waitress appears out of nowhere at our table with a drinks menu with colorful photos of the libations.
Me: Hi. Can you make a suggestion?
Waitress: Ah, you mean about dlinks?
Me: (searching for irony in her almond eyes) Yeah. Drinks.
Wairess: May I suggest new dlinks -- Taiwan On, a gin-based concoction, or The Stlaits Shootah -- we used caw Showdown Champagne. (She continues handing out the menus.) Also, have special for yawl deright: Old Ludy Young Judy.
Carla: Who is Ludy?
Waitress: Ludy Giuriani. Amelica's Maya. Knock you fall a roop. It's the Kahlua.
Carla: I'll take the bottled water.
Waitress: Good choice. Tao-boo poor-rution.
Me: I think I'll try the Singapore Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune.
Sue: Silk Road Smoothie with rum, please.
Lenny: Opium Cloud Say Wah, please.
Fitz: I'll have the Kerry Family Trust Mai Tai Patrician and Swift Boat Payback with lime, thank you.
The waitress, wearing a Pangolin Obama Hope T-shirt, goes away with more bounce in her legs than you'd expect on a dim sum afternoon.
Me: (snorkel-porkling at a dumpling, while others dumplings wallow in a soy sauce sty) So, have you all heard the good news? Xi is ascending like a lark to the godhead of a giddy China.
Carla: Was that the headline, Johnny?
Me: Funny. No, they say Xi will rise like Mao now and become --
Carla: --That's old news. Years old. Where have you been?
Me: It was on the internet.
Carla: (makes a sucking-through-teeth sound) I read a book last year --
Me: -- Congratulations,, you must be very proud --
Carla: Has China Won? It was written by the ex Singaporean ambassador to the US, Kishore Mahbubani.
Lenny: Oh, I read that, too. He says we're fucked.
Carla: Well, he argues that by electing Trump, we've slipped into chaos. He keeps saying we're moving into chaos. Chaos. Chaos.
Lenny: You can say that again.
Carla: Anyway, his main point is that the battle of premiere world economies is over, China's won. And when they're ready they will replace the world reserve currency --
Fitz: -- What! You can't do that! (brushes aside Sue's hand, just under the table) I won't stand for it! (he stands, he has an erection) --
Carla: Sit down, Lower Pinocchio. (Fitz sits, like the sheepish star of the triple X-rated, Dicknoccio.) Sue, knock it off. And the American economy will go 9/11 and collapse into its own ideological footprints.
Fitz: We have to stop them! (pushes at Sue's hand again under the table). Even if we have to invade. (She returns her hand to where it was, not taking No for an answer.)
Lenny: The book describes Xi as a Philosopher King. But he's no Socrates. I've read Socrates. They say he's a Princeling. He disappeared for a few weeks one time, cancelled a dinner date with Hillary, and, some say, an anti-corruption activist -- now in a reeducation camp -- punched him "in his smug face" and laid out like a sack of powdered eggs.
Sue: Yeah, like Charlie Chan was a philosopher dick. (They all look at Sue for a moment.)
Lenny: I heard he likes watching American movies, like Saving Private Ryan, and watches condensed versions of TV series -- like Game of Thrones --
Fitz: --Game of Thrones? No way! (He has a vision of a condensed version of an episode that pretty much sums up the politics of the series.)
Lenny: What are you so jumpy about, Fitz?
Fitz: Sue keeps grabbing at me.
Lenny: Why don't you two get a room under the table?
Sue: Funny. (pulls her hand away) What time's the show start?
It's a dim sum theatre restaurant. This year featuring the opera, Nixon in China: The cabaret version. The dim sum wagon comes around again, the lot take their expected delishments from the cart. The waitress had been wearing casual clothes, but now is mysteriously donning a Mao t-shirt, the Obama Hope version, all China Doll polish, pout and pert.
Lenny: (to Carla) Yeah, it's PNAC versus the New Silk Road Initiative thing. But I suppose if they wanted to, with all the US Treasury bonds they have -- IOUs -- they could wreak havoc --
Carla: -- Chaos --
Lenny: -- You can say that again.--
Carla: But Mahbubani argues that they shouldn't be enemies. As the number one and two economies in the world they should work together to solve common problems, like Climate Change.
Me: I don't see that happening. (touches Carla under the table) Taiwan is heating up. The Intercept says she's ready to blow.
Fitz: Let's get 'em. You know what I think? (They all give him a look, mock awestruck) They go near Taiwan we nuke 'em.
Lenny: It's a good pretext.
Me: What do you mean?
Lenny: If I owed my landlord years of back rent and he was calling me out for it, it might be more efficient to hire a hitman to take him out. No more debt. In fact, no more China.
Sue: No more dumplings.
Carla: (to Lenny and Fitz) You two together?
The dim sum cart comes around again, gooshy goodies are had with glad faces. The waitress is wearing a Che t-shirt in the Hope fashion. Her lipstick seems awry.
Fitz: How come she was wearing a Che tee?
Me: I reviewed a book earlier this year: Gideon Defoe's book, An Atlas of Extinct Countries: The Remarkable (and Occasionally Ridiculous) Stories of 48 Nations That Fell Off the Map. Formosa was in it as a fallen country.
Fitz: They had a funny-looking flag. You ever see it? (He quickly googles and flashes a cartoon happy lion to everyone. The waitress just happens to pass by and gives Fitz a scowl.)
Me: Thing you learn about China, when you do some reading. is that they've had so much imposed upon them over the centuries by Outside hostile forces. Even the name "China" was given to them by Portuguese explorers. Same with Formosa: It's a Portuguese word meaning beautiful. (He touches Carla's leg, who moves slightly to accommodate his slow hand.) The naming is part of the colonialization. The West forced the Opium Wars on them and got rich. John Kerry's forebears. We forced capitalism on them, and now we b*tch when their abacus form of it is more efficient than our bloated parade car.
Carla: You are most persuasive. But their abacus is quantum.
Lenny: I just downloaded the book. Lissy up to what it says about Taiwan:
The legacy of the short-lived republic is an odd one. Despite being an attempt to remain a part of China, the flag is now a rallying point for those seeking independence (mainly because it's such a great flag, a happy lion who looks like a very good boy). Not so much now.
Fitz: Looks gay.
The dim sum cart comes around again, fresh yums and plum sauces galore are had with eager surprise. The waitress is wearing a dabbing Coronavirus t-shirt in the Hope fashion.
Fitz: Did you see what she was wearing?
Sue: Rudy Giuliani says that China intentionally released the f*cking pandemic.
Fitz: No f*cking way!
Sue: Way. It's right there in that Borat movie. He's getting interviewed by a teenaged girl and tells her -- apropos of wanting to get laid -- that the Chinese did it on purpose.
Carla: (considering the source) Bullshit.
Me: Nuh. Here it is. (He pulls up a YouTube clip from the film, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, on his iPhone. They all look.)
Fitz: (whistles shrilly, they look around) That's bad medicine. If the Chinese did that. That's WMD territory. We didn't take it from Sad 'em.
Carla: Rudy should be tried for revealing classified information --
Fitz: -- To a girl!--
Carla: -- Or for casting aspersions that could bring about World War 3.
Me: So true. (with the hand again) And then no more landlord.
Lenny: It's fishy alright. Even the Intelligence Community was wishy washy, saying they didn't yet "assess" any intentional release, but were leaving the investigation up to scientists. They could re-assess at a later date. Almost like a threat. Imagine the world turning on China as mass murderers!
Fitz: Holy sh*t! It makes 9/11 look like Mayberry RFD, Opie with the mumps. Looking like a blowfish with the blues.
Lenny: (sings like Kenny Rogers) Roooooo-dy. Don't take your guns to town.
Me: Guns? You see him in the sequence of the film? When they go into the bedroom together, drinks in hand, and he lies down on the bed and begins looking for his gun?
(Shows a jaw-dropping clip from the film.)
Carla: He's a f*cking moron.
Me: And Borat comes rushing in wearing only women's underwear, and an apparent erection, and tells Rudy to lay off: "She's 15. She's too old for you."
Carla: f*cking retards, all of them.
The dim sum cart comes around again, fresh pork buns and fish vittles and what looks like tapioca pudding are seized with gleeful anticipation of the pallettial delights ahead. The waitress is wearing a dabbing Dr. Fauci t-shirt in the now old Hope fashion.
Fitz: You must have seen what she was wearing that time.
Me: Well, I still wonder why there would be a contract for gain-of-function research with a totalitarian regime we keep hinging we may have to go to war with. Mao would laugh his ass off. Maybe the real research was going on somewhere else.
Fitz: Oh, Jesus! (Sue pulls him under the table with a sexually aggressive tug.)
Lenny: And what about the fuckin vaccines. The Times was saying in August that no vaccine had ever been developed in less than four years. And then as soon as Trump is gone there are so many vaccines it's Happy Time at Big Pharma.
Carla: It's the technology, stupid.
Lenny: I ain't seen any reports in the MSM about the miracle technology involved.
Sue: (from under the table) That sounds like a conspiracy theory, Lenny. (There's a satisfied moan from Fitz.)
Lenny: But, you know, the Chinese do some strange research. Remember that doctor a couple of years back who got arrested and imprisoned for making the world's first (known) human clones -- with "accidental" enhanced brains?
Fitz: (from under the table) Save my soul!
Me: Yeah, I remember, he was hoping to start up a business as a bespoke baby doctor.
Carla: He was doing designer babies for the rich. (Lenny nods, mouths "oh.")
Lenny: As if enough of them weren't getting into Harvard already. Now they'll be doing simultaneous degrees at Harvard and MIT. Probably skateboard between the two campuses. People -- and smart people -- jumping out of the way on the sidewalk. Really lording it over us.
Me: (holding up a googled URL of the story) Yeah. Just three years imprisonment.
Fitz: What's the world coming to?
Carla: Making designer viruses at the same time they're making designer babies.
Me: (sighs, to Carla) Are you done with that dumpling?
Carla: (moves her hand to his garden of earthly delights) I was going to ask the same thing. (he grins like a sheep.)
Lenny: I hear they're doing sh*t with AIs, too. (Fitz and Sue re-appear, somewhat disheveled, but no worse for the wear.)
The dim sum cart comes around again, an assortment of goodness is there to be plucked and devoured. The waitress is wearing a John Brennan tee in the Hope fashion.
Carla: Well, if Mahbubani is right, it could get ugly, if the US chooses to go imperial instead of cooperative.
Lenny: It's beginning to sound like a Godfather movie.
Me: Yeah, can steaming Horse's Head Soup be far behind?
Carla: (whispers to me) I've got an offer you can't refuse.
Lenny: f*ck it. (shaking his head in disbelief) Let them have Taiwan. And Korea, too. f*ck it. We've got enough problems.
Fitz: Yeah, but what about the DMZ?
Carla: Maybe you and Sue should get back under the table. Your own private DMZ.
Me: I reviewed a novel by Admiral James Stavridis a couple of months back. 2034, it was called. Predicts a US naval exercise in the Straits gone south will bring about WW3.
Carla: End of the world?
Me: No, that's the thing. 2034 is part of a trilogy. Next is 2054 when the AIs do us. Then 2074 when, the admiral says, "climate change comes home to roost."
Carla: Is that what he said?
Me: (touching her thigh) And get this. He says in the middle of an interview on a rightwing news program: ...news flash, there are going to be additional pandemics.
Carla: He said that?
Me: (looking at his finger nails) I call it: the rolling pearlharbors ahead.
Fitz: That's yours? Wow, it's all over social media. I never met someone in person who coined a meme or viral before. (looks at Me with new wonder eyes)
Me: Yup. Old Stavridis sees future battles with the Chinese in the South Seas and with the Russkies in the Arctic Circle, where new old oil is expected to bubble up a crude any day now.
Lenny: You ever been to China?
Me: Once. Got to the Great Wall. A yak shat on me.
Lenny: What do you think of Dragonfly?
Me: What, the Google Total Surveillance tool that they got shamed into dropping?
Carla: Well played. (does some rubbing)
Sue: Can I get another Silk Road Smoothie with rum, please?
Carla: Look who's come up for air.
The dim sum cart comes around again, green steamed veggies and delicate wedge melanges. The waitress is wearing a Bowie tee in the now old Hope fashion. The waitress is looking extra pretty, like a Japanese school girl, apple blossom cheeks suggesting spring has sprung.
├ ü┼żWaitress: Rast Carr. Show about to begin. Tonight we show Nixon in Beijing: Cabalet Velsion. You rike. Vely popurar.
Waitress: You raw leady for youl fortune cookies?
Carla: Sure, bring it on.
Me: More rolling pearlharbors ahead.
Fitz: I can't believe you're the one who said that. That got so many thumbs up.
Sue: The bum.
The lights dim and small stage at the end of the restaurant opens up and a curtain rises and figures representing Mao and Nixon, and their retinue, presume upon the stage. A chorus (ten college-aged Asian-American voices) begins:
Sweet god almighty they're ready to meet
Keep your fingers loose we may need to tweet
This historic moment that Zoom has bring
Tween a Buffoon and a Philosopher King
Tween Yin and Yang and power of balance
Pride up the yinyang and ready to dance
Who will lead whom? Cappie versus Commie
Who will cry Uncle Sam? And who Mommy?
Will Trump's chaos or Xi's Confucian reign?
Hubris! Hamartia! Cathartic pain!
In the darkness Sue and Fitz play dumpling and sloppy soy sauce under the table.