Sunday, November 6, 2011

TIGER FATHER STORMS WORLD

"IS THIS THE FUNNIEST MAN IN CHINA?" screamed Shiela Coutts, 40-odd, of Canada, in a post about me on emerging social networking website facebook.
Wow, Shiela, I’m humbled. What can I possibly say to that?
I know - how about "Yes!"
Or, if modesty should rear its head, I should borrow from English football coach Brian Clough: I wouldn't say I was the funniest man in China, but I'm definitely in the top one.
Already this post needs some perspective. I can only make these wild agreements with this Ms Coutts because China no longer contains my friend Peter, who once was forced to eat a whole plate of penises at an official banquet. But more about eating penises later.
I thank Ms Coutts for her insightful comment, and the Tiger Father is indeed becoming something of a red tide sweeping China and the world around it. This blog's hits have now risen to the high couple of thousands. Based on current progress, stay-at-home-dad-in-China-blog analysts expect the Tiger Father to achieve its aim of eclipsing facebook in popularity by the second quarter of fiscal 2317.
Confucius ... set the agenda for
thousands of years of Chinese
civilisation, but wasn't all that
funny really.

But really, I hope I'm not the funniest man in China (and believe me, the government here would have a way of quantifying that and announcing official rankings). Can you imagine the pressure?
I could handle an equivalent title in my home town, Griffith, New South Wales, which had 12,000 people when I lived there. I could manage being Town Jester there, provided the position was well remunerated by the local council. I might be tapped on the shoulder by passers-by to make something like three quips a day, one or two puns and a couple of one-liners. Throw in four or five witty asides and I'd be done by 4.00pm and down the pub.
But China?? Crikey. There's 1,331,460,000 people here! That's a lot of ears to fill. They'd be bugging me all day.
"Hey Ma Si De!" they'd yell out, using my Chinese name. "Tell us another one!" Or "Lao Hu Baba (Tiger Father) - how about a witty aphorism?”
I wouldn’t get a moment’s peace. I’d end up being one of those cranky funny guys telling people to leave him alone. They’d skulk away saying “You know that guy really sucks.” So I’m not sure I want that on my business cards just yet.

Who is this Coutts person anyway? Who is this shiela? Like most who've been moved to comment on this blog, she's almost in the family, a friend of my brother-in-law. But that's all we know. As far as I know she could have the same sense of humour as Joseph Stalin.
What's more, in some eyes “Funniest Man in China” wouldn’t be a hard title to claim, like “Best Singer in the Spice Girls” or “Most Handsome Guy in the South Korean Football Team”. (See them at the last World Cup? Did they fall out of the ugly tree, striking all the branches on the way down, and landing in an ugly thicket at the base of the tree, or what?)
Latter-day demi-God Mao Zedong was
always up for a laugh, though.
"Look - no arms! Where are my arms?" 
You could say the average Chinese sense of humour is an odd beast. Chinese usually laugh at different things to westerners. At this cultural border, as at many others, humour usually gets detained and sent back. Many borders are the same. Brits and Australians laugh at similar things, but your German sense of humour has been cultivated differently. The Russians laugh at the misery of it all. Many Americans say "that's funny" but don’t laugh. I don’t know what the Uzbeks chortle over, but the sophisticated French still laugh at Benny Hill.
True story: I once reported on a survey to find out who laughed the most in Europe. The Italians, gaw bless’em, won with an average of 18 minutes per day. The Germans tailed in last I’m afraid, with just six minutes, enough to stare at two boiling eggs, which is quite possibly the thing that made them laugh.
The Chinese have their own way of looking at things. Slapstick is big. Nothing funnier than someone hurting themselves. The locals also love a bit of wordplay, especially 'crosstalk' - a rhythmic, punchy dialogue between two people.
Jokes that lay westerners in the aisles generally crash and burn here, often because the Chinese are very literal. For example, you can’t say there was 'no one at the game' or 'there's nothing on TV', because there were 2,154 fans at the stadium and the idiot box wasn’t blank.
A pig with two snouts is always guaranteed to get a smile.
One Australian friend has achieved much in business during three decades in China. But one of his proudest moments came when his Australian CEO spoke at a banquet and my friend had to interpret. The CEO wanted to start with a joke. My friend tried to convince him it wouldn't translate but the boss would not be dissuaded. Thankfully he couldn’t understand Mandarin. The speech began something like this.
CEO: “An actress and a bishop went into a pub …”
INTERPRETER (in Mandarin): “One panda goes up to this other panda …”
CEO: “And the actress says, can you give me a Slippery Nipple …”
INTERPRETER: “And the first panda says ‘Hey – that’s my bamboo …”
My friend didn’t know how long his CEO’s joke would be. He had to change his pace here and there, padding out or quickening up, but eventually, sweating profusely, he delivered his panda punchline right on time immediately after the CEO’s. The crowd cracked up. The CEO was delighted.
Comedy is all about nurture. Humour is in the ear of the beholder. What is funny?
Well, this is funny: Peter the Penis Eater.
A loveable Australian rogue, he was working here in the 1990s with a major bank. They signed some deal in a smallish western city (population 100 million), and of course a banquet was held.
The speeches began and a waiter approached Peter with a silver-lidded plate. Peter recoiled in horror as the lid was lifted to reveal what were unmistakably nine different thingys from nine different, hopefully dead, animals. He would of course be required to eat them, lest he or his hosts lose face.
The main speaker went on and his interpreter said: “This is for our friend Peter. Let us hope it makes his penis go extremely hard!” Loud applause all round.
Peter at least thought he had the perfect response and stood up to deliver it: “Thanks Mr Li, but might I say if it was any harder you could crack diamonds with it!”
Pleased with himself, Peter waited for the interpreter to finish relaying the joke, whereupon the room was filled with … awkward silence. The Chinese shifted in their seats, exchanging puzzled glances.
 “What?” Peter could tell they were saying. “Did you hear this bloke?”
“This guy wants to crack diamonds with his cock!”
“When we go home, we’re going to go to bed or whatever, but this guy we’ve just signed this deal with is, I think, going to put out some diamonds on his coffee table or somewhere and bang them with his knob. What the f***?!”
You could have cut the embarrassment with a knife. Peter sat back down quietly and avoided all eye contact. Instead was back staring at his penis platter. It was then he remembered the applause when his lid was removed. It wasn’t the wild, raucous, “What a laugh!” kind. It was firm, emphatic applause accompanied by lots of nodding and faces of stern approval and encouragement. This was not a joking matter.
Peter set about his task bravely. He’s barely a meat-eater, much less a schlong-swallower. Half gagging, he felt he’d done his duty after taking a nibble out of each one. The rabbit was best. Then came cat and dog. There was no donkey.
Bit of donkey action here though, at
Beijing's famous Guolizhuang speciality
penis restaurant. It's all they serve. And a
bit of lettuce to make it look nice.
My point is, I hope you’re liking this blog. I’ve been overwhelmed by the five comments I’ve received so far, and have written this post to inform you that if you like, you can now follow it on twitter at @TrevMarshallsea. There’s also a facebook button to click (top right) so you’ll get updates on my posts, which should come crisp and lemon fresh each Monday and Thursday. This was just a long-winded way of announcing that. That’s all. And now it’s over.

4 comments:

  1. Unless there are two Peter's that have had to endure Peter eating, I understand I am said Peter. I would add a footnote that about as awkward as telling my diamond joke was telling my family that I was 30, single, living in a foreign country by myself, and had just eaten penis. Awkward....

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  2. Reading this is so much more entertaining than proof reading school reports - who'd have thunk it.

    Tweets followed, facebook liked. :)

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  3. Said Peter .... does your only awkward footnote about your time in China include that you were 30 and single? Please tell us more ...

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  4. I cannot wait for 2317. I ordered a beef based dish when we were overseas recently... came with testicles. I ate them after the obligatory photos and jokes. They were actually pretty awesome.
    Love that you're on FB now cos I miss half your tweets :)

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