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Chinese Rumours by Justin Mitchell

"What's that about?" I asked, bending over C's shoulder to squint through my trifocals at the laptop screen full of Chinese text illustrated with an artsy black and white photo of a nude buff torso and butt of a (presumably) Chinese guy striding manfully up a staircase. I thought of my bloated, sagging physique briefly then snapped quickly back to more cheerful thoughts like the 1918 Influenza Pandemic.

"Ten things a man should eat for better health," she replied cheerfully.
"Like what? Beer and beef jerky?"
"Number one is dog," she said.
"Hmmm...yeah. And what else?"
She ticked through the list. Save for Lassie it was either common sense or too difficult to translate, as in "fish" and "another kind of fish, maybe white?"
"But dog. That's just wrong," I said, mindfully omitting the fact that I've eaten it twice in my life, once unwittingly and the second time because it was Boxing Day/Mao's birthday and I didn't want to offend my Chinese coworkers. "Civilized countries don't eat dog."

Photo courtesy of Jemma at

Jemma comments "Spot the dog on the menu?"

"Civilized countries don't invade other countries," she shot back in a not so subtle shot at my homeland. "Oh, and do you think Japan and China will go to war?"

I didn't need to ask why she'd asked that. Not only was the anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre that month -- something that automatically heats up the easily inflamed Chinese Netizens, Japanese makeup has been taking a beating here with reports that some of the best sellers in China are chock full o' toxic heavy metals.

C is firm believer in most of what she reads on the Internet, particularly when it concerns Chinese science and Chinese medicine, (or Chinese "science" and "medicine" as I prefer to think of it). And I, except if it's e-mail from "Henry -- All Love Enhancers on One Portal!" or from "Miss Blessing Soke" whose "late father who was killed by the rebels in a recent crisis in Cote d'Ivoire in 2004" and Miss Blessing wants to give me a share of his $3.5 million bequest in exchange for my bank account particulars, well .... I'm generally a skeptic.

I had decided to give the dog-as-male-health-food argument a pass, though, because C had shredded me earlier that week on the Japanese makeup scandal. She'd called me late on Thursday night from Shenzhen to tell me that one of her favorite Japanese creams and cleansers, made by SK-II and distributed by Procter and Gamble, was "poisonous," contaminated with heavy metals. How did she know? It was all over the Chinese Internet and news.

My Crap Detector needle hit the red zone and I sighed. "Look it's a rumor, I'm sure. A rumor because P&G has a long history of false rumors against it, like devil worshipping. And SK-II is Japanese and this is the anniversary month of the Nan..."

She cut me off. "I know what you're going to say. How come you don't believe anything Chinese news and Internet says?"

"Uh, maybe because they lie, just maybe?"

Wrong answer. As flames from her end began to erupt through my cell phone, I finally decided to submit it to arbitration. I told her I would call an acquaintance who monitors the Chinese Internet for his blog EastSouthWestNorth and translates whatever strikes his fancy. C knew of him through my mentions and occasional links I'd send her. His name is Roland Soong and he's a multi-lingual international class act and intellect, not normally a low level Love Doctor/mediator for a bubbling domestic spat over makeup and Internet rumors.

I called Roland and apologized and explained the situation. He put down whatever Susan Sontag critique of an obscure 17th century French novel he'd been reading in its Farsi translation and gracefully agreed to help.

"Your girlfriend is right," he said. "SK-II is in trouble and it's not a rumor."

"So I have to grovel?"

"Yes, grovel."

I called C back. "You were right. The Chinese Internet and news were right. Roland said I should grovel."

"You should listen to Roland more often and to me all the time," she replied. "Good night. Sleep tight."

From: Original         Author: Justin Mitchell         Time: 3/5/2010 3:49:54 PM

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