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i meet the government

Post #688 • December 17, 2005, 9:56 AM • 9 Comments

A gentleman who works at Stock 20, Paint (that's his name - more on that later), broke the news to me. "Today the people from the CCA are coming. We are having a meeting at 4:30. Please come if you have time." The Council of Cultural Affairs oversees Stock 20 - basically, these folks are the Taiwanese counterparts of Rem Cabrera and his colleagues. Gwailo in residence, at your service!

The meeting, of course, was in Chinese, so I listened to voice tones, ate the treats on the table, and tried to follow along with the PowerPoint presentation. (Eating wrapped candy here is the culinary equivalent of Russian Roulette. Giant ginger gumdrop with two red beans inside? Down the hatch. Miniature chocolate butterscotch pudding candy? Mmm...) Mosquitos slowly filled the black box theater as Stock 20 staff made their quarterly report to their bosses. The other artists were there, and they made suggestions about how the facilities ought to be improved. I did no such thing - they asked me to say a few words, and I just said who I am and why I was there. All the while I was flashing back to meetings I've had at ArtCenter. It was exactly the same situation. Bureaucrats on one side, artists on the other, everybody trying to figure out what's going on with the other.

But afterwards - Miami cultural affairs people, take note - the government folks treated Stock 20 staff and artists to Japanese food, served on one of those giant lazy susan tables for fifteen people. Vegetarianism? Sorry, for the sake of my karma, pork just became a vegetable. Food began to arrive, and arrive, and arrive. What was it? I didn't ask, but my neighbor at the table pointed everything out afterwards: steamed egg custard with clams, fish-skin jelly, kimchee, breaded pork, giant shrimp tempura, vegetable cone rolls with lemon mayo, eel meatballs in barbecue sauce on wooden skewers, sushi crab roll. For dessert, the sweetest pineapple I have ever eaten. Because this was an official dinner of sorts, there were toasts. Repeated toasts. That meant sake. One at the beginning to the whole table, and then periodically, from one person to another. A few times, the main government guy raised his cup to me, and I replied. In the Chinese method, you salute the person with your cup, drink, raise your cup to him again, and set it down, at which point it magically refills without any action on your part. A head cold I had been fighting off landed on me hard that afternoon, but after dinner, I hardly cared.

We stepped out into a brisk night on a crowded street, the storefronts twenty feet apart, crowded with tables of people eating all along it, oblivious to the motor scooters zooming through. Neon signs, Chinese characters glowing in green and white and yellow, filled the night sky. We made our way back to the train station through thickets of people.

Comment

1.

mek

December 17, 2005, 11:36 AM

interesting dinner report. my mother in law is chinese so i know of the desserts you mention. try some of the candy - sour-sweet-salty.

how is your art going?

your traveling blog has become my nitecap.

best,
mek

2.

mek

December 17, 2005, 11:51 AM

sorry i suppose i was too tired to read your entry properly. you can delete my comment if you wish.

looking forward to hearing about the program and the art you make while there.

since you are on vegetarian hiatus, try a siao bao.

3.

Franklin

December 17, 2005, 11:56 AM

No problem, Mek. Thanks for reading.

4.

Harlan Erskine

December 18, 2005, 5:51 AM

Franklin,
Great read keep them coming. I like hearing about the customs that the details of this world. I can't wait to see some pictures. I hope you have a camera there. Either way keep sending us the pictures with your words. happy travels.

5.

JL

December 18, 2005, 10:01 AM

Vegetarianism? Sorry, for the sake of my karma, pork just became a vegetable.

From the late, great Theodore White's memoir, In Search of History:

"Ch 'ing, ch 'ing, "said Chou Enlai, the host. "Please, please," gesturing with his chopsticks at the pig, inviting the guest to break the crackle first. For a moment I held on to my past. I put my chopsticks down and explained as best I could in Chinese that I was Jewish and that Jews were not allowed to eat any kind of pig meat. The group, all friends of mine by then, sat downcast and silent, for I was their guest, and they had done wrong.

Then Chou himself took over. He lifted his chopsticks once more, repeated, "ch 'ing, ch 'ing, "pointed the chopsticks at the suckling pig and, grinning, explained—"Teddy," he said, "this is China. Look again. See. Look. It looks to you like pig. But in China, this is not a pig —this is a duck." I burst out laughing, for I could not help it; he laughed, the table laughed, I plunged my chopsticks in, broke the, crackle, ate my first mouthful of certified pig, and have eaten of pig ever since, for which I hope my ancestors will forgive me.

6.

Franklin

December 18, 2005, 10:34 AM

I had heard a shortened version of that story - thanks for sharing the full one. At some point, a year or so ago, I decided that it was a worse sin to inconvenience people than it was to eat this or that. (I concluded as much when faced with the prospect of asking my already beleaguered mother in the midst of Passover preparations to make some room on the stove so I could put matzo balls into miso soup, which she would have willingly done, but I looked at myself and said, oh, come on.) I think White's ancestors were speaking through the wisdom of Chou Enlai.

7.

jordan

December 18, 2005, 6:42 PM

Many of my friends in both high school and University were Chinese, Korean, and/or from Japan, or they where Asians from the North-West Provinces. My studies in N.Y. in 1991 with a printmaker who lived in and worked for a year in Yellowknife, helped me to appreciate Inuit art.
My snowboard days in Vancouver and Whistler did as well.
I came to Miami to share , help, and learn and yet have experienced something surprisingly different. I have struggled here for 12 years as a 'GRINGO'.
I hope that those that stay here are respected.
Taiwan reminds me of Canada and I miss home.
Miami is fixed.

8.

Julia Lewis

December 19, 2005, 9:33 AM

Love reading your musings and picturing you in China! Looking forward to future installments and seeing the work that comes out of this experience! PS: You did the right thing with the pork....
Julia

9.

jordan

December 20, 2005, 5:38 AM

I should clarify that some aspects are fixed as can be seen during the most recent Art Basel event.
Feeling nostalgic during the holidays.

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