Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chinese Satire: "Biden Eats Noodles" ('Kong Yiji' Edition)

by a Chinese blogger

(Note:  In recent days, a satire post titled "Biden Eats Noodles" on the Chinese internet has been widely reposted, so much so I have been unable to verify the original author's name. Apparently there are many versions of the post circulating, perhaps continuously revised during reposting. The one I chose to translate is from a rights lawyer Chen Youxi's blog. This post, which derides both the Chinese and American governments, emulates the style of "Kong Yiji," a famous essay by Lu Xun from the 1930s. For you to get a flavor for the Chinese satire more completely, I arbitrarily found a translation of "Kong Yiji" on "The Translation Blog," which also has  the Chinese original to compare to. And for an easier comparison between  "Biden Eats Noodles" and "Kong Yiji," I tried to make my translation similar to that of "The Translation Blog"'s. Unfortunately, some humor is always lost in translation. – Xujun)

Photo from Chen Youxi's blog

[in translation]

The layout of the fried liver restaurants in the empire's capital is quite different from those in other towns. They are all big establishments with  a blockhouse facing the street. Cold dishes are kept available so that they can be served at any time. Laborers, back from work at noon or dusk, would spend 5 jiao to get a bowl of fried livers – that was the price over 20 years ago, before the capital's students were chopped by the emperor, and a bowl costs 6 yuan now—where they lean over the counter, eat the warm dish before going to rest. With an additional ten yuan, you can get a dish of "pea yellow" or fried sausage to go with the wine. If you are willing to pay over 30 yuan, you can buy a meat dish. But most of the customers are the “Under Shirts” who cannot afford such luxuries, whereas, those who wear Western suits and ties would stride to the back room, order their wine and dishes and sit there taking their time to eat and drink.

I worked as a busboy at the Yao's Fried Liver restaurant, located under the capital's drum tower, since age 12. The shop keeper said that I had a dumb-looking face and was probably not smart enough to serve the “suit-and-tie clientele,” and thus should only work in the front room. The “under shirts” in the front room, although usually easy going, were no less troublesome. Some wouldn’t be satisfied until they saw me scoop out the gravy-sauce from the pan with their own eyes, to make sure that there was no melamine at the bottom of the bowl, and even watched me put the flat bread in the gravy sauce. Under such tight surveillance, it was difficult to cut down on materials. Therefore, after a few days, the keeper said I couldn’t even do that. Fortunately, due to the influence of my patron, the  keeper couldn't  dismiss me but he assigned me to the insignificant task of just serving soybean-paste noodles.

After that, I spent all day at the counter, doing my specialized job where I couldn’t make any blunders. The thing that bothered me most was that the job was so monotonous and boring. The keeper always glared at me with a fierce face, and the customers were not friendly either. Therefore, I couldn’t slack off even a little bit, except for the few laughs that the foreigner brought when he came to the restaurant. That’s why I can still remember him.

Biden was the only one who ate soybean-paste noodles while wearing a Western suit and tie. He was big and tall, with a rosy face, and had a head of bedraggled grizzly hair. Although he wore a suit, it seemed not to have been Armani nor expensively tailored, unlike the Vice President of a dignified country. He used so many obscure words and archaic phrases such as "hello," "yes" when he spoke that his speech was half unintelligible.

The moment Biden stepped into our restaurant, all the customers would look at him and start laughing. Someone would yell: “Biden, you got a new deficit on your fiscal book!” He never answered them, he only spoke to the waiter behind the counter: ‘A bowl of soybean-paste noodles, no eggs.’ He then spread out 10 big coins, all ten-dollar ones. The customers then intentionally raised their voices: "You must have borrowed again!" Biden replied with his eyes wide open: "How can you accuse me, an innocent person, without any basis?……” “What kind of innocent person? I saw with my own eyes on TV the other day that your congress got into a fight over debt."  Biden’s face turned red and the veins on his forehead protruded. While defending himself, he said: “Great America is not poor…people are rich! … A democratic country's business, can it count as poor?” Following that he blurted out those archaic phrases, such as “democracy," "economics," so on and so forth. The crowd would burst into laughter; and the restaurant once again became lively and rowdy.

I learned from gossips that America used to be well off, but it listened to some nuisance called Keynesianism and often borrowed money to spend; eventually it became unable to control the loan addiction, nor was it capable of forceful demolition of houses (强拆) or making selling land the government business, less still to increase taxes. It got increasingly poorer day by day and was close to becoming a beggar. Fortunately, due to a thingy called intellectual property, it was just able to get by, making copies for others, to exchange for a bowl of rice. Though Biden was in dire poverty, at our restaurant he was more creditworthy than others. He never welched on his promise to pay. Even when he was really tight on money, he would write down the debt on the chalk board and always cleared it within a month and was able to erase the name of American Vice President from the chalk board.

After half a bowl of noodles, the flush on Biden's face faded. Someone sitting by him asked, "Biden, is America really the richest country in the world?" Biden stared at the guy who asked him, with a look of disdain. The guy carried on, "How come you can't even repay the foreign debt?” Biden looked affronted, his face turning dark, and babbled all the obscure and archaic phrases like "financial deficit" that no one could understand. At this moment, the people all broke into hilarity and the place was permeated with a festive air.

At these instances, I laughed along with the people, and those were the moments the shop keeper never scolded me for laughing. The keeper had also asked such questions to him many times, just to tease him. Biden knew that he couldn’t have a regular conversation with them, so he turned to the youngsters. Once, he asked me: “Have you ever studied English?” I nodded. He then said, “You have studied English, so let me test your knowledge. Do you know how to write the word 'fry' as in 'fry soybean paste'?” I thought, a bum like him, in what role is he testing me? I turned my back, ignoring him. Biden waited for a while, then said earnestly: “You can’t, can you? Let me teach you how. Remember it. It will be useful when you become a shop keeper. You’ll have to do the books.” I thought to myself that I was a long way from becoming a shop keeper, and our  keeper never wrote down soybean paste noodles on the books. Biden was being ridiculous and annoying, so I answered coldly: "Who needs you to teach? Isn’t it f-r-y, fry?” Biden seemed excited, tapping the counter with two long nailed fingers, nodding: “Correct, 'fry' has four synonyms, do you know all of them?” I became more annoyed, scowled and walked away. Biden was about to write something on the counter with the nail that had been dipped in the wine. Seeing me uncaring, he sighed, putting on a look of pity.

Our keeper sneered:" Let me tell you, I'm a veteran in battles! Have seen a lot. The famous American journalist Wallace came to my store for soybean paste noodles, we regaled jovially! His extravagance, you Biden can't compare. Therefore, as a Vice President, you need to raise your income level! Understand?  I see you didn't even dare to add an egg to your soybean paste noodles; I'm really worried for your America! Really, you Biden have one good thing:  you eat noodles faster than anyone, but your consumption level [unintelligible words]…" Biden was so embarrassed, he said resentfully, "Wasn't I richer than you before? This a hundred dollars, keep the changes for your tip…" Then he hurriedly wiped his mouth and disappeared behind people's laughter.

After that, I didn’t see Biden for a long time. Around the anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize, the shop keeper took down the chalk board and said, ”Biden still owes me 19 coppers!” On May 35 of the following year, he said again, “Biden still owes me 19 coppers!” But he didn’t say it at the dried meat festival, and Biden hadn’t shown up either.

I haven’t seen him since — Obama has probably stepped down indeed.

3 comments:

W.D. Box said...

I suggest reading the original story Kung I-chi at Selected Stories, Lu Hsun (1918-1926).

http://www.coldbacon.com/writing/luxun-calltoarms.html

In my opinion, this little joke that is circulating on the net does nothing but belittle and detract from the great writings of Lu Hsun. Besides, Biden is not worthy to be substituted within the story.

Kung I-chi is one of my favorites.
A Madman's Diary is a must read.

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