Thursday, November 01, 2007



More and more modern fiction by Chinese authors is being translated into English and published in the West, and I have pounced on every book I come across. Geling Yan is an author whose first novel, The Lost Daughter of Happiness I had enjoyed so when I saw her new book, The Uninvited, I just had to read it.

Dan Dong is an unemployed factory worker. Like millions of other Chinese peasants he had come to the city – in his case Beijing – to have a better economic future, and with him came his feisty wife Little Plum. They are living a hand-to-mouth existence when completely by chance Dan discovers a new way of making money and getting fed. He becomes a “Banquet Bug”.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with China, banquets and banqueting are a routine part of business life. I have been to China many times over the past 15 years, and lost count of the number of banquets I’ve had to attend. The Chinese take food, eating and drinking with a seriousness equivalent to the French. Any visitor from abroad, special occasion, new business venture, anniversary or whatever is celebrated with a banquet which is a formal meal at a restaurant – usually in an hotel, where the host plies his guests with the best food and drink he can afford. Banquets often have dozens of guests, and if they are being held to launch a new product the press are invited too in the hope that some favourable publicity will follow. To sweeten the journalists, they are frequently given a little “gift” (the equivalent of a goodie-bag that is handed out in the UK), but in China the decorative envelope will contain cash.

Dan enters a banquet by mistake one day, and quickly realises how easy it is to gatecrash such events. He has some business cards printed with his his name and the title of a fictitious news journal and he soon becomes a regular on the PR banqueting circuit. However, at these banquets he becomes aware of various corrupt schemes and he is not sure whether he should try to expose them before his fake identity is rumbled. Whilst he is deciding what to do he gets himself into various tricky situations, all of which serve up a slice of modern Chinese life for the reader.

Geling Yan has pointed up the vast inequalities in today’s China, and the tensions that have emerged as a result. The book is an entertaining read and at the same time shows the reader the contradictions at the heart of an ancient society struggling to come to terms with western-style consumerism. I found it very evocative of the aspects of China I have experienced.

Rated: 4*


If I go into one of our large supermarkets and buy 6 bottles of vodka no-one will query my actions, and I’d probably get a whole lot of loyalty points to boot – even though I might take the bottles home and consume them one after another and die of alcoholic poisoning.

I thought of this yesterday when I read the letter printed in a broadsheet newspaper from a reader who had a bad cold, as did his wife and grown-up daughter. He had been sent out to the nearest supermarket for supplies including over the counter cold remedies for them all. He swore by one particular preparation, his wife by a different one, and his daughter had her own preference. When he arrived at the checkout, the young woman who was scanning his goods through the till sternly asked why he had three different medications in his trolley. She then informed him that he would only be permitted to purchase two of them “for his own protection”.

What a bloody cheek.

These are drugs which are licensed for sale without prescription in this country, each bottle, box or packet has (as it must by law) clear instructions as to dosage printed on them. We are not fools, we can look after ourselves, it is patronisingly offensive to have someone working the tills telling us what we may or may not buy for our own safety.

If supermarket chains are so concerned that we might accidentally overdose, or become addicted, or attempt suicide (by mixing Night Nurse with Beechams Hot Lemon – I don’t think so) then they should stop selling the stuff altogether.

I have hunted high and low on the internet to see if our beloved Nanny state has passed some law forbidding the sale of more than two items of cold remedies, but have not come up with anything. If you know otherwise please send me chapter and verse so I can rant at the Health Secretary and the Chairman of Tescos, Sainsburys et al.


I've been up in Scotland this week, and managed to snaffle a jar of my mum's homemade
Rowan Jelly. Rowan Jelly is a tart, clear red jelly which is traditionally served with game birds or venison in Scotland, or it can be served with lamb in place of red currant jelly. A spoonful or two added to gravy makes a fabulous sauce.
I thought it was particularly apposite to post the recipe now as it was Halloween last night, and the Rowan tree (Scorbus aucuparia) has always been considered protection against witches and the devil, and features prominently in north European mythology.


1.5 kg Rowan berries
500g cooking apples (or crab apples)
1.25 litres water
Granulated sugar - amount will depend on volume of juice, but have a couple of kilos to hand.

Trim all the stalks from berries and rinse them if they are dusty. Coarsely chop the apples, discarding any bruised or damaged parts, but don't discard the cores.
Put fruit into a preserving pan with the water. Simmer gently for about one hour until the fruit is soft; as it softens stir occasionally and mash everything down with a wooden spoon to release the pectin.
Ladle softened fruit and juices into a jelly bag and leave to drip for several hours or overnight.
Resist the temptation to press the pulp through the bag, as the resulting juice will give a cloudy jelly.
Measure strained juice back into a clean jam pan and for every 600ml of juice add 450g granulated sugar.
Stir over low heat until all the sugar has dissolved then turn up the heat.
Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for approximately 10 mins. Test for set, and then skim any foam off the surface before potting in small sterilised jars.


John Self said...

The cold remedy thing presumably comes down to the fact that they all contain paracetamol. There is a maximum amount which a packet can contain, but there is no law on the sale of multiple packets. However as this piece points out, most stockists would limit the number that people can buy purely to protect themselves from adverse publicity.

In the year after the maximum pack size of paracetamol was reduced (1998), death by paracetamol overdoses fell by 21%.

Teuchter said...

Rowan jelly is indeed wonderful stuff - especially with venison.

I have a sorbus in my own garden and have, so far, had no problems with witches.

Bybee said...

I saw a review of the book in Time last year and clipped it for my Wishlist notebook.

herschelian said...

John - I realise that they all contain paracetamol, but these are not tablets, and I feel that as adult individuals we should be able to purchase what we choose.

teuchter - Glad to hear witches don't bother you! noticed on your blog that Deeside is where you aim to return to eventually. The DH is a Banchory boy, need I say more!

bybee - fascinated by your life in Korea, will post you the book, am leaving a note on your blog.

Anonymous said...

Thanks :)
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