Sunday, May 4, 2008

Panciteria Wak Nam

The Saga of Fray Paco
Book 2: Don Alcibiades - The Banker
Chapter 6: Panciteria Wak Nam

Don Alcibiade breezily sat down in the black Model T Ford, spreading his pure white handkerchief of fine linen over his legs.

“Perfecto. Now Tirso, place Fray Paco on his small perch across my lap.”

The banker and the cockatoo were now eyeball to eyeball. “Viene, hombre, viene (Come, man, come).” Fray Paco with his big, black velvet eyes, they were in fact brown, but this rare specie of cockatoo have a film over their eyes much like cats, owls, falcons and hawks, predators all that makes them look black. Fray Paco wordlessly and with twinkling eyes looked down at the linen handkerchief, raised his glorious white and gray crest and exclaimed, staring into Don Alcibiade’s eyes, “Stupido.”

The banker removed his handkerchief. “O.K. OK, as the Americans say. You’re not bird brained. You might rip my eyes out but you won’t make caca. I got the picture already. Vamonos (Let’s go).”

The traffic on the way to Chinatown was sluggish, which meant that Tirso could move the car even more slowly than Don Alcibiade normally liked it. The Ford was gliding, even if the banker thought traffic was slow. At the pace Tirso was doing, it was piling up a procession of cars behind them.

“Who died?” Honk! Honk! Said a ritzy looking young man as he zoomed by.

“Que le pasa? (What’s wrong with you?)” growled someone who passed by.

“Where did you not learn to drive a car?” screamed another.

An indignant voice behind them said, “Que horror! Taking a siesta in the middle of the road!”

“Sir,” Tirso said. Don Alcibiade just chuckled. The men behind the wheels were bleating, blasting their horns and the calesa drivers were whistling. The Chinese and Filipino peddlers in front of their car were ambling along, selling tofu, dim sum and sweet and sour tamarind seeds known as sampaloc.

Beep! Beeep! Honk! Honk! Bam! Bam!

Fray Paco shrieked in merriment, loving the confusion. “Paseo! Paseo! WEEE! HEEEEE!”

Don Alcibiade looked to both Fray Paco and Tirso. “Mira, chicos (Look, kids), isn’t this fun? We have created a genuine traffic jam. But – there is nothing new under our very hot sun. In ancient Rome, Julius Caesar banned all chariots and carriages into the center of Rome. Did you know that?”

“Sir,” Tirso pleaded firmly.

“Esta bien, Tirso. Let’s speed up. Fray Paco can watch people on the streets and in the cars again tomorrow.”

“I think he’ll enjoy going fast too,” proposed Tirso.

“Hombre, you couldn’t be more right. With the fast life he’s lived! Que vida loca! Right. Let’s fly! The sky’s the limit!” said the banker with aplomb.

“Estas loco? (Are you crazy?)” one driver protested.

“Maleducado!” yelled another.

“You’re going straight to hell!” screamed a voice as they reached past him.

Fray Paco was gurgling, as a car to the right tried to pass them, clearly one who did not relish being out driven by a Model T. The car was a snazzy blue Packard and it was being raced by a woman.

“A flapper! Yes, sir, one of those,” Don Alcibiade remarked.

She was angry too. “You imbecile!” And derisory, “You plumpy man! Hey you with that silly bird.”

The Ford and the Packard were running neck and neck.

“Don’t let that rude woman pass. We’re on the road. Ladies don’t come first,” barked Don Alcibiade.

“Talaga, Senor?” queried a stunned Tirso in two languages, Tagalog and Spanish.

“May I be eaten alive by a dahon palay!” affirmed the banker.

Tirso laughed and had to slow down a bit. (Dahon palay is a small, venomous snake the color of a vivid green leaf; its habitat is the emerald colored rice fields.) The thought of Don Alcibiade, his roly-poly Jefe being eaten alive by a snake no longer than three inches was too funny.

“Laugh, Tirso. It was meant to be witty. Just don’t let the flapper pass.”

“Oye, tu con ese pajaro stupido (Hey, you! With that stupid bird)” the very annoyed woman testily yelled. “Oye! Tu viejo gordo con ese pajaro stupido (Hey, you fat old man with that stupid bird).”

“Did you hear that?” Don Alcibiade was beginning to be annoyed. “She can’t even speak Spanish properly. She said ‘stupido’ with the accent on the P. She must be a Gringa.”

In the exhilaration of the moment, Don Alcibiade had forgotten that Fray Paco was not fond of the fairer and weaker sex, and this particular woman was easy to dislike. “Brutta! Tonta! Gaga! Fea puta!” a stream of invectives came hurling out of Fray Paco’s sweet looking face.

“Cosa??” the woman shrieked for the whole street and perhaps all of humanity to hear.

“Ok. Slow down, Tirso, let her pass,” Don Alcibiade was too amused at the real life slapstick going on before their eyes and ears. “O my God! O Dios!” the banker reported to Tirso, “Now she doesn’t want to pass us. She’s slowing down too.”

“Brutta! Idiota! Cretina! Loca! Puta!” You ugly, idiot, cretin and crazy whore. Fray Paco bellowed at the enraged flapper.

“I can see she doesn’t want to pass us, Sir,” a Tirso giggling with laughter said. “Shall I pull over and see if she’ll drive straight past us?”

“Don’t you dare, Tirso! When it comes to infuriated women, I’d rather be a coward. Don’t you know what Shakespeare said about wrathful women?”

“N…no! I don’t think so,” replied Tirso, still trying to lose the woman.

“Don’t you know who I am? I’ll sue you! The flapper screamed at them.

Don Alcibiade was now laughing so hard he was holding fray Paco’s perch tightly with both hands. He certainly did not want a rightfully indignant Fray Paco falling out of his perch and accidentally mutilating him with either his beaker or his talons, depriving him of his unmentionable intimate part. even if he rarely used it these days for other than his normal bodily function dealing with his bladder.

Tirso could barely keep the car straight from the tears of laughter streaming down his eyes.

Fray Paco kept it up. “Vaca! Bufa! Brruja! Mala! (Cow! Female buffalo! Witch! Wicked Woman!)”

“Thank God,” Don Alcibiade sighed, “he did not use the you-know-what word.”

“I’ll sue you! I’ll report you!” the woman continued her ravings. She was now parallel to their car.

“Putaaaaa! Locaaaa!” Fray Paco had let out the most bloodcurdling scream Don Alcibiade had ever heard.

Even the pretty flapper was frightened and she lifted her foot from the gas pedal, pulling back, but staying right behind them.

“I hope she doesn’t ram us,” the banker said. “Shakespeare said hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

“I hope she runs out of gas,” the driver said.

“Where are the yayos? Januario and Severo? Fray Paco’s attendants. Don Alcibiade asked in desperation “and where is Seles?”

“Well, Sir, when we were going so slowly, they passed us…”

“Good. They must be about to catch up then.”

“Not exactly_Sir, when we were speeding, we passed everybody, including Januario, Severo and Seles.”

“Except the Termagant,” affirmed Don Alcibiade.

Tirso was turning into Ongpin Street. Don Alcibiade was ambivalent as he heard Fray Paco muttering unintelligible things under his breath. Clearly the woman, flapper and modern  Anglo-American or whatever species she was, had started the verbal assault and insults. She had behaved irrationally. His wife Dona Ibon would never do that. Hmm…that’s not a good comparison. Dona Ibon never left the house except to go to church or to shop for jewelry. All right then, Esperanza his niece; Antonia, his other niece. He knew a slew of strong-minded and very liberated women within his own clan who wouldn’t “lose control” in such a situation. Don Alcibiade did a quick examination of conscience. He wasn’t so sure any more of the reaction of any of his nieces.

“Tirso. I shouldn’t have put you through all this. What do you think my niece Esperanza would have done? I mean, I know she wouldn’t insult anyone but suppose she had been driving the other car and had heard Fray Paco’s descriptive words?”

“I’m afraid we’d all be dead, Sir,” the driver said with certainty.

“I’m afraid so too,” repeated the banker.

“She is still closely behind us, Don Alcibiade!”

“Any sign of the yayos? I can’t turn to look. I have Fray Paco on my lap and besides I’m not as agile as I used to be,” the banker uttered.

Tirso turned around quickly. “I see them. I see them. They are behind the Fiera (Spanish colloquialism for any woman with the temper of a jungle wild cat),” he said excitedly.

“Our luck’s beginning to turn. Are they still behind the wildcat and is the wildcat behind us?” Don Alcibiade asked.

A pause from Tirso. “Yes, we’re almost there.”

“I can see that. We’ll have to play this by gut instinct,”

Don Alcibiade stroked Fray Paco’s head. It felt so silken! And the feathers were so soft.

“I should think so,” he thought, “he has two full-time chicos attending to all his needs.” As he stroked Fray Paco, he told him “Querido, mira (Look, darling) that loca fiera is right behind us. I don’t know what she might say or do. Now I don’t mean you should be a good Christian and turn the other cheek, but please (and the banker stretched the word pleeeease!) don’t retaliate. Our life is in your talons!”

Fray Paco gave him a withering, “vete al infierno” (“go to hell”) kind of look.

“Fine, then. Just words, if you must!”

No reaction from Fray Paco.

“Put your arm out and signal to Seles to hurry up and join us.” Don Alcibiade could see it was hopeless. Ongpin Street jingle jangled with people, calesas, peddlers, beggars and cars.
“Che sara, sara,” prayed Don Alcibiade as Tirso stopped the car almost in front of the Pansiteria Wak Nam. “Keep sending signals with your arm to Seles,” he instructed.

Tirso jumped out of the car and furiously moved his arms while walking over to Don Alcibiade’s side. “Don Alcibiade, I’ll have to find a place to park.”

“No te preocupes, muchacho; all in good time. Leave the coche right where it is. Look at this bedlam; nobody will even notice we are double-parked. I’ll deal with it later. I know there was something I forgot to do.”

“What, Senor?”

“I forgot to rent the space in front of the Panciteria. Rats!”

Tirso really looked confused.

“I’ll tell you some other time,” the banker said quickly, heaving himself and Fray Paco out of the Ford with great effort. “It must be my adrenaline glands working like dogs,” he thought
From the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 1840s until the late 1930s, in England and in the United States, large dogs were exploited to turn water wheels, pull carts of machine tool parts in factory floors, haul carts over heavy terrain where horses were hard to find, drag sleds brimming with gold, iron ore and other metals in snow, ice or sleet. Sometimes four large dogs would tow supplies such as potatoes, fruits and coal in donkey carts over long distances.

Enterprising borderline sociopaths who owned and ran the mills and factories in boom towns such as San Francisco, Seattle, New York, the Klondike in North America, Manchester and Leeds in England, Dundee in Scotland, preferred the dogs to the puny children and men they had first used, who “tired and died too soon.” Working dogs such as Saint Bernards,  huge Mountain Dogs from the Pyrenees, the Great Swiss Mountain Dogs, Malamuts, Icelandic Shepherds and Anatollian Shepherd Dogs were in high demand and were considered a better investment than child workers. They were cheaper to feed as well.

The God-forsaken dogs worked until they dropped from exhaustion, from 6:00am to 10:00pm. Few lasted beyond 40 days. When they died, their carcasses were fed to the other dogs. It was a well-integrated operation from a purely capitalistic point of view.

Charles Dickens denounced the exploitation of humans and dogs in all his novels and stories. Mark Twain wrote savage essays about it. “A Dog’s Life,” he called it. George Bernard Shaw ferociously attacked this practice. It was he who first used the expression “working like dogs.”

Don Alcibiade had read Dickens, Mark Twain and George Bernard Shaw. His anarchist father had told him Spanish sheep dogs from the Pyrenees towed milk and cheese wagons through the streets of Barcelona.

Esperanza herself had seen dogs working in the Spanish Pyrenees as a teenaged bride in Monzon, Aragon; they were coughing and spitting blood as they painfully and excruciatingly dragged charcoals to the homes and palaces of the rich and rising middle class.

The pretty fiera was so irate. She had double parked behind Don Alcibiade and was now walking as fast as her pride would allow her. She also had not noticed till now she was in Chinatown. She was the only female gwailo (foreign devil) on the street. Unfriendly stares were seen as she put on a bravado of “I don’t care” and ticked tocked on her high heels in a badly and hardly paved Ongpin Street towards Don Alcibiade as Don Alcibiade stood by his car with Fray Paco in tow.
“How dare you?” the fiera was shouting in badly accented Spanish. “I’ll file a lawsuit for defamation.”

The two muchachos, Januario and Severo, were sprinting so fast they had overtaken the mad woman.

They are both going to get a bonus, the banker thought. Seles was right behind them. No twos without a three, the expression said. Seles will get one too.

All three muchachos were running backwards, facing the senorita gringa, their arms outstretched behind them to avoid bumping into the humanity agglomerated in Ongpin Street.

“Please, Senorita, it’s not the fault of our Boss or of his family. Fray Paco came to them already speaking many tongues,” intoned Januario and Severo.

The young woman had stopped. On foot, Fray Paco looked like someone you did not fool around with. Don Alcibiade was taller than she, even with her high heels. The bird or parrot, or whatever he or she or it was, stood imperiously on a wooden perch. He or it had stretched himself or herself to its full height of about fifteen inches, its crest puffed up in all of its glory to the fullest. It was slowly baring its talons, opening and closing them. It looked at her defiantly. He had some sort of loose restraint on his leg, something that would tear easily with that curved and dangerous beak. A mini-scimitar of sorts.

Don Alcibiade kept it light. “Miss, I assure you, I’m not a ventriloquist. This is a cockatoo or a catala. His name is Fray Paco. He is almost ancient … and please don’t come any closer and don’t utter a sound, please!”

The senorita got the point. In fact she was terrified and appalled at her awful temper and its possible consequences.

“Bienvenido, Don Alcibiade!” said Don Wak Nam breezily, with a welcoming committee as he walked towards Don Alcibiade from the Panciteria Wak Nam.

“Hee! Hee! This must be Fray Paco, the naughty and clever catala.”

There were at least a dozen people greeting Don Alcibiade, Fray Paco, Tirso, Seles, Januario and Macario. The banker thanked Don Wak Nam very graciously. Que me coja un rayo! (May a bolt of lightning strike me), he thought, all this reception for a cockatoo?

Later on, as his friendship with the Wak Nams unfolded, the banker would be told of delightful fairy tales in China where a talking bird had softened the heart of the angry Emperor, captured the heart of a beautiful Princess who had kissed the talking bird and he had turned into a handsome Prince, or of the plot against the Emperor which the talking bird had revealed to the Emperor himself, thus saving his life.

Fray Paco eyed the people surrounding him, those he did not know and those who were not in his circle, with a mixture of suspicion and curiosity. He cocked his head to the left, then to the right, one eye closed as he did so, sotto voce muttering “Pater Noster, qui es in coelis.” Our Father who art in Heaven.

Don Alcibiade marveled at the transformation. As they walked up the steps of the Panciteria, the banker and landlord of the house and property where the Panciteria Wak Nam operated said, “Listen to that. Can you hear him? That’s in Latin! That’s the Pater Noster (the Our Father). Minutes ago in the car, on the way here… well… never mind, Don Wak Nam, it’s not important. Thank you for the bienvenida. I can’t wait to see my office and taste the food.”

“Which comes first?”

“I can look at my office as I eat,” replied Don Alcibiade without hesitation.

He looked around and out into the street as he got to the landing. Fray Paco was carried in his cockatoo splendor by his yayos. Tirso and Sales followed  with some hesitation, but the banker waved them forward.

“Ay! The flapper! She has vanished! Tirso! Seles! Where is the senorita?” Before they could answer the usual “Quien sabe?” Who knows, Don Alcibiade turned to the wise elderly Wak Nam.

“You must have seen or heard that raucous display with the young flapper out on the street. What happened to her?”

“Everybody knows everything in Chinatown. The flapper girl is safe. She chopped chopped to her car and drove away fast,” Don Wak Nam reassured him.

“She was all right?” Don Alcibiade asked again.

“She is safe. I don’t know if she is all right,” the Patriarch paused, and the banker understood what the wise man meant. She was unharmed but he could not speak for her interior self. And then he continued, “Right now, everybody is interested in Fray Paco, not the pretty woman with the bad character who is not even Chinese!”

Ay! Ay! Ay! This was going to be great fun, thought Don Alcibiade.

“I see,” he told Don Wak Nam with some understanding of what he had just been told. “There are many viewpoints in life. I wonder how we all look from Fray Paco’s angle of vision?”
“He will let us know soon enough,” observed the Patiarch.

“We are all eating here. My men will need separate tables,” he told #1 Nephew or Son, known as Wak Ling, who was escorting them together with the Patriarch past the main sala or great dining hall.

“Must you all be in the same room?”

“Oh no! It will be good for them not to see me all the time. They need some privacy too.".

Really this man is very odd. What privacy is he talking about? Why, my panciteria is noisier than a cockfight, thought the Pariarch. But as he had said, there are many, many ways to look at the same things. “Claro, Don Alcibiade,” old man Wak Nam answered.

They had prepared a long pole about fifteen meters long which ran the length of the room in which Fray Paco could cavort, throwing pearls of imprecations, gemstones of oaths, blasphemies, prayers, poems at the patrons as they ate their tasty lunches.

Don Alcibiade was in good spirits. Fray Paco would be in his element for a couple of hours. His men would enjoy comida china (Chinese cuisine). He would relish his time in the small sala in the back in his six square meter secret office, partake of delicious food (he was fed up with all that heavy Spanish food).

“If I see another bean stew, paella bacalao or cocido, I shall puke!” he told no one in particular, not really caring who heard him.

“Bueno, Fray Paco, que lo pases bien. Hasta luego Well, Fray Paco, may things go well with you. See you later.

No reply from Fray Paco. Everyone was talking all at once and at their loudest. Plates were clanging; chopsticks were clicking loudly against the porcelain bowls and plates. In between the mouthfuls of food, the men were smoking! Don Alcibiade realized the room was misty. A weatherman … what was the name … meteorologist would (for sure) call it overcast. The Chinese were also a variegated and many-hued collection of people. It was wall-to-wall people in there!

Don Alcibiade coughed and sputtered, and he a dedicated cigar smoker. What was that noise? Ha! Fray Paco could not make himself heard above the roar. Don Wak Nam noticed it too and smiled contentedly.

“Que maravilla. That’s marvelous. It won’t hurt him to be dumbstruck some of the time,” said Don Alcibiade.

Fray Paco had to be noticed sooner or later. All the men had seen him enter the sala, watched the preparations as he was placed on the long pole from one end of the room to the other. They all knew Fray Paco was the smart ass talking bird. In a few minutes, all eyes were fixed on Fray Paco who sensed this was the right time to whoop out his greetings.

“Hola Chinos, hola! Quero Tai Yen!”

The sala erupted in laughter. Some of the men slapped their thighs; others banged their fists on the table lightly. Several men roared and couldn’t stop their ha-has, tee-hees, titters and guffaws.
Neither could Fray Paco. “Hola! Chinos! Hola. Quero Tai Yen.”

The Patriarch was doubled up with laughter. His nephews were shaking hysterically from Fray Paco’s comment. Don Alcibiade was splitting his sides. He wasn’t quite sure what the Chinese word meant, except that Fray Paco had spoken in three languages. “Hola Chinos” being Spanish for Hello Chinese people. “Quero” or as he said it “Querrrro!” was Portuguese and it meant I want. As for “Tai Yen,” it was Chinese for something hilariously funny or deliciously wicked.

“What did Fray Paco say?” Don Alcibiade wanted to know.

“Bad, very bad,” answered Don Wak Nam through his doubling up.

“Tai yen! Tai yen! Eu querrro! (Tai yen, Tai yen, I want)

“Bad! Bad!” the Patriarch kept repeating amid his laughter.

Don Alcibiade decided to exit from the scene and go to his office cum dining table. He was the landlord, what the devil. He knew his way around the house. Don Wak Nam followed closely behind. He seemed unable to stop cracking up with laughter. The sala remained in an uproar. Fray Paco was whipping them up with the same words. “Tai yen! Tai yen! Tai yen!"

Don Alcibiade fervently hoped Fray Paco’s former family had not been Boxers as in the Boxer Rebellion in Peking, in addition to all the other riff raff and had not said “Cut off all the heads of Europeans Chop! Chop!”

The banker sat down looking a little mystified. “It can’t be that bad. You’re all collapsing with laughter. You Chinese are supposed to have unreadable and sphinx like faces. I can’t understand this.”

Don Wak Nam sat down next to the banker Don Alcibiade. “You like pancit with fresh shrimps or sweet water clams? I’ll give you little bit of both. Then I shall relate what Fray Paco uttered.”

The banker noticed the young woman with the abacus creased up as she tinkered with the circlets, the other young woman cleaning the swallow's excretions for bird's nest soup and the vegetables was tittering, and the bordadora (the embroiderer) had a huge smile on her round face.

It’s every man for himself, thought Don Alcibiade. Fray Paco had said something outrageous. Bully for him! And the Chinese hosts as well as the guests had gone gaga over it. Bully for Fray Paco again.

Don Wak Nam brought him pancit with shrimp and pansit with tahong- tiny sweet water clams from a river near Tanay.

“No Toyu – soya sauce please. Only a little juice from the calamansi or the exquisite taste will be spoiled.”

“Now I shall tell you what bright, bad, bad thing Fray Paco yelled for,” Don Wak Nam was chuckling again.

“Tai yen is opium. Tai yen means blowing clouds. It’s a Chinese expression for smoking opium. You understand now why we all lost our composure? Why we all laughed so hard. We have no opium in the pansiteria, only tobacco from Java.”

“Fray Paco won’t stop until he gets to blow on clouds. It’s all our fault. He does not know what the word “No” means. I am afraid we have spoiled him. I apologize for this Don Wak Nam.”

“It is not a problem Don Alcibiade. Don Cesar spoiled him too. Whenever he came with Fray Paco we always had some opium for him to smoke. You see the house next door is a part time Tai yen parlor. Maybe Fray Paco remembered and scented the smell of opium.”

“Why does no one smoke opium in Panciteria Wak Nam?” he asked with real curiosity.

“Working people with good sense do not have money to smoke opium. We are from Fujian. Fujianese do not trade in opium.”

“Why?” Don Alcibiade persisted.

“Practice, tradition and custom. Only Chiu Chao trade opium,” Don Wak Nam explained. “Only Chiu Chao run opium, Tai yen parlors and dens. Only Chiu Chao buy opium from the Golden Triangle. It is a plain in Indo-China where the three countries converge called Plein de Jarre- Laos,Cambodia and Burma. Fujianese run smuggling operations, some piracy,trading, pansiteria, stores and other shops. You see now?”

Mother of God, thought Don Alcibiade, this was privileged information. Wow! I am getting an education right here in Chinatown. I am receiving the kind known as street smart learning. And so this knowledge is revealed to me at the age of fifty, half a century of living and working and loving. I wonder why Uncle Cesar never told me? I suppose I was meant to discover them by myself. One was never too old to learn!

“A question. Don Wak Nam. What made Fray Paco mention opium? Ah! I think I know,” the banker suggested. “All that smoke brought back some long buried memory. Scents and smells can do that.”

“Es verdad, It is true. Enjoy your pancit before it gets cold.”

Don Alcibiade noticed his desk had been placed on a straight line from his dining table. Next to the window there was a set of bronze wind chimes. He saw them moving in the breeze but could not hear them. They had put a makeshift screen before his desk. It was not pleasant to look at.

“I’ll have a coromandel screen brought from the bank to put before my desk and to cover part of the light from the window. Do you mind?”

“This position has good feng shui. Bring beautiful coromandel screen but do not shift position,” replied Don Wak Nam.

Don Alcibiade had not heard the word feng shui before, he wasn’t sure how to pronounce it, and was reluctant to ask any more questions today.

So, Tai yen was the proper Chinese word for “blowing clouds” smoking opium. What a poetic name for such a malevolent habit. It was destroying China. What could be done about it? Don Alcibiade ruminated. It had spread to Nanking, Annam, Cochin China (known as French Indochina), to Java, Borneo, Malaya, Burma. India had been saturated with opium long before China. That’s why the English Hongs had started the degrading and humiliating Opium Wars against a crumbling, corrupt and disintegrating China – to bring the opium into China whether they wanted to or not.

And now, Manila, the Pearl of the Orient, was starting to play around with opium, alcohol, and ganja from the Golden Triangle (Laos, Cambodia, Burma). Don Alcibiade hoped the Puritan Americans administrating the Philippines in a Commonwealth would not only be word of mouth Puritans. We shall see what we shall see.

After his meal, he drank three cups of Green Tea. “Clean the insides,” #2 Nephew Wak Ling had said.

“Could you ask Seles, my calesa driver to come into my office as soon as he can?” Wak Ling wasn’t sure which one was Seles. “He’s the muscular Butanguero.”

“Buta what?” asked Wak Ling.

“It means someone who doesn’t like their corns and calluses stepped on and can become vicious as a consequence,” explained Don Alcibiade.

Seles appeared speechless, a frown on his face.

“Come in to my office, hombre. See that big table next to me? That’s my desk. You can start bringing the narra files this afternoon after you’ve delivered Januario and Severo to the bank. Then come right back to the bank, and we’ll all proceed home to Santa Mesa. Fray Paco and his attendants live in my niece’s house on Santol Street and I am in Pina. We are at the beginning of the street as you turn from Santa Mesa Boulevard.”

“Thank you for the Chinese food, Senor,” Seles said.

“If you and Januario and Severo concur, you can all eat lunch here everyday. I’m fagged with all the wearisome Spanish and international cuisine and you three must be conked out on the daing, tuyo, and steamed malidkit (sticky rice). Have a beer or two.”

“I don’t drink, Senor,” replied a sober Seles.

“Then drink Green Tea. The number One nephew of Don Wak Nam says its good for your insides.”

Seles was unaccustomed to the unpredictable eccentricities of Don Alcibiade. The jefe/Chief was definitely a unique man, and kind one too.

“The three of you are going to receive a bonus for your actions above and beyond the call of duty today. That loca (and soplada too) senorita could have had her face and throat mangled by Fray Paco. I would have been held responsible. Pity the father, husband or boyfriend/ inamorato or novio of that virago.”

“Thank you, Senor,” Seles politely told Don Alcibiade as he left the room.

“Tell the others to start the preparations for our departure.”

“My most respected Wak Nam,” he addressed the patriarch, “the meal was excellent, service cordial and the entertainment superlative. There is one small matter to discuss … the parking space in front of the Panciteria Wak Nam, I’d like to rent it.”

“Ah Don Alcibiade. It is not possible because it is already taken.

“By whom?” thundered Don Alcibiade.

“Everybody can take it. It’s first come, first served,” he explained.

“I can’t believe this. There must be someone I can kiao-kiao - palaver for a deal with.”

“No kiao-kiao for now. That is what we all agreed for the sake of harmony. That is the practice. Please leave the car double-parked. If somebody needs to get out, they will come to the Panciteria and your driver can move the car out of way. Simple!”

Don Alcibiade was starting to gain insights into the Chinese psyche. There was a great deal of order inside this incredible confusion.


  1. Dear Isabella, my Friend,

    Just a bit more information for you, about this part: "That’s why the English Hongs had started the degrading and humiliating Opium Wars against a crumbling, corrupt and disintegrating China – to bring the opium into China whether they wanted to or not."

    Without making any apology for Britain's role in the Opium Wars - against which almost half of the British Parliament voted, and about which most British people knew little or nothing as most of the English were struggling in their own country's dark satanic mills - a fact which hardly more than a handful of mainland Chinese people know today, is that in 1840, many Chinese government officials were selling opium to their own Chinese people.

    In other words, the British did not bring the Opium habit to China. The Chinese had already done that, before 1840, and in 1840 most of China's opium importers and sellers were Chinese - mostly government officials. The Opium War was a conflict between British drug-runners versus Chinese drug-runners, a war for "turf" between two equally evil gangs of drug runners, the British and the Chinese.

    This is a point of especial grievance for me against the PRC's EXTRAORDINARILY dishonest history textbooks. In the PRC's history textbooks - and I do mean in 100 percent of them - you will find only a few words about the Cultural Revolution, or about Mao's great famine of 1959-1960 in which over 30 million Chinese died, or about any other very recent atrocities that the Communist Party committed - while you will find long, and largely untrue, stories about the Opium War - and the bloody dishonest message is, "All of China's sufferings have been inflicted upon China by Foreigners, and the Communist Party liberated China from the depredations of Foreigners."

    The recent spates of violence by Chinese students in Australia, and especially in Korea, have been inspired by that kind of EXTRAORDINARILY dishonest official history.

    The people of China - and especially the intellectuals and the students of China - do NOT need
    for the West to apologise for the crimes which Westerners have inflicted upon China. Or rather, that is not the main thing they need. (They deserve an apology, but that's not what they need.) What they need, is an introduction to the habit of truth, including the (yes, very Western) ethic of public criticism of the government and skepticism about official history.

    Dear Isabel, I know that you have as much, or perhaps even more, experience in China as I. But - and you can correct me if I'm wrong - I THINK that probably I've had more experience with Chinese academics and students than you.
    And mind you, I respect them and love them, and have great hopes for them - I would not have spent the last five years teaching law in China if I did not respect them and have great hopes for them. However, even my most brilliant Chinese law students were, and remain, immeasurably more brainwashed about fake - yes FAKE -
    "history" than the vast majority of even the most ignorant Westerners.

    Even my MOST BRILLIANT Chinese law students, at China's top law school, believe the following:

    1. Japan was defeated by the Chinese Communists in WW II, while the KMT did very little and the Americans did even less to defeat Japan. That is, simply, a lie. The truth is that KMT did most of the fighting while the Communists mostly sat back to watch the KMT exhaust themselves - and Japan was defeated principally by America, and not just because of the satanic nuclear bombs.

    2. They believe that America started the Korean War. Regardless of whether it was right for America to go into that war (I think America was wrong to get involved), the truth is that North Korea and Stalin started the Korean War.

    3. They know nothing about Mao's Great Famine, except for what their grandparents told them in hushed tones.

    4. Hardly any of them know anything about Lenin or Marx. Most of them do not know Marx was a Jew. Most of them do not know that a German can be a Jew. Many of them asked me, "What does a Jew look like?" and I told them, "Look at my face. My Grandfather was a Jew, and he had blonde hair and blue eyes, like a perfect German."

    5. Most of them believe the city of London is less than two hundred years old. When I told them London is an old Roman city, 2,000 years old, they were astonished to learn that Rome was so old. One of them asked me, "DOES ROME STILL EXIST?" Let me repeat that. One of my best postgraduate law students in China asked me, "DOES ROME STILL EXIST?"

    6. Almost none of them - including members of the Communist Party - have ever read the Communist Manifesto.

    7. None, and I do mean NONE, of them ever understood what I meant when I told them, "yes my country (America) is only 400 years old. (It was settled in 1607 - they don't know that.) But I identify with my religion more than my country, and my Church is 2,000 years old." They don't understand. They think Christianity is something the Americans invented very recently. (But, alas, many Americans believe this too! ;-) :-)

    8. Most of them - and again, these are the cream of the crop - believe
    there was never any civilisation in Europe until around year 1800, or at the earliest 1500.

    9. And this is the worst thing: Most of them believe "civilisation"
    is the same thing as technology. They believe their cell phones are insignia of civilisation.

    10. And then there's the pandemic racism in mainland China - a disease which is part and parcel of Communist (really "nationalist") Party indoctrination. They believe - they are TAUGHT to believe - that the tendency of Whites to have more hair on our bodies indicates that we are a lesser-evolved subspecies, or perhaps a different species altogether. And the noses - Europeans' larger noses are regarded as evidence that Whites are closer to monkeys than the Chinese are. Sometimes I pointed out to them, that monkeys have small if you go by nose size, then many Black Africans would be the most highly evolved of all! ;-)

    11. And then one of the most bizarre pieces of cognitive dissonance: The textbooks of the PRC teach them that the English Puritans were "revolutionaries", and so, most of the ELITE mainland Chinese students profess to be great admirers of bloody Oliver Cromwell. Whenever I told them that "Cromwell would want to kill you and all Chinese Communists, because you are not Christians", it shocked them, to say the least. Just imagine! Most Chinese Communist Party members THINK they are on the same side as CROMWELL!

    Well yes, the Communists do (or used to) have a lot in common with Cromwell, in their mutual love of fanatical purges and genocide. But Cromwell would have wanted to exterminate the Chinese Communist Party.

    In sum, Dear Isabella, although yes I do agree with your purpose of enlightening Westerners more about the crimes the West has committed upon China, still, after five years in China another part of me recoils against Westerners berating themselves for the Opium Wars, unless and until the Chinese begin to berate THEMSELVES for THEIR own crimes which THEY COMMITTED AGAINST THEMSELVES! The Chinese don't need any help from us, to remember the crimes of the West against China. Rather, what they need from us, is instruction in the habit of truth, and the main medicine they need right now is the
    fortitude to acknowledge the crimes OF the Chinese!

  2. Buon giorno, Isabella,

    Molte grazie. I keep learning more and more about this fascinating world and these people I never could have imagined existed, were it not for your ongoing saga. Perhaps the thing that stood out the strongest for me in this wonderful chapter was what you wrote about the big dogs who served in the Industrial Revolution, toiled so miserably and ended up collapsing and dead. I never knew any of this and will never forget it.




Isabel Van Fechtmann

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