The term “social portraiture” turned up in something I read recently and it has stayed in my mind ever since. I think of Tom Wolfe, for example, and his Bonfire of the Vanities. What is most fascinating to me is human behavior in the context of our society. I guess I always felt that way, which is why I loved Balzac’s Cousin Bette and Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, among others. As more exotic societies become more like our own–thanks to globalization, the internet, and easy travel–new writers are emerging who provide insights into the human behavior of those cultures. The differences are delicious, but the overwhelming commonality of drives shared by all members of our species becomes even more obvious. Now I know this isn’t an original thought but as I just finished reading Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga this fact hit me in the face like one of the unexpected monsoons described in the book. Adiga’s first novel, The White Tiger, is one of the best books I have read in the past ten years. I’ve come to think of Adiga as India’s Tom Wolfe. These authors, among others, paint verbal portraits not only of their characters but of the societies in which they live.
Last Man in Tower has particular meaning to me as it is about a real estate developer in Mumbai. If you change the name and location he could be any one of my clients in New York. He is trying to buy out the residents of a building called Vishram Society that seems to be structured similarly to a New York co-op. There is a hold-out, a retired school teacher named Masterji, and the story revolves around how his neighbors and friends of thirty+ years react and take action as their potential fortunes are threatened by the obstinate Masterji.
Not as good as The White Tiger, not as much passion or anger, but a convincing glimpse into the changing landscape of Mumbai and the behavior of humans whose goodness and self-interest battle it out.
Worthwhile read: 6
Ever hear the expression “Shanghai’ed or Chaing Kai’d”? The correct expression is “Shanghai’d.” It was coined to describe what happened when drunken sailors in the port of Shanghai passed out, were kidnapped, thrown into the brig of a merchant ship, and put into slave labor– more or less.
I sort of got Shanghai’d for a day because the weather was so bad the port was closed, and we had to stay in Shanghai an extra day. And because there were no bus tours we hung our with our new friends from Boston. We had a blast, walked around for miles, did lots of shopping, and ended up at the bar at the Peninsula hotel where we had three Lychee-tinis each! Slept like Ayer’s Rock (oops that was the Australia trip) but IF someone wanted to “Shanghai” us it would have been NO PROBLEM.
Never had such bad weather on a vacation before. It’s miserable to go sightseeing in freezing rain. But we’re having a blast on board where we eat, drink, read and make merry, play bridge, eat and drink, and did I mention eat and drink? There’s a gym, which we have not spent one minute in, and a spa, which we have spent very little time in.
Tomorrow at sea then back in Japan where communicating is forbidden .
NEWS FLASH! There are 1.9 billion Chinese and they all smoke! Buy PM, MO, LO and any other cigarette stock you can find. They smoke in office buildings, restaurants, stores, bathrooms. I’m getting some of those surgical masks but not to protect me from the chicken flu…to save me from second hand smoke!
Shanghai has changed so much since I was last here in 2006. Gone are the picturesque alleys with silk ties for $1.00. Prada, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton have taken their places…for twice the price and half the size (dress size…the stores themselves are 10 times as large). There are more skyscrapers than in NY! In fact, Shanghai looks like New York. I’m also surprised that in 10 years English hasn’t taken off. In Moscow, everyone speaks English…
Well…now it’s 2 am and, despite a wonderful dinner with wine, a hot steam bath and a massage my eyes are as open as a Starbucks before the morning rush hour. Yesterday we visited the bird market where old men stroll with their pet birds in cages and chat to catch up. They believe they need to “walk their pets” to take in the fresh air. I’ve got pictures of the bird market and flower market I will send next. We went to the old Jade market in search of a Jade elephant for Olivia, and other presents for the rest of you, but our impression was that the trinkets there were no more jade than my plastic chopsticks are sterling silver.
We stopped for a dim sum lunch, basically dumplings, then visited a Buddhist nunnery after lunch. I must say this old atheist was mighty impressed. Buddhism promotes love, serenity, peace and eradication of suffering. No vengeful gods or Jihads. And those Buddhas are awfully cute! No personal trainers for them for sure.
Took a rest in the late afternoon then Dad and I went to Hutong for dinner. It looks like the Spice Market in New York but we had views of Hong Kong island and the nightly light show. The food was divine – it was the Beggars Chicken that we ordered in advance from the US and it was worth every effort. Very “in” restaurant and best chicken ever! Dad was a little scared to smash the clay with the duly provided mallet but once he got into it his aggression and his ancestors aggression were released! Amen.
Who remembers that joke about the jackrabbit in Wyoming? About all he does is eat, sleep and hop around a bit. Well…that’s us! Weather still dreadful, which does put a damper on things. Today we woke up at 4, ate a huge breakfast, headed out at 7:30 am to explore Taiwan. The residential buildings are quite dilapidated, not at all new and shiny like Singapore as I expected. Reminds me of Moscow. There are beautiful shrines erected for the martyrs of the revolution and, of course, Chiang Kai-shek . I wish I knew more about Chinese history but based on the little I have read I know that the Japanese were quite aggressive in trying to conquer China during the 1930s and 40s. A Chinese Civil War was brewing between the corrupt and brutal Nationalist party of Chiang Kai-shek, called the Kuomintang, and Mao’s communist party. Well, we all know who won but the Nationalists fled with 3 million people and most of ancient China’s art treasures when the Japanese lost WWII and Taiwan in 1947. We went to this National Palace museum today in Taiwan housing all the treasures of ancient China and it is astounding. Then we ate a huge lunch, played scrabble, took a nap and will be off to a huge dinner soon.
We’re going to the jade market, an ancient nunnery, meeting a lawyer friend of Eberhard’s for tea, and then having dinner at a famous restaurant called Hutong where we ordered “Beggar’s Chicken” in advance. They bake it in wet clay and you get a hammer to crack open the shell.