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Full Circle

Day 53: Qingdao

Michael Palin - Full CircleThe Welcome Guest House looks about as Chinese as Windsor Castle. It was built in 1903 as the Governor's residence and it is a great big daft dumpy pile of a place built in rampant German Romantic style, part schloss, part Roman villa, part gingerbread house. Crenellated towers top half-timbered flanks, massive thick-thighed columns support red-roofed balconies and flanks of rough hewn stone blocks shore up plastered walls.

We are treated to an official banquet tonight. The banquet here, as in Korea and to a certain extent Japan, is a vital part of any business relationship. Unless you can drink a lot in the company of other men who drink a lot you are not really to be trusted.

Our host is the vice-head of the local Foreign Relations Department, which keeps an eye on overseas guests to make sure they have everything they want, except what you don't want them to have. He is a soft-spoken, civilized man who spent five years reading geophysics at Imperial College in London. He is saddened by anti-Chinese bias in the English media. Objections seem to revolve around a recent Channel 4 documentary about Chinese orphans called The Dying House. It's hard to understand how one programme can cause such damage. I point out that in Britain we are constantly criticizing our own institutions but this doesn't cut much ice. There is so much good in China, he asks, why search out the bad?

Then the toasts begin and all differences are set aside in a brain-softening combination of maotai - a 55 proof spirit made from sorghum and wheat - Chinese Chardonnay and Tsing Tao beer. So copious and fraternal are the toasts that I hardly notice the sea-slugs and crispy-fried silkworm grubs that I pop into my mouth between them.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 53
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Qingdao
  • Book page no: 80

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