John Walsh: Tales of the City

George goes down to China, but finds there's scarcely a God-fearin' Chinean among them
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President Bush writes a letter home...

Beijing, Monday, 21 November

My dear Condi,

Greetings from the Forbidding City! Yeah, it's an odd name, but that's what they call it. I don't find it too off-putting, just kinda empty with all these darned big open spaces, kinda like Detroit. I wuz crossing one of 'em and these young guys came up and shouted, "Remember The Anna Men" over and over, all excited. I reckon they were fans of some folkie group like the Flatbush Boys or The Dixie Chicks, not that I wanna think about them too much. Why these here Anna Men have such a faggot name, I can't imagine.

I'll tell you no lie, Condi, I'm tuckered out after all the travelling. We bin through Korea, where they hold the Olympic sports every year, then the other Korea where the guy in charge is called Kim, like the lady who plays Samantha in Sex and the City, and then Japana, the place where they make those blue Toyotas the first lady likes. Now we're in China to try and make 'em buy US goods, and stop 'em selling so many China goods to us because it's bad for business. I don't have a sure grasp of these things, Condi, but Elmer tried to explain. What kinda China things, I said, have we got to stop 'em selling to Americans? "DVD players," he said. "They're selling 'em at $50." I said I was surprised anybody'd want a china DVD, they must be breakable as all hell. "It'll be cars next," said Elmer. "They're gonna bring out an SUV for 10,000 bucks." I didn't ask why he was being so secretive, spelling out the word like that - but what in tarnation is a soove anyway? (Is it short for souvlaki, that Greek kebab? - hell, Condi, where are you when I need a foreign briefing? - not that you'll convince me to spend 10 big ones on a seared-lamb dinner!)

The head China guy here is called Hugh, though his friends call him Huge - kidding around I guess, like jocks in the changing room. Huge In Tow is his full name. He's friendlier'n a hog at suppertime, with a big smile, big black-frame glasses and enough hair oil to grease a 16-wheel trailer. But a God-less man, Condi. He don't know what it is to be saved, like me. I told him how important it was to let God into his life, to be redeemed from the world of sin. He said: "No need. When I choose to crush troublesome neighbour, don't need advice from anyone, God included. Just do it. So simple."

I told him we might be reluctant to trade with the Chinese government in the future unless he gave me a firm undertaking about human rights. "No problem," he said. "Human lights, framing torches, easy to arrange. Pour petrol on to few Muslim dissidents and set fire, charming effect, everyone go 'Ahhhhhhh...' Much more effective than white phosphorus."

We had a pretty fancy lunch at the Imperial Palace - coincidentally, the same name as the last place I had a Chinese meal at in Washington, only I guess this might have been an actual palace a few years back. They served shark fin soup, and fish lips and ear of shellfish, stuff like that, Condi, not a cotton-picking burger anywhere. Everything tasted of seaweed. Laura wondered if it was a Commie plot to stop people eating meat ever again. One unusual feature of lunch etiquette - they have these doors you can't open until everyone's decided they're happy about you leaving the room.

Afterwards, they took us to a Patriotic Church, where Christians are allowed to pray, provided the churches are on the official list of churches and the Christians don't start praying for anything that might actually happen. They gave us a Bible each. Inside I saw a stamp saying "Official Property of People's Republic of China", so that was kinda a relief, given that, if you buy the wrong, unofficial sorta Bible, you're on a chain gang for three years.

I gave one heck of a tough speech about making social and political and religious freedom grow in China, and all the senior Chineans, you could tell they were impressed by the way they all stared into space and didn't move a muscle. Too rigid with awe, I guess, to applaud. When I got old Huge to myself, I told there was a list I wanted to give him - remember, that list of political prisoners we were concerned about? He glanced at it. "Many thanks," he said. "Come in very handy. More chai?" Later I discovered I'd given him by mistake a list of CIA undercover agents co-ordinating regime change in Beijing, 2007. Duh! How dumb did I feel? Back to the drawing board, Condi!

Stars in his eyes

The increasingly barmy prime minister of Thailand, Mr Thaksin Shinawatra, says he won't speak to the press until next year, because the planets aren't in the right alignment. Actually what he said is far from clear ("Mercury is in a corner perfectly aligned with my star. Mercury is no good, so if it's not good, I am going to request you not to speak. I'll just wait until next year to talk") let alone what he meant by it. But Prime Minister's Question Time in the Bangkok House of Commons must be a riot these days. "Would my Right Honourable friend explain to the House how he justifies his swingeing cuts in public spending on housing in the Chiang Mai region?" "I cannot tell the honourable member for Patpong South anything about spending cuts because Saturn has just entered Venus with Scorpio in the ascendant. But I am happy to tell him that he will shortly meet a tall dark stranger, that now is the time to seize a business opportunity and that a sudden change of plan, though inconvenient, may have its advantages..."