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China Crisis
by Andy Bird

Terry Scott, Scarlet Johansen, Benny Hill, and Sir Alec Guinness? Possibly the first time they've been included together in the same sentence, but they're actually indelibly linked, for at some point in their careers they've all made bundles for ripping the piss out of our Mandarin cousins.  


Nauseous Surrey fat lad Terry Scott seemed in every episode of Terry and June, caught with his trousers round his ankles in the dining room, bent over the local vicar with a leg of lamb between his legs just as the boss of his Tokyo office turned up for a round of golf, Sunday lunch and that Engerrrrrrwishhh lesson, Terry had promised him...'Juuuune, helllp! b-b-b-b-but I can explain you see, Mr Tamawakaoko, ah soooo, Juuuuune!'...  


In fact this probably happened in only one episode but it's the only one I can remember, so fuck it (as an aside my Uncle Bill hated Terry Scott so much that he banned me from eating Curly Wurlys, and I think he had a day off work when he died) and then we've got the delightful Scarlet Johanson, who appeared as the half witted yank stoner-racist in Lost in Translation, Soffia Coppala's hugely overrated 'rom com' pile of shite, also starring Bill Murray (what was he doing in this?) if Lost in Translation starred Denise Van Outen and Darren Day, and the plot consisted of them running round Tokyo ripping the piss out of the 'Rapanese', cos they can't speak American properly do you reckon The Guardian would still have given it 5 stars? There's a lot to be said for long meaningful pauses between sentences in films.  


Benny Hill goes without saying, even if his character that knocked about with Bob Todd and who's catchphrase was 'I like Wimmiiiiiiiin' really was someone who meant 'I like swimming' but couldn't pronounce his S's....I always for some reason linked in to anti-Chinese doctrine, I'm sure he's dug them out in some way or other anyway, so he's in. And Sir Alec Guinness refused to integrate properly in Bridge Over River Kwai so I’m having him an’ all. And he was workshy.  


Having said all that, I found myself in a Shanghai food mall 2 weeks ago hopelessly stranded, behaving equally inappropriately and badly as all these daft racists put together, I'd been sent over to work for a fortnight, and on me first afternoon there I realised I really was on me own, having asked someone in the office what I did for food they pointed me to the lift which takes you 23 floors down to the basement and the food hall. Anyway, I was actually fairly confident as I entered the lift of not making a prize tit of meself. Righto.  


An escalator took me down to the basement which is a brightly lit circular hall, with 6 different restaurants built into the wall. Each restaurant had a small podium outside with a woman dressed in full traditional national dress standing next to it, my first Terry Scott moment was to think that each restaurant was just a Chinese, but as I later found out 'hey, these women weren't all from the same place at all' and they didn’t all ‘look the same’, nervously I walked round the edge of the deserted mall passing each restaurant, and as I'm someone who dithers over what Chinese to dive into after 9 Stellas on Stowell St on a Saturday night this was tantamount to mental torture...  


On my second circumference of the hall I bit the bullet and dived into the first one I saw, sat down and looked at the menu brought by the 3 waitress's who had followed me to my seat, as the restaurant was deserted, if I wasn't already acting self-consciously I was about to break all known records if there was a record for acting like a twat. I then began getting that flashback from a South London Thai restaurant 10 years where I had ordered a coke and after 10 minutes the waitress returned looking very confused with a single wine cork on a tray...I don't think Geordie translates that well into Thai.  


The menu was about 10 pages long and had pictures of what you were ordering, but these were quality shots, not the usual faded affairs you get in bad seaside cafés showing us proles what a fry up looks like, problem being I didn't recognise anything I was looking at, not a problem the last time I worked in China 10 years back, when a picture of a whole turtle with it's head poking out of some murky liquid, in a dirty glass bowl was definitely turtle soup, and I know what a scorpion looks like, I've watched enough animal planet, (and I now know what they taste like...chicken by the way).....but China's moved on leaps an bounds since then, I never saw any pets on any of the menu's I saw this time, and I even saw a couple of stray cats bowling down the street, bold as you like, flaunting it, without looking over their shoulders, so I thought I'd be safe this time.  


The one thing I did recognise scanning the pages was squid, so I pointed at it smiling like the knacka I am, and then pointed at a picture of a bottle of Carlsberg at the back of the menu, the waitress took my order shouted something in what I later discovered was Korean, and stayed by my side, straight away the biggest bottle of beer I'd ever seen turned up at the table, 2 litre job, someone at the bar had obviously clocked the daft English fool and sent over that party bottle they'd been saving on the off chance that someone fitting my description would walk in, it was just then that I'd noticed my big mistake, in the middle of my table was a 8 inch square whole, I just dismissed it as quirky design feature at first, but when a fella came up and slid a greased tray under the hole threw some coals on and set it alight in his best David Copperfield style, I realised I wasn't hoying reheated sodium glutamate down me neck at Kens Garden in Ilford, and I was way, way out of my depth.  


It then became clear why the waitress hadn't left my side, that was because, oh yes, she was my own personal chef, and she was going to cook for me right here at my table, now there's something deep in the British psyche where this sort of attention and service we can't cope with easily, Americans (of which there are loads in China) not a problem, but us? No way, so sinking further into my seat I watched this woman in full Korean national dress pour my beer and fry little bits of squid and place them on my plate, smiling and chatting away to me in Korean every now and again, she just stopped short at putting the glass or fork to my mouth but she might as well have done, I began to feel more and more like I was in some bad Alan Partridge spin-off, hopelessly unequipped mentally to cope with the situation unfolding in front of me.  


As it was the squid was excellent and beer was spot on, but my embarrassment didn't allow me to stay long to enjoy it, and I necked the lager and more or less ran out the gaff, to the bemusement of the staff, leaving a tip which was twice the bill, which came to about £2.50 (scandalous). On the way out I checked behind the till to see if they had any photos of Benny Hill or Terry Scott lording it up there 20 years ago, as it would explain a lot.  


As a footnote, on my return to dear old Blighty 2 weeks ago I have for some bizarre reason found myself stocking up on a full set of Encyclopaedia Britannica, bought 3 series of Top Gear on DVD, found myself laughing at My Family, grown a tache and subscribed to the Daily Express.









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