Friday, May 2, 2008

La Marseillaise

I've no strong feelings - cheese-eating surrender monkeys, Freedom fries or not - regarding the French, but just as in the post-911 hooplah in the USA they've become villified temporarily in China. In some ways it's very familiar. In 2005 another foreign target, the Japanese, were the targets of government sanctioned protests due to a flap over Japanese school history textbooks (distributed to about 1 or less of percent) of the schools involved, according to Japanese sources) that glossed over or simply denied the Rape of Nanjing; as if China doesn't gloss over it's own history, 20th century or earlier (didja know that Tibet and Taiwan have eternally been part of China, Didja know that Tienammen Square June 6 never really happened except as a distortion of foreign media? Etc etc...)

But the pending Olympics have China squirming. The exalted "sacred flame" (as State media in an officially aetheist republic refers repeately to the Olympic torch) relay around the world has meant a loss of face where freedom of expression and publicly rude behavior are legal.

France has taken the brunt of the outrage after a spunky Chinese monoplegic Disabled Olymics female wheelchair fencer defended the torch against a Tibet protester and Paris gave the Dali Lama honorary citizenship. The xenophopic nationalist mix has also extended to a "ban CNN" movement(available only at high end hotels and non-Chinese residences) after one of its trash talk commentators, Jack Cafferty, upped his ratings and CNN's in general for outbursts calling Beijing "goons and thugs". So with not lot of places or opportunities for young Chineso vent at anytime, foreigners they only have an abstract sixth-hand concept of are always a safe target.

Thus, a national boycott of Carrefour and France in general has been called for, beginming April 15 and peaking May 1-5. Early May not so conicidentally also coincides historically with early 20th century Chinese uprisings over foreign devils, Asian and caucasion alike.

Amd after covering anti-Japanese protests a couple years ago in Shenzhen during early April (the bottom pic is from that, PLA soldiers keeping order and standing in as frames for C) where I watched impassioned Chinese youth calling their pals on Japanese-made cell phones to urge them to boycott Japanese products and taking pictures with their Japanese cameras and video to document their pattriotism as Shenzhen cops rode security on Hondas, I had to wonder ...

Talking to C and others I've met who were thrilled to be excused from classes in 1999 to protest a US attack on a Chinese embassy in Belgrade I had to wonder some more. C says she and her clasmates were simply happy to get out of the day, donned their govt issued headbands and hoisted the premade "USA die" banners and signs but had no target in their college town except a McDonalds where they normally loved ot eat if they had enough money. Nonetheless, they stood outside Evil Mickey D's and shouted at hapless fellow Chinese who worked and/or ate at the local representation of US imperialsm.

Meanwhile, a Chinese guy I know told me a very similar story about his college town and the demonstrations, except they had no McDonalds or KFC at the time on which to vent their outrage.

"So, we if we saw someone drinking a Coca Cola we would shout, 'Throw down that Coca Cola!'" he told me. "It was silly. But very nice to be out of school for the day."

The largest French target in China is the French version of Wal-Mart, Carrefour, which I'd never been in until coming to Beijing. I've gone twice since arriving, both times during boycotts that began on April 15.

I'd lost the written directions for a taxi and had to ask another coworker who initially stalled out of concern for my safety. "They will beat you!" she said.

"No, I don't think so," I replied. "Oh, and in the address can you write, "Please take me to Carrefour because I want to buy food for the Dali Lama?" She laughed nervously. "You are only joking, maybe?" I assured I was and thanked her for the simple "Carrefour" address, instead.

Bottom line, god bless the French. The cheese, bread, wine and produce selections are top notch and currently, thanks to blind Chinese nationalism, my local Carrefour was decidedly less crowded and, according to other foreign barbarian interlopers who have been there in pre-antiFranco hysteria times, checkout lines decidely shorter. Today the cops had even blocked off direct vehicle access to mine to keep (non-existent) protestors out and inside at the wine and liquor area a young Chinese woman repping for a French wine brand urged me to buy a bottle of Chantelle Des Vins sauvignon blanc. I'm normally a boring California wine red guy but I'd just seen Sidweays for the second time on a pirate Chinese dvd and was feeling frisky.

"You pronounce that well," I said. "Sauvignon blanc.' Better than me. I'll take two. Vive la France! Please now can you direct me to the frozen Freedom fries aisle?!


Peter said...

Sideways is a cool movie. Oddly enough I can see too much of my own bitter self in the depressive wine connoisseur (whose name I suddenly can't remember). Thumbs up on you risky wine choosing. Live life to the fullest Justin !

Anonymous said...

Nationalist protests have been extreme even in places the torch never visited, like little old New Zealand.

Special Brew Man said...

yep noramlly I find the French a bit aloof in China...but since the average local can't tell the difference between a Frenchman or an American...I think these developments are going to make us all empathise with our beret wearing laowai brothers;)

Matthew said...

There was no protest in Shenzhen. Carrefour was significantly less crowded May 1, but they almost back to normal now. My wife went yesterday and said there were a lot of people. Best part of the "boycott" was that I got cheese 2 for 1.

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