Do you remember Chu Chu Mpai?
6 February 2007
Do you remember Chu Chu Mpai? Yes, him: the one with the drab
grey uniform they wore back then and the “cloth cap”
with a red star on the visor. The one who, during the usual October
reception at the Chinese embassy in Rome, interrupted things with
an undignified onslaught during the buffet. As guests stood there,
some with a spring roll halfway into their mouths and others with
wontons still in their gullets, he started to rant about “cultural
revolution … Great Helmsman … Red Guards … victory
over Yankee capitalism and its guard dogs …”
Over and over, we have wondered about the position he actually
held in the mysterious Chinese nomenklatura. He certainly could
not have been a simple trade attaché, though this is what
his business card said, and those speeches that relegated the
ambassador to a backseat role were proof of an unofficial but
far more important rank. ...
One day, if you feel like it, perhaps you can tell me about him.
Now I’m going to gulp down some spring rolls, fried wontons,
Cantonese fried rice and sweet-and-sour pork with bamboo shoots,
certain that no one – save the attentive waiters –
will interrupt my dinner.
Talk to you soon,
7 February 2007
When you decided to take this trip our parents called me and said
the same thing they’ve said to me for years: “you
talk to him because, after all, you’re his big brother”.
Obviously, this isn’t the first time, and I must say that
you do your utmost to ensure that I can’t sit back and relax
with a good book.
You keep scrambling out of taxis without looking to see if there’s
oncoming traffic, you once mistook four tipsy young men for soldiers
on leave, and it was up to me to get them even drunker so they’d
pass out, without robbing you as they had planned. Not to mention
the markets where you wander around with the same nonchalance
as when you go to the supermarket in Avigliano Umbro. You’ve
argued with porters across Russia and China, and you’ve
headed down streets and alleys where anyone with the least bit
of sense wouldn’t even think of going. In short, there is
never a dull moment with you, though sometimes I crave one. ...
But he will feel a little less sad and will dream of those days
when, proudly donning that ever-wrinkled “drab grey”
uniform every morning, he felt part of “a grand illusion”
that his good faith believed was “simply” a revolution.
I will leave you to your dinner, but do me a favour: the next
time you get out of a taxi, look to see who’s coming before
you open the car door.