The Unspeakable Secrets of Chinese Business: The Portfolio

1. The Portfolio


9 o’clock in the morning, I was smartly dressed in a decent business suit, sitting upright in the office, waiting for a phone call. By waiting, I most surely do not mean that a certain phone call addressed to me was expected, to put it more correctly, I rather mean I was waiting for a phone call to terminate.

Madam was on the phone in the next room.

This Madam was my employer, Chinese, about 60 years of age, in possession of a forcible personality, one of which a Roman Emperor would be associated with. When she used the telephonic device to communicate her message, she would exert her volume to the extreme to insure that the entire construction trembled, lest her fellow conversationalist should fail the lecture. I had always been of the idea that architecture in the Kingdom was among the most solid in the world, and out of all the solid elements, its doors, due to the abundance of the Southeast Asian rosewood. However, that was until they met Madam, whose voice resembled that of a Master of Foxhounds in the English hunting game. In the joyous history of the sport, a Master of Foxhounds’ success was largely dependent upon the penetrating nature of his bellows, which in their mighty gravity directed all blood-thirsty hounds to their evasive target, the red fox. Some average Masters of Foxhounds had the coverage of 100 yards forward, others had 100 yards sideways, the very excellent of the trade might have 100 yards by diameter. But if you let Madam get hold of the device, she covered the whole meadow, penetrating the blood and soul of every living being within range, rabbits, birds, boars and, of course, foxes, saving the trouble for hounds, in fact, the prey was so undiscriminating that the hounds themselves fell into victims. At the end of which, the horizon returned to its primitive tranquillity, not a dust in limbo.

Such, was the might of Madam’s bellows.

As a man of wisdom, I knew only too well to close the door behind me, just as you would when the atomic bomb dropped and let the bomb do its devastation, after which you then would open it cordially to face the debris.

I waited, with the letter of resignation of portfolio on my desk.

It was rather exciting in retrospection of the fact that I, over the years, had acquired more experience in being dismissed than handing in the notice, to be precise, only the former. In my short-lived professional career, as serious fellows nowadays so call it, I first worked as an intern in a Korea foreign trade office and was sent down after a month for being “too honest with customers”; and secondly, in an interview with the omnipotent Samsung, dismissed by a board of elderly gentlemen even prior to employment for holding a “frivolous attitude”. It often occurred to me that if one’s resume was credited with dismissal events, I should triumph unrivalled.

Provided with a background as such, and to do the self justice, I was at this point determined to wade the inexperienced waters.

Madam, deeming herself the sole judicious headquarters for order-issuing and refusing any information in-put, dominated all occasions of convening to which she was a participant. She lived a majestic but lonesome life, in which aspect, utterly opposing to her fellow Roman Emperors.

The gentleman, once her consort, was said by some to have been divorced, and by others to have been run over by an omnibus, out of the two, I tend to believe the latter, which, for a man in his position, seemed the sensible cause to pursue.


Le curateur: Oxen Cart in Sunset (oil painting)


Title: Oxen Cart in Sunset

Size: 40cm×20cm

Artist: Chornun (presumably, signature unidentifiable)

Year: around 2010

Owner:  me

Story of possession:

It was a warm Sunday afternoon, the art-dealer lady would not let me go off unless I bought “a piece”. She said business was so bad that she had not sold a dollar’s worth on this day. So I helped to spare her the pain and bought this most representative piece of her works.


A typically mediocre piece of Khmer idyllic landscape.

The artist is evidently not a novice as the work was carried out with little trace of remedy, and lines and shapes of the major objects were handled with determination and speed. The layers of colour on the trees are mature to such an extent that they look as if the artist created them rather out of habit than of true feeling. The gradual brightening of the sky as it draws close to the setting sun is the essence of the work, however, the three queues of flying geese are the doom: being too banal isn’t the worst of them, but they are too much in shape and easily expected. The artist is justly suspected by any curator of a critical eye that he never brought his own person to sit at a true view of the Cambodia countryside as portrayed hereof and that he drew his inspiration from a printed Khmer calendar or a poster of such objects. The difference between an art work of the true site and a work of studio is the difference between life and death, the former full of livelihood and passion, the latter rigid, soulless, and, in every sense, dead. In a nutshell, despite the moderately well organised colour, there is no truth in feeling, or spirit or character, whatsoever in the work.

Value: Very little

Good for the wall of a mediocre family’s un-spacious dinning room.


Demon visits Mr.Haijun on Christmas Eve

hunters in the snow

Mr. Haijun sits alone in an aged leather armchair against the fireplace wherein twinkle the flames of pinewood. In his left hand is a book that appears as aged as his armchair, and in his right hand a cup of hot tea which his grandfather favoured greatly in his memory. He is sitting so close to the fire that the dim light of the flames casts a gigantic shadow of his body that puts the entirety of the room in darkness so that when Demon comes in, he comes in unnoticed.

“Thou dost lead a life of leisure.” Demon breaks the silence as he opens the Book of Life of Mr. Haijun, and continues grimly: “Leisure itself is no more harm than otherwise, and yet thine has been a life of evil. Thou hast smeared at those who praised me, and to those who praised God thou hast been cruel and cold of heart.”

“Such I did.” Mr. Haijun admits.

“In times of need, thou didst not knee to the North with burning incense to worship thy Chinese God, nor didst thou sacrifice oxen and splash their innocent blood by a bronze sword to please any Greek Goddess.” Demon raises his tone from critical to accusing.

“Such I did.” Mr. Haijun admits with no shame.

“The only Queen of whom thou were so fond, and who clad in Purple and Gold and hunted through the paths of the woods to cause the Wolves to cry, even her, thou didst but first woo on also a Christmas Eve yet desert in the end.”

“Even such I did.” Mr. Haijun admits in pain.

“Inconsistent and disloyal as thou art to the Piety, I had no choice but to pay this visit to thee on this peculiar eve, and to condemn thee and offer to thee Membership to my Club.” Saying such, Demon smiles his hideous face into a wicked welcome.


The princess of Cambodia

The princess is standing by the curtained window, through the sombre light gazing upon the dusk from her lofty golden palace. On her face, the pronounced beauty of its younger days has, over the dutiful years, transformed itself into an air of motherly majesty. Her hair, though still carefully attended to withstand the highest dignity, is silver in colour, and her fair cheek solemn and divine. By her side lies the man she has loved for her life. The iconic child-like smile on his face remains unperished, but the face itself is as pale as any tile of the Silver Pagoda, and cold as one too.He has defied the world with that smile. If the mundane universe collapsed at his feet, he watched unmoved, flipped the stain of dust off the lapel and carried on. But today, it is the last frail display of that smile: the prince is dead.
She remembers it was in the same place where the prince now lies he first received her as his bride 58 years ago, only then he was flanked by a crowd, but at this moment looks so lonesome. The princess was but not 18, fresh and energetic, in her blood flowed both the French elegance, which defined the finest maiden, and the Cambodian prudence, which nourished a future queen. And the prince was 33, with the charm of a mischievous smile, bore a Byronic aura, appeared lethal to the heart of Juno.Thus, two young souls were united. She has accompanied the prince’s venture into the jungle, where beasts plagued the forests, and battled their chief who toyed human lives by the million. And in the foreign lands, she comforted the prince’s exiled soul.Time was too unforgiving when friends departed one after another. Chairman Mao, who entertained the prince with his aged Chinese wine, was first found stiff in a cold unloved bed, and Comrade Kim, whose hospitality exceeded the 60-room palace built for the royal couple in Pyong Yang, followed suit.

Finally, the time has come for the union to part, not out of choice, but dictated by The Deity. The old monarchy affords no tear of a courteous princess, not even for sorrow on her beloved prince. Tomorrow this time, the prince will be no more, and she knows it.


The price of being an evening wanderer


Although I have always been prepared to face any misfortune in this school with a welcoming smile, the recent development of an incident that resulted in the full-scale breakdown of the Internet is surly a joke being carried too far. Considering this is a town where a person found wandering on the streets after 8pm is bound to be either a duckling-egg peddler or a local ladyboy, or, if neither of the above, a foreigner, I have to take to the pub in passing the late hours of an uneventful day. If any wiseman has ever said that there is a place of essence for each city or town, where one can observe its beauty and follies all at one spot, I should say that he is absolutely right, and the riverside bar is precisely such a place.

The bar owner is a Cambodian man that speaks many European languages and has a pregnant wife. He likes to talk about North Korean politics and greatly enjoys the female company despite the wifely surveillance from behind the counter. Viewing me as a chap of idleness, he is particularly keen on subjecting me to advocations of the karaoke industry. (Karaoke as an unspeakably joyful activity for the male society is examined in previous notes.) He is the sort of chap whose name my mother would readily include in her keep-off-my-son list. One evening, he assumed the topic again, wishing to know whether I was interested in visiting a newly opened karaoke of which his sister is the owner, while his wife was seated right next to me at the same table. I couldn’t help but notice that she had to turn her face away looking as if she had swallowed in an uncooked cockroach by mistake at a dignitaries’ banquet.

The bar boy is a cheerful bloke. He studies English at a local school and spends the majority of his sober life greeting foreigners by shaking them by the hand, or, when it comes to female foreigners, shaking them more than by the hand, if he deems timing suits. He addresses me by my occupation, teacher, consequently, so I him, waiter. Both are unsatisfied, but neither managed to remember the other’s name, so it goes on rather delicately. Mr. Waiter has a dream known to all foreigners. He wishes to continue to study for a college degree in law, in which I see great potential in him, of course in spite of his obsessive fondness of blond tall European ladies.

Among the customers, most remarkable is one Mr. Black-gown, or should we call him Miss Black-gown as I have always anticipated he secretly wishes to be so called. Mr. Black-gown is about 50 years of age, perfumed, routinely appears in the bar at about 7pm, invariably wearing a black gown that most commonly would belong to a dignified lady of slightly advanced age. The silky gown drapes down nearly to the knees, partly due to its own length, partly, I regret to say, due to the lack of length in his legs. Until now, one might easily be under the false impression that this is a somewhat unpleasant figure we are talking about. On the contrary, Mr. Black-gown is amicable, good-mannered and a great friend of Mr. Waiter’s. He is sincere and open about his homosexual nature, and pleasantly willing to be engaged in conversations of all subjects.

Compared to Mr. Black-gown, other customers seem rather lacking colourfulness. I, being the most frequent regular, am constantly on the Wifi usually quiet as an oyster. Other non-Mr. Black-gown tables are worse. The most common scene is a crowd of foreigners of diverse nationalities talking nothing but absolute rot. I once sat next to a group made of a Chinese, a Korean, and a few Europeans with various accents. I plugged in my earphones at the beginning of their conversation, an hour later when the music stopped, I found them still asking one another “where are you from?” I suppose this is why many an old boy say old friends are better than new ones, you don’t get to spend hours talking rot before anything substantial pops up. Of course that is unless you have Mr. Black-gown at your table. He cuts off all nonsense ruthlessly right into feminine fashion, world politics, and profound subjects of such level, in unstoppable beauty, raising the conversation from the banal and the absurd.