Sir David Tang, founder of ICorrect, globetrotter and the man about too many towns to mention, divides his time between homes in Hong Kong, mainland China and London. Here he invites readers’ queries for his advice on property, interiors, etiquette at home (wherever you live), parties and anything else that may be bothering you.
As a University of Toronto law student, I have a lot of reading to do and I have a big problem. I can never find a chair I feel comfortable reading in. Could you please help me?
If you, as a young man, are worrying about a comfortable chair in which to read, what on earth are you going to do on maturity or reaching middle-age or old age? Stop being so precocious and just settle for what there is. As a law student, you are expected to memorise and regurgitate case law and statutes, not to slump into a deep seat vegetating. Anyway, you shouldn’t be asking me as we Chinese, in 4,000 years, have never made a single comfortable chair. Even at the height of our refinement and artistry in the Ming dynasty, we produced chairs hard enough for Tutankhamun to have sat upright without bandage for 3,000 years. I don’t quite understand all that Zen approach to Chinese furniture. Zhou Tianqiu, a Ming calligraphy master, was so fond of his red sandalwood chair that he wrote on the backrest: “Sitting on this chair, I feel one day is worth two days. If I lived for 70 years, it would be worth 140.” Well, as far as I am concerned he can stay there for 280 years. For myself, the most comfortable chair in which I indulge in the tales of Lord Emsworth’s prize pig, the Empress, is the passenger seat of my old Rolls-Royce Mulliner Park Ward S3, sometimes known as “Chinese Eyes” as the double headlights are slanted in front, ostensibly like a Chinaman. Not only is the seat more comfortable than any armchair I know, but the smell of the old Connolly leather never fails to invoke an air of grandeur that befits Blandings Castle. So I have spent many hours getting into my collapsed Roller reading Wodehouse, which is an experience I strongly recommend to anyone. But Sir Stafford Cripps takes the biscuit for his choice of a proper seat in a car: when the second world war broke out, he designed a lavatory in his Rolls-Royce as he didn’t trust the facilities in the Soviet Union where he was ambassador.
Englishman, Frenchman, Welshman but not Chinaman. The latter is not “PC” but why?
First of all, it is important to note that the word “chinaman” is a left-handed googly in cricket, and a rather special ball at that, because its delivery is fiendishly deceptive and awkward-looking. Maybe that was the reason why it was called “chinaman”, as we Chinese don’t play cricket. But nobody has ever offered a totally convincing etymology. As for the reference of a man from China, I have always tried to maintain that “Chinaman” was not derogatory. Indeed, I wrote a letter to The Times about it, probably more than 20 years ago. It was duly published, although I remember on the following week, another Chinaman, using the address of the Reform Club, which presumably was used to impress, wrote in to argue against my assertion that the use of “Chinaman” was acceptable. I didn’t respond because I thought it was not necessary to communicate with any member of the Reform Club. I also remember my great friend, Taki, trying to refer to me as “the greatest living Chinaman alive” in The Spectator, but his editor disallowed it. I suppose it’s because the term has connotations of slavery, especially in the mid-19th century when many of my compatriots were involuntarily sold off to the United States as slaves to build the American railways. Even worse was the Exclusion Act in 1882 used by the Americans to expel all the Chinese slaves. So if “Chinaman” is non-PC, it is because of the appalling way in which we were treated by the Yanks in the 19th century.
Your humour is acerbic, sarcastic, urbane and appreciated. I’m curious – what, sincerely, makes you cry?
I cry if the ball of a roulette spins slowly towards and shudders into the slot of the number I have surrounded with stacks of chips. Seeing that ball roll into the slot is enough to make me cry, unexceptionally, with ecstasy. On the other hand, it can also make me cry with utter despondency when the ball becomes perpetually recalcitrant. I once saw an Italian in Monte Carlo losing spin after spin, and when he could no longer contain his anger, he got up and took the ball from the wheel and simply swallowed it, with exclamation of Italian expletives.
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