Thursday, May 7, 2009

Washing The Dust at Dinner

"In China we have a tradition of inviting a traveler to dinner to wash off the road dust," explained Houghton Lee, the Hong Kong businessman who volunteered to be my China vineyard interpreter so that he could learn more about wines from his own country. Houghton is on the right. On the left is Ma fei, the PR person for Great Wall, the largest winery in China.

We did notice that all the tables were taken in this large upscale restaurant, yet only one other table ordered wine. Everyone else had beer. Ma fei has lots of work ahead for Great Wall to achieve their goal of more than doubling volume in the next five years. Lots of wine, lots of people, lots of PR.

We also noticed that there were lots of young people who could afford to come to this restaurant. "In China parents can only have one child; so the parents often spoil their child," explained Houghton. Our host went on to explain that when he studied in Minnesota during the 1980s, Chinese students there received a $5000 scholarship each. But they lived frugally and would send $4000 back home. I wonder what we saw in the restaurant means for China's future?

As I'm eating fish head in some sort of tomato and garlic sauce, roast duck on a thin burrito-like bread, fish head soup, lots of thinly sliced vegetables and a list of other epicurean delights, suddenly comes to my mind a rough-hewn tavern/restaurant in Konso, Ethiopia. It was the last shred of "civilization" before we headed into the remote Omo region. There the main course was local beer and very loud music blaring because they had the luxury of electricity. For some reason, I couldn't get that restaurant out of my head as I sipped Viognier wine from France.

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