All things Chinese have been much on the mind recently, what with the dawning of a new Year of the Tiger and what-have-you. I brightly greeted Mrs Byard on Sunday morning with "Kong hee fat choi!", to which she responded by furrowing her brow and replying "Did you just call me fat?"
Djangolina - or Liem Kwee Lee as she is now styled in connection with all things Chinese - is quite fired up by this being the Year of the Tiger, which is her birth year. Having established my credentials as one cohabiting with 1.5 (ethnic) Chinese women, let me share a few intriguing observations for those watching from further afield.
The popular stereotype of a delicate, tottering, parasol-twirling "Lotus Blossom" character is utterly, utterly wrong. Chinese women are very, very tough in all kinds of unexpected ways.
I have already had cause to mention Mrs Byard's capacity for eating palate-scorchingly hot food and shaming "hard lads" in the process. Last year, we were served a platter of seafood at a restaurant in Indonesia which included whole crab. After a while, the following dialogue took place:
Her: "Aren't you going to eat your crab?"
Me: "Um, I've got nothing to open it with."
Her: "What are you on about?"
Me: "Well, in Europe you'd get crackers and a pick to open the shell up with so you can get the meat out."
Her: "Oh give it here, for goodness' sake..." (Picks up crab claw and cracks it open with teeth)
We have had similar conversations back at home - steered elegantly toward the conclusion that I am a useless wimp - over my pathetic attempts to find oven gloves rather than just pick up a roasting tray fresh from a prolonged stint in a hot oven with my bare hands.
I have encountered little old ladies - albeit in Indonesia, but I'm credibly informed by a Sinologist friend that China has an extensive supply too - capable of carrying loads on their backs you wouldn't believe. I once felt very proud of myself having scaled a relatively modest volcano in Java, to find at the top an entire drinks stall which had been carried to the peak, in its entirety, in a scarf wrapped around a 70-something lady shod in flip-flops.
I paid her an exhorbitant sum for a luke-warm bottle of jasmine tea (the legendary Tehbotol - Indonesia's finest soft drink....) and slunk back down the mountain feeling duly humbled. Which is no bad thing, after all...