The Ndundulu Invasion – Chapter 7 – Fong Kong (Counterfit Goods)

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mantzariscoverAs he walked lazily towards his destination Bongi was trying to figure our whether the decision to accept Hu’s invitation for supper last Saturday night was a wise one.
His eternal philosophical conversations with the wise Mkhulu and his supporters in the tavern, while tasting the well done cheap meat in the outside cheesa nyama (meat place) were at a full force when Hu entered the place. He greeted everyone by bowing down and muttering some pleasantries in deep rural isiZulu .It was obvious to Bongi that the whole atmosphere following his entrance was that of a deep respect shared amongst those present.

MaKhumalo carried a green tea pot for Hu, a movement that did not raise an eyebrow, a sign that the patrons were used to such a treatment.
While the discussion carried on, Hu kept silent, sipping his tea with an aura of dignity. He was perhaps bored, or a man with mixed feelings about the environment.

After he finished the last drop from the pot, he stood up bowed his head at everyone’s direction and turned to Bongi.
“Sir, we have only met once, but it will be a great pleasure for me and my lovely wife if you could do us the honour to be our guest for supper next week. I leave the choice of the day to you if agree.”
Bongi was drunk at the time, he could not even think.
“The honour will be all mine, Sir, Tuesday will be fine with me.”
“Thank you, Sir; I’m looking forward to meeting you again.”
“Me too, Sir, see you on Tuesday.”

After Hu left, the conversation continued as usual, until Mr.Dlamini raised the issue of Bongi’s invitation stating that he was a lucky man because Hu’s young wife was the best cook around. The agreement of those present made Bongi realise that he was not the first to be invited to Hu’s house for supper. This made him feel better as he approached the modest three bedroom traditional house.

He knocked on the door holding tight on the plastic bag with the six PERONIS and the Johnny Walker Green Label whisky. A young, beautiful African woman in her early twenties opened the door, holding a new born baby on her arms. She held her eyes nailed to the shining floor and bowed her head and knees. Her knees almost touched the ground.
“Good evening Mfundisi“, she muttered. “It is a great honour to have you in our humble home. Welcome. My name is Sbongile, and my daughter is Bhuhle, Bhuhle Hu,” she added with pride.
“My name is Bongi and the honour is mine, Mrs. Hu.”
He witnessed the pride in her eyes when she was addressed in her married name.
She led him to the small tidy living room. Mr Hu was standing, waiting.

“Good evening, Prof”, he said as he bowed, his eyes nailed to the floor. “My name is Hu Fong, but people call me Hu. Welcome to our humble home”.
“Good evening Mr. Hu, my name is Bongisizwe Khumalo, but people call me Bongi. Thank you for inviting me to your home and the honour is all mines”.
“Take a seat, Prof, and I thank you very much for your kindness for bringing us this very expensive bottle of alcohol. We really appreciate your kind gesture. I shall tell the lovely mother of my daughter to keep your beers in the refrigerator.”
“Thank you Mr. Hu.”
“So how is your research going, Prof, anything interesting?”
“Very interesting Mr. Hu, but the most interesting thing is nature and the people. I love being here Mr. Hu. This place has changed my outlook to life completely. It’s so tranquil and peaceful, so much so that if I had money I would buy a piece of land to build here. Your home is lovely. Did you build it from scratch?”
“Not really. We extended it with the help of the community. It is a very good community here, Prof. Some children are a little bit naughty, but really the community has plumbers, builders, electricians .They is skilful people and ready to help.”
“I’ve realised that, but I find them very demanding sometimes.”
“Free people ought to be demanding, Prof, don’t you think?”
“You are right, to an extent, Mr. Hu. You must demand water and electricity from the government, but to demand from the tavern owner to give you free JUBAs for the whole night is an abuse of freedom.”
“What you’re saying is that your freedom ends where the other person’s freedom starts, Prof?”
“Marx put it like that didn’t he?”
“He did.”
“I think he was right.”
“You cannot turn four centuries of colonialism into freedom, from demand and want in ten or twenty years, Prof.”
“Mr. Hu, I am very aware of that, but my interest tonight lies in another topic. How is it possible for China to become so tigerish in the last few decades? You are a learned man, for me, it is incomprehensible.”
“Prof, the key issue here is that massive manufacturing has switched from the West to the East in all these past decades. China took advantage of it. Like in the 1970s, there was a shift from developed countries to oil producing countries, caused by an increase in oil prices, now it’s the switch to manufacturing that gives birth to economic and political dislocation .This is where the problem lies for the West. But then, here is always the problem of over-production, due to greed.”
“Why so?”
“Because China’s manufacturing rise reflects radical productive innovations, mostly new technologies that replaced old ones, a “creative destruction”. This is what happened after the collapse of the information technology revolution of the 1980s and 1990s. IT ran its course, investment overshoots, profits, production and demand decreased, hence the dominance of manufacturing. It produces commodities, it creates jobs, it is tangible. This is why Bill Gates has turned into a philanthropist like Bono and Jimmy Carter. On the other hand, besides manufacturing, the turn of the post Mao regime into the post capitalist gold stocking, entering financial markets and ignoring the demands of the country side has led to massive waves of unemployment. The regime knows it, hence the political oppression that goes along with the complete capitulation to naked capitalism.”
“It makes sense but why the collapse of the West?”
“Because the world deficit is funded by savings from China and other Asian economies. However this creative destruction does not end here. China has an export-oriented economy, but the crisis of over-production has led to problems too. China is in a position of real dependency; China has a huge currency reserve, highly advanced technology and a very cheap labour force. The big problem is that China depends on the willingness and ability of other countries to import its goods. Any disruption of this flow has a direct effect on the Chinese economy. This is what’s happening now. China becomes a prisoner of its customers, of whom hundreds of millions have economic problems, they cannot buy things. China has problems because this manufacturing explosion does not really touch its interior, it concentrates on the coast, and this leads to ruptures, dangerous ones. The regime knows that, that’s why they re-skill the police and the army, the repressive-military apparatus of the state. They think like Milton Freedman in economics and like Chairman Mao in politico-military terms .These acts lead to instability. Chairman Mao was correct when he said that imperialism is a paper tiger. He will be turning in his grave, if he’s still there, that his successors are turning China into a paper tiger too.”
“You’re trying to tell me there is no hope for humanity, then.”
“No there is a lot of hope for humanity, Prof, I say there is no hope for capitalism and from the moment Teng Hsiao Ping took over, the writing was on the wall. China has become another country where Kentucky Fried Chicken became a sign of progress and prosperity never mind the bottom line of uneven and combined development. This is a historical farce, nothing more.
“Mr. Hu, would you mind if I have another PERONI?”
“No, go ahead, sir. Would you mind if I pour myself another green tea?”
They laughed heartily.

“So what you are saying Mr. Hu, if I understand you correctly, is that everything that happens in China and the world is determined by globalization and geopolitics. Have I understood you correctly?”
“Absolutely, Prof, but there is one small detail that many people seem to forget, that globalization and geopolitics are not new. The international circulation and movement of capital and the merging of finance and manufacturing capital was strong even at the turn of the century, this is very clear in Hobson’s work on imperialism, it was published in 1901.”
“I see you’re afraid to mention Lenin’s work on imperialism.”
“No, not at all. This is more important than Hobson’s by miles, but there are some little things that make you wonder whether all these academics have even scratched the surface of the nature of globalization. I can tell you a very interesting story, you might find it funny. Have you heard of Harry Keeler, Prof?”
“No, how do you spell it?”
“K-e-e-l-e-r.”
“No, what about him?”
“He was an American detective hero in the 1940’s.”
“Oh, like Mike Hammer.”
“Better than Mike Hammer.”
“Why?”
“Because the author used old Chinese stories to solve the problems.”
“Then?”
“Before 1949, when the Red People’s army grabbed state power my father whose real name was Lin Ping Yang changed his name to Hu Fong masquerading it as a revolutionary pseudonym when he joined the Red Army, realizing that the nationalist forces were on the retreat.”
“So he joined the victors, but what about globalization, what is the significance?”
“In the novel The Case of the 16 Beans, published in 1944, the equivalent of Keeler was a Chinese detective named Hu Fong who was instrumental in exposing the death of a hermit because he was the owner of a very valuable and mysterious item.”
“Has your father confessed to you about these the masquerading behind the pseudonym?”
“Never. Such things were sacred and secret under Mao’s reign. There could be no trust between father and son during the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath.”
“How did you find out about all this then, Mr. Hu?”
“Before my father died he showed me the part of the yard where he hid the imperialist propaganda, including Keeler’s books. After the liberalization, I dug the soil and I found all the books. I was young and easily impressed. I read Keeler, I knew, he named him and me after the detective in the beans case.”
“Amazing, really.”
“Well, now you know a lot about me, what about you? You studied in the USA, right?”
“Right, how do you know?”
“Oh, mkhulu Kunene told me.”
“Oh, what an mkhulu, I love him.”
“He respects you too, very much.”
“I studied Cultural Anthropology. I did a Ph.D. I taught there, then my daughter was born, she wanted to come back to her roots I suppose, I got a job at UDW.”
“You have a daughter, right. How old?”
“She’s fifteen.”
“And your wife?”
“I’m not married.”
“Sorry, I did not mean to intrude.”
“No intrusion really, she is not here really.”
“She’s not with you.”
“She’s not with us in the physical sense.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
“Me too.”

He cracked another Peroni.
“And you, what did you study Mr. Hu? Because I must say that your eloquence and knowledge has impressed me deeply, I must be honest.”
“Oh, not much, I did a basic degree in International Relations, majoring in History and Marxist Theory, the usual. University of Peking.”
“It sounds amazing. When was that?”
“Why are you asking, Prof?”
“Because you look so young.”
“I’m 37, Prof.”
“You look as though you are in your early twenties.”
“Thanks, Prof, if it’s a compliment from your side.”

They laughed.
“Of course it’s a compliment Mr. Hu. Look at me, look at my Afro; I look like I’m a 50 year old croc living in the Motown era.”
“Ah, the Motown era, I love this era Prof, Aretha, Stevie Wonder, the Shangrilas, what a period.”
“I love it too, but I am almost addicted to blues.”
“What type?”
“What do you mean Mr. Hu?”
“Chicago blues, Mississippi, New Orleans, British.”
“I didn’t know there was British blues.”
“Not long history, but interesting, Alexis Corner, John Mayal, Eric Clapton, Eric Burdon, the early Stones.”
“You mean the Rolling Stones?”
“Yes, they did some amazing blues versions, like Little Red Rooster, it was very good.”
“I only learn, it’s very gratifying.”
“Well music is my passion, Prof.”
“Mine too, but unfortunately sometimes I don’t have time.”
“Two things in life can’t wait, Prof, music and love, not necessarily in that order.”
They laughed. Then there was silence. Mr. Hu broke it.

“Prof, when you seek revenge, we Chinese say, dig two graves. I start like this because every single human I have met in this part of the world asked me the same question. I know you are a researcher, but I must say that you are a very different researcher from the ones I have met. You are prepared to listen, people respect your openness, you are a gentleman and you are generous. I started the way I did to take you out of the dilemma, of how to start the question you were planning to ask me. Why Ndundulu, why a spaza shop. It’s a long story but a simple one. I left China because I was planning revenge. I had three options opened to me, fast, medium pace, slow, something like cricket bowling. I took the fourth route, procrastination through deep thinking. I have a cousin who runs a massage parlour in Emarentia, in Johannesburg. He is a reputable businessman; he has a fully fledged website www.shangai exotics.co.za. I communicated with him in anticipation, but not despair. He organized fast a six months tourist visa, which upon my arrival was turned into a permanent residence. We Chinese do not ask questions about these things, he must have had some contacts. I left China for South Africa in 2003, I worked for him for three months. He was good to me, very good. He saw that I did not like Johannesburg, it was claustrophobic, and I needed to breathe fresh air. He called his best friend in Empangeni, I arrived there in June and in August I built the shop in Ndundulu. I was boarding at MaKhumalo’s at the time. I liked the place, I learnt the local language, I got along with the people and I welcomed loneliness, at least, initially.”
“And then?”
“You cannot prevent the birds of loneliness from circling over your head, Prof, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair. I fell in love, loneliness disappeared forever.”

He uttered the words casually, with the authenticity of a poet and the simplicity of a Chinese philosopher of ancient times. The words came out of his mouth calmly, in measured tone and with accuracy reminiscent of an AK47.
“I admire you Mr. Hu. You talk about deep things like loneliness, revenge, love, as they are simple, like a flower seed.”
“There are much simpler things than a flower seed, Prof. Love, revenge and loneliness are emotions. A flower seed is a creation of nature, you can touch it, you can plant it, and if it rains it will produce a beautiful flower.”
“So will the others.”
“Not always, Prof.”
“Why not?”
“Because these emotions produce different, sometimes contradictory results and actions. They can lead to happiness, disappointment, lust, death or destruction, the flower seed will always produce a beautiful flower, if it rains, that is.”
“I never thought about it this way. But… ”

His words were distracted by the young mother carrying the first plate of delicacies. Bongi’s inquisitive eyes, the anthropological, not the other ones, almost escaped from their caves. It was not the only the skobho (sheep’s head) that smelled like heaven on earth, but the art on the plate. That was worth over two million euros.
Madoda (gentlemen), the starters are here”, she whispered, before she retreated to the kitchen as fast as the British soldiers retreated at the Battle of Isandlwana.
“Mr. Hu, with your permission, may I?”
“Of course, Prof.”

Bongi felt awkward when his eyes travelled over the tapestry on the plate. It depicted Zulu impis adorned with full regalia. The only difference was that, instead of the warriors’ headband they were wearing the Red Army’s military cap with the Red Star insignia.
“This is amazing, Mr. Hu, really amazing. What a thought, what imagination, what mixing of images, it is original, isn’t it?”
“It is original, Prof.”
“Did you paint it?”
“No.”
“Who then?”
“A 17 year old boy, Bongani Gwala, he lives up the street.”
“How did it happen?”
“It’s a funny story really.”
“I’m very interested.”
“Can we start eating, at least? I’m sure you are hungry.”
“I’m starving, Mr. Hu, but I’m also flabbergasted and curious, very curious.”
“I took the liberty of begging the mother of my daughter to prepare some traditional Zulu dishes; I hope I did not flop.”
“You can never flop with skobho, Mr. Hu; this is one of my favourite dishes.”
“I hoped so. Now coming to Bongani. I was spending the afternoon with the mother of my daughter at the time when she was two or three months old pregnant when a young boy notified me that a skebengu (crook) had broken into my shop to loot. I reached for my assegai and ran to the shop. I caught the boy trying to get out of the wired fence. I opened the gate and grabbed him. He did not resist. He is a short boy, thin, almost malnutritioned; an orphan.His  gogo (grand mother) looks after him, very beautiful human being, being an old age grant pensioner. The boy was scared. I asked him what he had stolen. He showed me a half empty box of black paint that was left over from a community meeting. I knew they were living in a traditional house. It does not need paint. I asked him why he stole the paint. He told me he wants to be a painter, to paint the mzinyathis (trees) and the Imfolozi River. I shook my head; in fact this half empty paint was useless to me. I told him he could have it, on one condition. To prove to me that he’s not a skebengu he must bring some of his painting to the shop. Within three minutes he returned with about ten. When I saw them I said “this young boy is just a genius. There was no other word to describe him, no other word, Prof.”
“And then?”
“When I went to Empangeni, I went to the merchants from Shangai, I bought different paints, acrylic, fluid, all these types, brushes. It cost me a hundred rands. When I brought it to him he just looked at me and began ululating and performing a Zulu dance. When he raised his legs it felt like his toes touched the sky.”
“How did you feel?”
“I joined him, but I had to stop because all these young boys and girls playing in the area were laughing loudly at me. I am old enough to accept humiliation, but I thought it was wise to leave the Zulu dancing to the born Zulus. There are a few things that a Chinese man cannot do. I left it at that. After that the boy never looked back. He continued painting in his spare time .He is a genius.”
“What did you advise him?”
“I’m too small to advise him, Prof. He’s an artist, and a Zulu. He communicates with his ancestors. The only thing I told him is that he who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened. The young boy knows himself, he’ll go far.”
“Because of you. Because you did not scold him, you did not hit him, you did not call the police, you just treated him humanely and in many ways you led him.”
Mr. Hu shook his head.
“You stand corrected, Prof, I believe the only way to lead people is to walk behind them, I just walked alongside him, and this is the truth.”
“You are a very humble man, Mr. Hu.”
“Prof, I do not curse the darkness when there is load shedding, I just light a candle, problem solved.”

The PERONIS disappeared as fast as the second plate of skobho and Bongi felt obliged to ask the host permission to go outside for a smoke. It was then that the young mother entered the room with a gigantic plate of usu. Bongi’s eyes popped out; the only problem was that he was already full.
“I know if Heaven existed, it would smell like this Mrs. Hu. I’m sure you communicated with the ancestors regarding my food preferences.”
“No, Sir, it was easier to talk with mkhulu Kunene.”
They laughed loudly before the mother moved back inside. The men attacked the delicacy, like there was no tomorrow, silent for a change.

Bongi started feeling dizzy, his tummy ready to burst and the night’s conversation fresh in his mind. Above all his body needed a few more doses of the killer nicotine before his senses exploded.
“Before I go, Mr. Hu I need to ask you a very difficult question. OK two. The first one whether, the saying the palest ink is better than the best memory, is indeed Chinese?”
“Yes, Prof, Confucius.”
“I thought so. The second is I think more difficult. Was Mao Ze Dung a Marxist?”
“It is easier, Prof. No, he was essentially a Confucian and a Chinese nationalist. He disguised his Confucianism with Stalinist phraseology.”
“Thank you Mr. Hu. Now may I say good night and may I greet your lovely wife and thank her for her hospitality and her delicious food?”
“I am afraid this is not possible, Prof. She always goes to bed before midnight but tonight she made an exception, because of the honour of having you with us.”
“Is it after midnight?”
“It is 2.30 am, Prof.”
“I’m so sorry Mr. Hu, I imposed on you, but I must say this was definitely one of the most enlightening and fruitful evenings of my life, all thanks to you and your wife.”
“You are very kind and generous, Sir. Our home is always open to you, and you daughter, when around.”
“I hope tonight is the beginning of an everlasting relationship, Mr. Hu.”
“A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, Mfundisi.”
“Chairman Mao.”
“No, Sir, Confucius, plagiarised by Mao.”

They laughed loudly until they heard the baby crying. Bongi stopped while Mr. Hu’s eyes turned into orbits of happiness.
My daughter, Mfundisi”, he whispered, “She cries for her mother’s milk”.

They bowed to each other. Bongi, in the yard already, grabbed two Kents from the packet in his inside coat pocket. He cursed himself; he had misplaced his lighter again.

Next chapter: Chapter 8

©  Evan Mantzaris – The Ndundulu Invasion – Rozenberg Quarterly 2013 – ISBN 978 90 361 0201 8

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