6/07/2011

Me, Mamatas and Duncan

I had a pleasant surprise last week by unexpectedly finding myself lunching in Glasgow's West End in the company of Hal Duncan and Nick Mamatas. Mamatas is the author of, amongst others, 'Starve Better', an excellent book on, essentially, surviving as a writer, particularly when faced with economic difficulties (by a curious happenstance, I'd given it a positive review on Amazon UK just the week before, while having absolutely no idea I'd find myself having lunch with the guy within a few days). He's a man with a sometimes fearsome online reputation, most often expressed through his blog, when he's not the editor for Haikasoru books. In short, it was a lot of fun; Nick was over with his Scottish-born partner Olivia for a family wedding. Typically, given their guide was Hal, they washed up at Stravaigin's in the West End. Hal talked about the bizarre architectural similarities between Glasgow and parts of New York; I urged them to visit the city's enormous graveyard, the Necropolis (Mamatas: 'it's like you know me').

At some point, the conversation steered towards Asian theme restaurants, which I thought I'd discussed before on this blog but, to my consternation, find I haven't. They range from the cute to the mindboggling and, sometimes, to depths greater than you can possibly imagine. I've seen a restaurant designed to look like the inside of a jet, complete with waiting staff dressed as airline attendants. But I've also seen a restaurant called Modern Toilet, which I'm not even going to describe to you because, really, I prefer not to think about it (but if you can bear the horror, there's a piece about it here). I also told Nick about the infamous Nazi death-camp themed restaurant that briefly opened in Taipei several years ago, and was quickly shut down.

I could have sworn I'd already written about this place, but a search through my blog entries reveals this is not apparently the case. But before you start thinking Taiwan is a hotbed of Fourth Reich activity, consider this excerpt from the ten-year old BBC article I linked to above:

The restaurant's manager, Stone Cheng, told Associated Press that the owners and designers had spent months planning the interior.
Customers in Jail
The theme was not intended to offend customers, or show support for the Holocaust, he said.
"Taiwanese just aren't that aware of this history and aren't as sensitive about it as foreigners are."
 Most Taiwanese can describe in detail the atrocities committed by Japanese troops who controlled Taiwan and parts of China during World War II. But many are unclear about what happened on the other side of the world.
 To say that the Taiwanese, by and large, continue to be 'unaware' of history outside of Asia is putting it mildly. I've heard stories - possibly apocryphal - that elderly Taiwanese have been known to greet German tourists with the words 'Heil Hitler' not because of their support for Nazi principles but because it's the only two words of German they know. A few years ago there was a flurry of outrage in the press when someone spotted Hitler dolls for sale in the Ukraine that later turned out in fact to have been manufactured in...Taiwan.

But it's not just Taiwan: it's Asia in general. Consider the case of the Japanese boy band that dressed in SS uniforms just earlier this year.

This all came to mind recently when a friend in Taiwan posted this image on Facebook:

In case you're wondering, it's on the pavement outside an Italian shoe shop in Taipei. Whoever chose it did so out of regard for what they considered its aesthetic properties, from within a sucking vacuum of ignorance regarding its historical context. To put it another way: people in Asia don't realise that Nazis still frighten the shit out of a lot of the rest of the world, and have zero awareness of the atrocities of WW2 in Europe and the years leading up to it.

Before we all get riled up about how shockingly and scandalously ignorant people in Asia are, may I first remind you:

Yes, it's our very own Prince Harry, dressed as a Nazi, back in 2005. We have our own ignorant dimwits too. And once you've gotten over Nazi-themed restaurants, ponder the existence in the West of Chairman Mao-themed restaurants. Yes, that's right, you too can scarf down rice and chicken under the glowing paternal image of a ruthless dictator whose time in power saw tens of millions of Chinese starve to death during the forced collectivisation of agriculture. So: yay for theme restaurants!

3 comments:

jimsteel said...

I recall a Papa Doc's bar in Greenock. No idea if it was themed, though.

gary gibson said...

If it was in Greenock, I'm not ruling out the possibility Papa Doc might not actually have been involved at some point...

antihippy said...

This reminds me of an anecdote I have about a trip to Hungary.

I few years back I was in the Terror House in Budapest. Here's a link to the wiki page:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Terror

The precis is this. When the Germans annexed Hungary it was the headquarters of the Nazi party, when the communists took over it became the headquarters of the Hungarian Stasi. Fascinating place and it's easy to spend a day there.

They have a dining room set up with mannequins wearing the relevant nazi party uniforms. And pictures of the [Hungarian] Nazi leaders projected mannequin heads.

While I was looking around some Germans came in and sat down at the table. They were pretending that they were having dinner with the Nazis. There was lots of picking up the knives and forks and posing with the Nazi leaders.

It was extremely distasteful.

Needless to say that the Hungarian security guards came in and started shouting at the nonplussed Germans.

So I don't just think that the Taiwanese have a complete monopoly in lacking taste!