Friday, November 30, 2007

Clog post 8 with One Night In Hunghung



First Clog: "All aboard the Aurient Express..."

So. Bes Pelargic. Who'd have thought it? Well, B.S. Johnson, presumably, when he designed Empirical Crescent...though it's never been very clear whether or not Johnson actually knew what the results of his various efforts at design would be. Still, as a mode of travel, multidimensional folded-space topology beats flying carpets and sprung coaches and camels hands down.

As I mentioned in my previous post, we had a surprise waiting for us when we arrived. Two surprises: the first was our unceremonious arrival in the outer kitchens of a very busy restaurant. A very busy, very delicious-smelling restaurant. Where there were unattended golden platters piled high with all manner of exotic delicacies. Oh, yes. As we hadn't eaten at this point for many hours and several continents, the first thing we did was grab the nearest platter and bolt for the nearest broom cupboard where we bolted first the door and then the food in short order. Strange food, but delicious, and only vaguely resembling the Agatean food in takeaways on the Plains and Circle Sea nations. There were dumplings in sweet sauce, odd slimy things that tasted of the sea, rice with curious black beans, weirdly wonderful vegetables, and..."Thif tashtes like Difhtreffhed Pudding," Cert said through a mouthful of something wobbly in little ornamental dishes, and offered me a spoonful. And he was right! -- except it tasted like what Distressed Pudding might dream of becoming if it's been a very good and well-behaved pudding. We were puzzled, and once we'd eaten our fill we decided to explore quietly. The first thing we encountered was also strange -- a rack of very mixed clothing hanging on hooks on the wall -- silk kimonos side by side with old-fashioned Morporkian tunics, doublets and hose, and something that looked suspiciously like an A-M Watch uniform!

"Are we in a restaurant or is it someone's fancy dress party?" I mused aloud.


"You read Agatean?"

"I have a fish in my ear. But look, it's written below that in common Morporkian."

"Definitely weird. It's the first time I've ever heard Distressed Pudding described as noble cuisine."

The second surprise was the proprietor: none other than the Disc-famous Twoflower himself! First and greatest of tourists and later Venerable Father of the Revolution, Twoflower opened the Morpork Luck Teahouse during the reign of Cohen I, the Sandalled Emperor, and has been doing land-office business ever since. This explained some of the more...unexpected items on the menu, such as Sticky Rice Slumpie and Sweet and Sour Knuckle Sandwich, as well as the unexpected clothing, which is worn by staff in the main restaurant. As soon as we introduced ourselves and told him how we'd got there, he led us to a private dining room and laid on oceans of tea and mountains of desserts...also introduced us to his daughters (Pretty Butterfly, who's the general manager, and Lotus Blossom, who's at school but works part-time in the restaurant)...and after more conversation, booked me for a gig and informed us he was going to take some time off to show us around Bes Pelargic. We've definitely landed on our feet...

* * *

Spent the night in lodgings. Not as posh as the Great Pyramid Hotel, but clean and tidy. Very Auriental.

* * *

Next day: taken on a tour of Bes Pelargic. Bes P is a medium-sized city and shares that same "feel" of port cities everywhere -- a little bit rough, a little bit cultured, but mainly a place where people pass through, mostly coming to trade and rarely staying for long. There are a few settlements of foreigners, though. There's a Genuan community (apparently their Fat Tuesday parade features extra added dragons and Barking Dogs), a Hublandish community, a community of Ankh-Morpork ex-pats, a Little Klatch, and even a small Dwarf community (drawn, no doubt, by the smell of all the gold), and everyone seems to get along rather well. In fact, the current High Official (that's the local version of a Lord Mayor), So Ho Sixpot, has a distinctly Klatchian cast in his ancestry. Everyone seems to know Twoflower, so we were treated as honoured guests. I was told that's a far cry from the old days of the Empire, where even in Bes P foreigners were treated with distaste and often arrested and expelled on suspicion of being foreign. We were taken to restaurants and tea-houses and temples and then shown the Red Triangle District, and the Shu District which is where the docks are. There were ships from as far away as Howondaland there, and even a few NoThingfjord longboats in from the Long Route via Slakki and Ting Ling (we stayed away from that area, in case someone recognised us).

* * *

Day after: we were taken to Bes Eisley. Oh, my.

Bes Eisley, also known as the District of Unmended Shoji, is definitely the downmarket area of Bes P. It's down at the far end of Shu and it's where the most disreputable of the foreigners hang out, along with the local criminal element (always wondered which element is the criminal one. some isotope of narrativium, maybe?). I'd like to be able to say I've never seen a more wretched hive of scum and villainy, but a) I've been to the Shades and b) there was plenty of scum and villainy, but surprisingly little wretchedness. Especially at Threepenny's House of Tea and Poppy Products, where all the customers looked astonishingly happy. And the band -- Sammy Shen and his Sizzling Shamisens -- was brilliant! Sammy's something of a local Personality and an old friend of Twoflower's. He got Mayor So up to play the chi shells, which sound rather like Lancrastian spoons. The Mayor wasn't very good at playing the shells, but no-one in the audience seemed to mind,even though he kept dropping and breaking his instruments...not that that's a problem, as Sammy Shen also sells chi shells by the Shu shore and has a plentiful supply. I was asked up for a few songs. I already had a lot of sake in me, and by the time I finished I had a lot more sake in me because nearly everyone in the place bought me a drink...

Sake is even better than beer, once you get enough down you to get past the taste (like rice that came to a bad end after leading a disreputable life). Sake is also even better than beer for getting wandering bards into sticky situations. Like the one I found myself in with Ten Blue Ox, Sammy Shen's koto player. I mean, we would have got along well anyway -- he has some fine riffs -- but sake has a way of lowering inhibitions to somewhere below ground level, or at least below waist level. And making a person make eyes at another person. And making a person smoke something funny-tasting from Threepenny's private stock. And getting back onstage to do some more requests and taking part in a cross-cultural jam session.

The last thing I remembered clearly that night was kneeling in front of Ox and playing his koto with my teeth. The next thing I remembered was waking up next to a very happily sleeping Ox in a room that definitely wasn't mine, with a hangover and a limp...

Cert didn't speak to me for two days. Not until I introduced him to Breaking Dawn, a friend of the band's who's deeply into technomancers. When in Bes P, do as the Bes Pelargians, that's my motto. All's serene now. Plenty of sake. We still haven't dared try the Sweet and Sour Knuckle Sandwich, but I've written an advertising jungle for the Morpork Luck International Restaurant; the name is too long to use repeatedly, but it has a catchy chorus: "You can get anything you want at Twoflower's restaurant..."

* * *

Day something: we've met many interesting people with many interesting names. It seems there are regional naming conventions in different parts of Agatea; some families use single names and diminutives (usually numbers), some are named for their connection to the five Noble Clans (Fang, Tang, Hong, Sung and McSweeney), some have three-part names (usually consisting of a number, a colour or state of being, and an object), and some have names that are just plain weird. There's Three Blin'd Mice, the greengrocer; Five Spilt Sake, the barman; Lo Hung Wan and Lo Hung Fang, local nobs; Fourplates, the dentist; Zero Rabbit, who runs the apothecary shop; One Stone Dragon, who plays bass shamisen in Sammy's band and should really be called One Stoned's hard to remember them all! Girls and women usually have two names, like Beautiful Poppy and Fecund Doe. Sammy's real name is Shen Sing Ho. And they all think our names are strange!

There's so much history here! Everywhere! I've taken many, many iconographs and written loads of notes. I think I might end up writing that travel book after all...

Time to sleep. Here endeth this post.

* * *

Second Clog: "Wednesday on my mind..."

It turns out that the McSweeneys aren't the only old and noble family with an unusual name by Agatean standards: there are also the Wednesdays.

Back in the days of long-lost Ago when the ancient warlord Toijota ruled the Pelargic coast, a shipwrecked Morporkian sailor was rescued by Toijota's troops and rose to the highest rank in the warlord's service. This sailor's name was Adam Wednesday. He proved to be a valuable resource, not least because he brought actual news of the World Beyond the Walls and actual useful advice about sea-trading and Morporkian military history (read: "fighting dirty, without a crippling load of traditional rules"), and was given the sobriquet of Jinjin-san, which is Agatean for "foreign barbarian sailor who's done bloody well for himself". Wednesday served in the forecourt of Toijota, never again leaving Agatea to return to Ankh-Morpork; he became immensely rich, took a number of wives and concubines, and died old and happy within sight of the beached remains of his original ship. It's to Wednesday that Bes Pelargic owes its centuries-long history of being the only somewhat open port in the Agatean Empire, and its centuries-long willingness to entertain barbarian ways has subtly changed the local culture. If you wander around the Bes Peninsula, you can still find people with the surnames Wednesday and Jinjin; the original Mr Wednesday obviously had a lot of wives and concubines.

We've had a stroke of luck -- we arrived in time for the Samizdat Festival. It's a yearly event peculiar to Bes P and only a few other locations, and it's where those who served in, or served, or say they served, or were standing nearby looking innocent during, the Glorious Revolution gather to remember the Days of Struggle. I'd say you can't move for parades of peasants in pyjamas, but it seems that's just the normal state of Agatean cities; however, parades of peasants in pyjamas don't usually march along shouting things like "Gradual Orderly Transfer of Power to the People!" and "Shun the Evil Imperialists Whilst Using Polite Mannerliness!" It's very enthusiastic and above all, very loud. Twoflower and his family always march at the head of the parade, and afterwards there are ceremonial Campfires of Remembrance where the festivalgoers huddle around eating stale rice and meagre portions of rotten fish and reminisce about the hardships they endured before the coming of the true Red Army. For the record, the rice and fish are deliberately served that way as a reminder; believe me, the real cuisine is to die for (and not because of poisons).

During the campfire ceremony I was able to learn more about what happened in the years between Cohen's accession and the present day. Twoflower confirms that he did indeed serve as Cohen's Grand Vizier, and that they did make some sweeping legal and cultural changes together, but the old ways started creeping back as fast as changes were made and he didn't feel comfortable -- Twoflower, not Cohen, Cohen could feel comfortable anywhere he could hang his sword (preferably from the upper chest region of unrepentant court bureaucrats and nobles) -- with the constant tensions of court life. So when Cohen left, he resigned and came straight back home to open the restaurant. He says that there are changes being made deep in the Agatean culture, but that he hasn't got the necessary thousand or so years to spend hanging around waiting for them to blossom. Agatea is definitely a foreign country -- back around the Circle Sea, changes to culture take place as fast as the Clacks can carry them!

Speaking of the Clacks, they still don't have much in the way of towers here. But that will soon change: someone's had the bright idea to put towers on ships plying the Quirm coast-Bes Pelargic trade route! Transmission depends on the weather at sea, but on a clear, calm day or night the messages fly back and forth much faster than any ship can sail. It's only a matter of time before strings of towers go up all across the mainland...

* * *

We're going to Hunghung! With a native guide! V. excited. Always wanted to see the Forbidden City, and now it's...less forbidden.

* * *

We packed our belongings -- so many belongings now, between all the gifts and all the shopping in Shu and all the scrolls ("...if you can just take this to First Sister's third cousin in Hunghung...") and ornamental sake bottles -- and headed out at sunrise. Everyone turned up to give us a rousing send-off. Even Sammy's band. It was rather sweet to hear Brindisian Rhapsody played on Agatean instruments. Also, Ox gave me a beautiful koto to remember him by. I can think of rather more robust reasons to remember him by, but...also, Breaking Dawn will be giving Cert something to remember her by in about eight months' time, or so we're told. Ah well, that solves my problems nicely, and he did say he wanted to work in the Agatean technomancy industry...but for now, we're back to friendly relations. Nurr, nurr, nurr.

Agatea, for all its gold, is a simple and old-fashioned country with old-fashioned simple poverty. We passed through endless rice paddies and endless tiny villages that probably looked the same in the days of One Sun Mirror. But Red -- our guide, Seven Red Rice -- says there's a very important difference: most of the peasants in the fields no longer kowtow to mounted travellers. They also no longer need special papers to travel from village to village, but Red says most of them still stay put because old habits die hard. That's progress for you.

* * *

Pork ear stew is...interesting.

* * *

After a while, pork ear stew is...less interesting.

* * *


* * *

After a while, duck tastes like pork ear stew...

* * *

Today we were passed by an entire flock of carrier pigeons. Very orderly country, Agatea: they were flying in formation.

* * *

Red pointed out the Dragon Mountains, off in the distance. He says that legend has it they're the exposed scales of the Earth Dragon, and that the position of cities relative to parts of the dragon are vitally important according to the dictates of Sheng Fooey. Most Agatean traditionalists, which is to say most Agateans, believe that Ankh-Morpork is built on top of the Earth Dragon's...well, never mind. Use your imagination.


Nearly at the gates of Hunghung now. Time to sleep. Here endeth this post.

* * *

Third Clog: "Down but not out in the Heavenly City"

Right. Far, far too much to write about and no way to send it, so I'm dictating the short version in song to Gimpy and getting it carriered back to Twoflower's. He promised to post it on the next Clacks fleet...


    Hunghung...Auriental setting
    It's a city of gold full of bureaucrats fretting
    The cream of the nobles in their cute silk beanies
    Hyping every clan but McSweeney's

    Great Wall...doesn't seem a minute
    Since the famous Silver Horde stuck their broadswords in it
    Small change - don't you know a rhinu
    Buys a whole city? Well, that's something more than I knew!
    Buys Sto Lat...or Pseudopolis...or Morpork...
    Or...or someplace!

    One night in Hunghung and the world's your lobster
    Those golden temples are a sight to see
    You'll find a god in every dry ancestor
    And if you're lucky then the squishi's free
    I can feel a ninja sneaking up on me

    One coin's...very like another
    When your head's down counting your rhinu, brother
    Etiquette is a chore, it's very 'san' and 'sama'
    Though I'm getting to adore those peasants in pyjamas

    Gilded and clean -
    I've seen forbidden, enchanted, charming towns

    Cha, buns, sweet and sour
    Caffs as posh as the Emperor's bower
    - that's Cohen! You're talking 'bout a hero
    Whose 'civilised' index stands at zero
    - he got his kicks above the snowline, last time!

    One night in Hunghung makes your dwarf bread crumble
    No other empire has such history
    One night in Hunghung knocks you down like scumble
    With pretty geisha girls for company
    I can see an army made of pottery

    I am...gonna see the army
    It's the ultimate sight in a land this barmy
    It stuns me more than blowfish
    Unlike tsimo wrestling - that's too oafish
    Thank the Gods I'm only watching the Noh, not part of it!

    See old men play like lightning
    Their game's more slick than kung fu fighting
    I watch them play, and grind my molars -
    Shibo Yangcong-san's for real high rollers!
    So you better just stick with your tea, your haikus
    Your squishi vendors...

    One night in Hunghung and the world's your lobster
    Those silken eunuchs are a sight to see
    You'll find a god in every dry ancestor
    And from Dibhala's tray, some rancid tea
    I can feel a ninja sneaking up on me

    One night in Hunghung makes your stomach rumble
    To munch exotic snacks with jasmine tea
    And when their language makes me gasp and mumble
    I'll keep Twoflower close for company
    I can feel the vampire ghosts right next to me!

* * *

Fourth Clog: "Eek!"

One night in Hunghung is everything the song says, but four weeks in Hunghung is a bit too much for some. Which is to say, for me. It's so big! And so crowded! And so far from home! This is the first time I've actually felt homesick since I began my journey. Not that I want to go home yet, but there are so many more places to see and only so many sweet and sour dumplings a body can eat, and only so many frustrated bureaucrats a body can stand to be around, and not enough gigs to make the evenings interesting (although the Imperial State Gymnastic Orchestra was worth the journey all on its own). So I gathered up my ever-increasing pile of acquired stuff, gave it to Red to take back to Bes P for shipping back to Lost Wages, and went looking for Cert.

I found him in the Hall of Curiosities in the Winter Palace, deep in conversation with a wizardy sort who must have been at least 150. Cert introduced him as Four Dread Teeth (and they are), a Doctor of Thaumology and one of the few old-school Agateans to have studied at Unseen University. Doctor Teeth was quite friendly, though his Morporkian is a bit rusty -- foreign languages officially did not exist in the days of the old Empire, especially in Hunghung. He and Cert have been updating each other (though in the case of Teeth, I suppose it's backdating) about developments in technomancy. They were babbling excitedly about something called Kwan T'um, which according to Doctor Teeth was discovered by his people 3,000 years ago but never explored on the grounds of its being inadvisable magic. It looks as though Cert will definitely have a job waiting for him after he gets his degree. Always good news for someone contemplating child support...

* * *

We decided to head for Bhangbhangduc by way of Sum Dim, going Rimwards after that through the Tang Pass in the Big Dragon Mountains (same dragon, apparently). Sum Dim was both a relief and a disappointment after the mad bustle of Hunghung; it's the most isolated major city in the Empire, so in other words old-fashioned in the least pleasant ways. Nothing but paddies, pyjamaed peasants, and...well, nothing else, really. The Sum Dim cuisine is different, though. Very, very spicy and based mostly on clay-pot cooking, with a gooey gluey bubbliness that reminds me of the Ankh. Not Ankh-Morpork, just the Ankh. Occasionally things bubble up to the surface of the pot, and I swear I saw far too many legs on some of them. Cert and I managed to learn a fair bit of conversational Agatean over the weeks, but out here we might as well not have bothered because the Sum dialect is almost a different language. Luckily, they do feed musicians -- but if I hadn't had my lute and my new koto with me, things would've got awfully hungry. We only stayed for two nights, then hit the road with hope in our hearts. I think we should have tried to hire a guide...

* * *

Lost the road in the dark last night. Nothing but plains and foothills. At least foothills means mountains soon, and mountains mean mountain pass, right?

It's getting very cold at night. Almost feel nostalgic for those flying carpets.

* * *

The landscape is getting...strange. Cert got a vintage thaumometer as a gift from Doctor Teeth. I don't know much about magickal devices, but I'm sure it shouldn't be glowing octarine all the time.

* * *

Landscape even stranger. Still nothing but foothills. We seem to have wandered into old Mage Wars ground. Thaumometer exploded this morning. At least I think it was morning. Um.

* * *

Dictating shrtmth definitly Magewars wyrd trees feelin fnny gtting hrdr to spe-

-- Alc


Note for Roundworlders: the original lyrics for One Night in
can be found at or

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