Diablog: The Eccentric Pilgrim

So you finally made it to China.

It says so right here in the November issue of the magazine.

Is there anything you'd like to tell me that didn't make the story?

I think the most significant facts got in. The crux of it is that Wharfedale and Quad, two venerable British loudspeaker brands, were acquired by a pair of Taiwanese brothers who made their fortune in karaoke gear. They're now officially part of IAG, the International Audio Group, and all of the manufacturing has moved to China.

Made in China.

That's not such a bad thing when much of the design process moves there too. The engineering staff can dream up a new part and have it made by the tool-and-die shop immediately. That's much better than waiting months for someone else to make the part and having only one shot at getting it right. Total creative control makes for a better product at a lower price and more flexibility in creating new products to meet changing market conditions. Oh, and the stuff actually sounds good.

None of which explains the dreamy look in your eyes when you got back.

I was shaken up for a few days. You'll laugh, but I think I left a piece of my soul there.

I think your soul likes being shepherded around by a squadron of Chinese, English, and Americans. Face it, you were protected from direct contact with reality in a place too complex for you to deal with on your own.

There were moments when I didn't want to be protected. Like when our car drove through a village at the edge of the manufacturing complex and people were out for the evening in the dimly lit streets. I wanted to be among them.

Better brush up on your Cantonese then. But you live in New York, you can always go down to Chinatown, or out to Flushing, or Elmhurst, or Sunset Park.

Not the same as being in China. Shenzhen is one of the world's fastest growing cities. The energy there was like a drug. Hong Kong was different, more familiar. An Anglo-Chinese version of Manhattan. Incidentally, that picture of me was taken on the Kowloon Peninsula, at the ferry terminal, looking over Victoria Harbour toward the business district on Hong Kong Island.

Did you bring back anything for me?

The aromatic greenish oolong tea, which we've already consumed, though I was overjoyed to discover a Tenfu store in Chinatown. And some $2 CDs of Chinese folk music.

Chinese folk music! There's a conversation stopper. You certainly gave our neighbors a snoot full of that stuff. Two months worth. I was relieved when you went back to Beethoven and Led Zeppelin.

I admit I became obsessed. Are you that surprised? I already like western classical and folk music and I was fascinated by the way the two traditions have mingled in China. A third of the world's population can accomplish a lot over 5000 years. There's a whole riot of small labels serving up music that mixes traditional instruments with modern ones.

Come on, Chinese people love mindless pop music as much as the next nation. You just like this stuff because you're more comfortable in a concert hall than in a nightclub. Blue-nose. Speaking of nightclubs, how did you do with the karaoke?

I managed to avoid it. My throat seizes up when I speak in public. Singing is unthinkable. The millionaire's son got us to play a cigarette game instead.

Sounds like he has better social skills than you do. It's good you can't recognize the word "idiot" in Chinese. I thought you hated cigarettes.

Not as much as I hate singing. Here's how the game works. You stretch a tissue over the rim of a glass and wet the edges to hold it in place. A coin is placed in the middle of the tissue. Then the players take turns poking holes in the tissue with a cigarette. Whoever makes the coin drop loses. If you're cautious, you keep well clear of the burnt areas and burn as small a hole as possible. If you're more aggressive, you burn like crazy, then pass the cigarette to the next player with a malicious smile. I was aggressive. I loved this game.

In other words, someone else always lost.

Exactly. The chaste hostess assigned to me feigned extreme pleasure when she wasn't popping pieces of fruit into my mouth.

You're much more cynical than I thought you were. I like you better that way.

Thank you. By the way, we won't be having our usual chat next week. I've just been told that the Diablog will alternate in this space with reviews written in a more conventional style. So the next thing that appears here will be a review of the Sony MDR-NC11 noise-cancelling earbuds. You'll love 'em -- they now come in white to match your iPod.

Mark Fleischmann is the author of the annually updated book Practical Home Theater. For links to the latest edition, visit www.quietriverpress.com.

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