Letters back to ancient China (Visit to the Oktoberfest)
Although, as I have told you, by now I am quite happy going round on my own, in that festivalmeadow I clung to Mr Shi-shmi's arm. My ears were subjected to the torture of an uninterrupted onslaught of piercing sounds from thousands of bells, drums and rattles. It was supposed to be music. You had to shout to make yourself heard. What would Master Vay-tofeng have said to this?
I shouted. He was deaf, Mr Shi-shmi shouted back. I'm not surprised! I shouted.
At first I could make out nothing at all. When my eyes had become accustomed to the blaze and glare of the countless blinding lights, I saw gigantic wheels revolving, swings flying, and everywhere fearless, no, suicidal bignoses being hurled through the air. Over it all hung a foul stench. Obviously it is part of the festivity for them to be able to relieve themselves whenever and wherever they feel the urge, and since the main attraction of the festivity is to drink huge quantities of ma-ss a and hal-fa, they have a lot of liquid to get rid of. Naturally I refused to allow myself to be strapped to one of those wheels, or hung from one of their flying chains. But, after I had spent an hour walking round, all the time clutching Mr Shi-shmi's arm, I did follow him into one of the main drinking halls. These consist of unbelievably huge tents, which stink like a stable from the bodily odours of so many people. On a podium in the middle a group of musicians was playing on enormous trumpets some very loud music that bore no relationship whatsoever to that of Master Vay-tofeng. Most of the people were dressed in green and had extremely ridiculous hats on. Incredibly fat serving-wenches, who, according to Mr Shishmi, are specially trained to carry ten, twelve or even more ma-ssa jugs at once, were waddling from table to table distributing the drinking-vessels. You have to pay straight away. The bignoses, often adorned with strange insignia, crowned with paper flowers, or with tufts of hair on their hats, were slapping themselves on the thigh or shouting out for no obvious reason. Scarcely had one of the servingwomen brought them a jug than they opened their mouths wide and poured the ma-ssa drink down their throats. At regular intervals the music, which was deafening anyway, became' even louder as the musicians played what is obviously a very brief but well-loved song, which I could not quite understand. It went, 'Wan-tsva-xu-fa'*, at which the drummer gave his huge drum three mighty thumps. That was the sign for everyone to pick up their ma-ssa jugs and pour as much of the contents down as they could. There followed a huge roar, then they all shouted for the serving-women to bring new ma-ssa. The drink is rolled into the tent in gigantic barrels, and frenetic demons with leather aprons and hands the size of shovels make holes in the barrels at particular points from which the liquid then gushes out into the jugs.
As is inevitable, the bignoses quickly become intoxicated and start quarrelling. with their neighbours or with the jugbearers. In a flash it can turn into brawl. Then one of the shovelhanded demons will come, grasp the troublemaker by the seat of his leather trousers and hurl him, kicking and screamiflg, out of the tent. Such incidents are always accompanied by more or less joyful shouts and immediately followed by the well-loved 'Wan-tsva-xu-fa', at which they all start singing in their deep voices again.
This continues until it is midnight, then the lights are put out and no more new barrels rolled in. The bignoses, who by this time are completely inebriated, crash their jugs down on the tables (those, that is, who are not already asleep underneath them) because they want more ma-ssa. But they do not get any more. The magistrates, presumably out of fear that the drunken bignoses might otherwise smash up the whole city, have at least had the wisdom to limit the length of time during which ma-ssa can be served. The musicians pack up their instruments. The only sound to be heard is the belching and raucous singing of the drinkers. Finally they all crawl off home. We, too, made our way home, stepping carefully so as not to tread in excrement or vomit. All my senses were benumbed. The bignoses keep at it for fourteen days. During that time they forget their discontent or force themselves to ignore it. Many, as long as they are still capable, throw their hats in the air, emitting short, shrill cries as they do so. Many climb into their mo-tao-ka and drive into trees, which the others find particularly funny. That is a bignose festivity.
* The chorus of the famous drinking song, 'In München steht ein Hofbrauhaus'; roughly translated it means, 'One, two, down the hatch'.
Rosendorfer, Herbert, Letters back to ancient China
Sawtry, Dedalus, 1997, 274p., ISBN 1 873982 97 6, pp. 132-135
Translated by Mike Mitchell