Sex and Diplomacy

Anyone who has spent any time in the wide Chinese diaspora knows the deep interest in aphrodisiacs and the astonishing range of foods which are said to have this desirable property. I lost count of the times at dinners in Singapore when my host would deposit some delicacy on my plate with a nudge, “Makes you strong!”

I came to have some hopes of this to advance New Zealand’s exports. A frigate brought me the first case of kiwifruit to come to Singapore and I made up little packets of the novel fruit to send to the Chief Justice and his colleagues, senior members of the medical profession and other men of influence.

It seemed important to find a way of hinting that it made you strong without making any unsustainable claim by saying so. I settled on a short note to each simply saying how good it was for our health, and hoped that the usual obsession would do the rest. The result was never revealed but was overtaken by interest in aphrodisiacs reaching a peak in the diplomatic corps.

I met the Korean ambassador who told me with some excitement that he had just received an infusion from a rare ginseng root, found on a remote mountain side in his country and of magical sexual strength. The subject was already much talked about because the durian fruit had just come into season.

Durian, which tasted and smelt like ice cream mixed with baby poo, was loathed by some and worshipped by others in roughly equal numbers. But whether addicted or not, all agreed on its power as a stimulant. Every season someone would quote the Malay proverb about skirts flying up when the durian comes down with the relish of someone who thought they had just invented it.

So the ambassador had a radical plan. He was inviting eight of his colleagues to a specially stimulating dinner and the gun he would fire was to be triple-shotted – the ginseng, a whole durian each, with everything to be finished off with a very old brandy he had acquired. Most of his guests seemed to be as awed by the combination as he was.

We stood around in his drawing-room, speaking in almost apprehensive whispers about the potency of the thermonuclear experiment we were undertaking. The dinner went off equally quietly as we concentrated on the three special ingredients. The ginseng proved to be a dark brown and rather bitter liquid, the durian was itself and the brandy was one of the best I had ever tasted.

Afterwards there was little disposition to stay and talk. The guests perhaps felt that with a ticking bomb inside it was safest to leave or they might suddenly lose control and try to roger the ambassador’s cat.

When I got home my wife, Juliet, was asleep but I thought it best to wake and warn her of the impending storm. She listened sleepily while I recounted the unprecedented hazard, blinked once and went to sleep again. So did I. 

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