Friday, March 24, 2017

Surviving the Great China Earthquake

In 1976 the Chinese Government invited a group of Congressional staff members to visit. I was chosen to be part of the delegation.  The prospect was exciting -- exactly how exciting I had no idea.

On our second night in Beijing staying on the 8th floor of the Peace Hotel, shown left, July 28, our group of about ten, with escorts, were treated to dinner at one of the city’s famed restaurants in which every course employs some part of the duck.   Ours, as I recall, was called the “Sick Duck Restaurant,” because it was located near the main hospital.   Appropriately, I was sick that night with terminal indigestion, having eaten much too much fatty duck, and was staggering from the bathroom back to bed when the most deadly earthquake of modern times and one of the three most deadly in recorded history, struck at 3:42 a.m.

Above is a chart of the severity of the shake on the Richter Scale – at the epicenter 8.2., in Beijing, a 6. It would become known as the Tanshang Earthquake for the major Chinese city it destroyed, killing up to half a million people – the devastation shown below.  Although we were 140 kilometers from the epicenter the earthquake made an indelible impression.


It began with a series of blinding flashes in the sky; white, yellow and orange balls of light exploded everywhere.  My first thought was that the Russians had attacked China with nuclear weapons.  My second was:  “Those bastards--why did they have to wait until I got here.”  My next thought was:  “How the hell do I get home?”  My fourth:  “No way.”

As soon as the lights stopped, the room began shaking and a deafening noise like a dozen out-of-control locomotives filled the air.  My roommate, Dick Moose, shouted, “It’s an earthquake.  Get under the bed.”  I made an attempt but the bed was only five inches off the floor and my hind end would not fit under no matter how frantically I struggled.  I lay flat on my ailing stomach, with only my legs protected, and said a simple prayer:  “Lord, stop the earthquake or we’re all dead.”

According to the Marine guard at the U.S. Embassy, the shaking lasted for 45 seconds -- it seemed more like an eternity.   When it stopped, Dick -- who kept his wits about him-- yelled, “We have got to get everyone out of here.”  Luckily we both had flashlights, bought in Japan after Dick remarked something about the lights always going out in Asia.  We dressed quickly, pulling on pants and shoes, and set out to round up others in our party.

We were on the 8th floor and except for our lights, it was pitch dark.   I gathered a group of three or four and by flashlight we slowly made our way down the stairs.  One woman had hold of my arm so tightly that the marks of her nails remained in my skin for several days.  We assembled along with dozens of other hotel guests on the front lawn of the hotel.  In the photo right I am on the right, still wearing my pajama tops. We never went back to our rooms.  Our hosts, fearing we would be hurt in an aftershock, packed for us and brought us our clothes.   Ambulance sirens wailed constantly.  Everywhere Chinese by the hundreds were streaming into the streets.

As daylight appeared, it became clear that damage was light in Beijing despite the severity of the quake.  During the day as we moved about the city the demeanor of the people was remarkable.   Residents had been ordered out of their homes for fear of aftershocks.  Everywhere families were busy along the sidewalks constructing lean-tos made from telephone poles and blue plastic tarpaulins.  As the shelters were completed, mattresses and cooking pots were added.  Mothers nursed babies, students read books, and dinner proceeded almost as if nothing unusual had happened.  Despite the heavy rains that fell that day, Chinese stoicism seemed universal.

Our hosts informed us that our trips to the Forbidden City and the Great Wall had been canceled and that instead the next day we would be transported by train from Beijing to points south and west.   We were given a choice of sleeping accommodations for the night:  The soccer stadium, our automobiles, or mattresses on the floor of the ballroom of the defacto U.S. Embassy. (Full diplomatic relations had not yet been restored.)  Without hesitation we chose the Embassy, shown here.

 Even before the earthquake the U.S. Ambassador had planned a cocktail party for our group at the Embassy that evening, inviting high level Chinese officials who could speak English.  Among them was Tan Wen-Sheng, the U.S. educated protégé of Madame Mao who became “Honey Huan,” a character in the Doonesbury comic strip.  I was conversing with her when, some 15 hours after the initial quake, an aftershock registering 7.1 on the Richter scale jolted the room, sent table lamps flying, and pictures pitching perpendicular to the wall.   Although well fortified by martinis by this time, I was aware that the ground I was standing on had turned to jelly.  Abruptly, the party ended.

That night as we lay to sleep on bare mattresses, I could feel each aftershock through the ballroom floor.   At about midnight came a sharper than usual shock.  Instantly I was drenched in sweat.

The day after the earthquake a train was ready to take us to Honan Province south of Beijing.  It was stocked with the two provisions we had ordered:  plenty of beer and yellow-meat watermelon. Thus provisioned, we were hustled out of the capital city. Days of perspiration were to follow, not from anxiety, but from the extreme and unrelenting heat of July in East Central China.  Referencing a popular food product our delegation adopted the name “Shake and Bake.”


Postscripts:  The earthquake lights have been remarked on by many observers to the Tanshang disaster.  They show up in only the most violent quakes and until the 1960s when actually photographed in Japan, as shown here, they were considered mythic by scientists.   Various theories of their origin exist, but one that seems most plausible involves quartz-bearing rocks.  Those rocks are known to generate an electrical charge when subjected to extreme mechanical stress.   As shock waves rolled out from the epicenter, the rocks were squeezed, resulting in the bright flashes.   Still, however, our Chinese hosts seemed to enjoy hearing my story about mistaking the earthquake for a Russian nuclear attack.
















Friday, March 10, 2017

Drinking and Hunting: A Sequel


 In February and March of 2016 I posted two articles entitled, “Booze and Bullets:  Mixing Whiskey and Hunting” and “Brews and Bullets:  Mixing Beer and Hunting.”  Both focussed on the frequency with which liquor and beer advertisements featured their products within a hunting motif.  As expressed by the bumper sticker above, drinking and hunting have a definite intimacy.  In the year since I have been able to gather other ads that make the point and present them here.

For example, John Ellwanger, a German immigrant who began his career as a delivery boy in a Dubuque, Iowa, dry goods store, and went on to become a wealthy whiskey wholesaler, featured a hunter in his sign for “Old Knapsack Rye.”  Given the startled look on the face of nimrod, my guess is that he has a flask in his own knapsack and has been reminded to take a swig.   Ellwanger used his resources from selling whiskey to become a leading business and political figure in Dubuque during the late 19th Century and into the 20th.  
Theobold & Son of Columbus, Ohio, left less to the imagination by their saloon sign for their flagship brand, “Old Coon Sour Mash.  Above is the image of two hunters in the twilight with coon dogs and dogs who have treed a small raccoon that is looking at them intently, obviously with some apprehension.   The hunters, however, seem transfixed on a bottle of whiskey that one of the men is offering the other.  The dogs seem disinterested in the quarry.  It may be that Old Coon has saved the hide of the treed coon.  The Theobolds were in business from 1860 to 1916 when Ohio voted to go “dry.”

This next image similarly leaves little to the imagination.  In this ad we see a hunter, shotgun at the ready, who has taken out a flask and is pouring himself a “snort” in the midst of his quest for game.  The text tells the story:  “A good time coming”  The only thing a sportsman enjoys more than the anticipation of Cream of Kentucky “Thee” Whiskey.”  This libation was a proprietary brand of the I. Trager Company of Cincinnati.  The company was being supplied by the Old Darling distillery of Prestonville, KY. and was in business from 1887 to 1918.

The three images above were from pre-Prohibition liquor outfits but even after repeal, the juxtaposition of whiskey with hunting continued.  At left is a flask  and label of Huntsman Straight Bourbon that was the product of the Wisconsin Liquor Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Here two hunters are about to join their dog by crossing a fence, a gun seemingly dangerously placed.  It suggests that the two have been nipping at their “Huntsmen” already.  Whatever outfit was behind this whisky long since has left the Milwaukee scene.

While the letterhead from R. B. Grainger Distilling Company does not overtly feature hunting, the Kansas City, Missouri, pre-Prohibition liquor house flyer that follows leaves nothing to the imagination.  It offers the public the a “handsome TRAVELERS FLASK with ALUMINUM DRINKING CUP with some extra fine OLD  R.B. GRAINGER Straight Kentucky Whiskey….This beautiful FLASK always comes in handy and they are especially convenient for your hip pocket when fishing and hunting….”   This firm appeared in business directories from 1912-1917.

The Bernheim Brothers and their I. W. Harper whiskey brought us the most subtle whiskey cum hunting image with the saloon sign shown here.  It has all the   familiar accessories of the well-decorated hunter’s cabin, replete with pelts, guns,  boots and a dog.  The I.W. Harper sign is hung discretely from trophy antlers and a wicker covered I. W. Harper jug — like one I used to own — sits awaiting on a table.  The colorful lithograph on tin is entitled “Here’s Happy Days.”

This hunting scene of a hunter who apparently has killed seven ducks with one shotgun blast was one of a series of post-Prohibition hunting ads featuring Paul Jones whiskey, a brand created by Jones who began his career as a liquor salesman and expanded to be a major force in the distilling industry.  After his death the family sold the brand to the Seagram’s people who likely were responsible for this ad.  The message here is that the whiskey had become five times more popular than before — apparently not “impossible’ like a single shot taking down seven fowl at once.

Another post-Prohibition ad series features “Sunny Brook,” a whiskey that originated in 1891 with the Rosenfield Brothers in Chicago.  The brand gained a national reputation during the late 1800s and early 1900s only to be stopped by National Prohibition.  At the time of Repeal in 1933 the Rosenfields sold the distiller and brand name to American Medical Spirits and later National Distillers who ran a series of ads with hunting motifs.

Now we turn from booze to brews.  I am particularly fond of this image of a hunter who is resting after a day of one kind of sport and moving on to another, one that has him chatting up the comely saloon waitress.  The look between them is entrancing.  Less so is the rifle, presumably loaded, idly placed at the edge of a round table and a dog that bears no resemblance to a hunter.  Schlitz, whose sign brags that it made Milwaukee famous, no longer exists. 

Another Wisconsin beer that is no longer extant is Gund Beer of La Crosse.  This pre-prohibition saloon sign depicts “A Wisconsin Deer Hunt…The Return…Two Bucks.”  The reference is to the price for a case of Gund.  Only one dead buck is shown, ready to be gutted skinned by firelight by a gleeful hunter with a Gund in his hand.  His companions are celebrating nearby.  Once more we are looking at the artful lithography on tin available to breweries to gift watering holes that featured their beers.  
This addition of another ten whiskey and beer ads to those already posted provide ample testimony to the strong links that have existed for time immemorial  between alcohol and hunting — a relationship as fresh as the present.  The moral is:  If you don’t have a gun, stay out of the woods during hunting season and maybe even if you do.