[Scene: The Standing Order.]
Tychy: So how much time will we have with them?
James: They said that they would give us about half an hour.
Tychy: But if we get them on to a topic that interests them, then we might have longer?
James: Not bamboo. Seriously. We’ve got so little time, we can’t afford to listen to them droning on about bamboo for half an hour. I can get all of the facts and statistics about their diet from the zoo’s press office.
Tychy: So what’s on our agenda?
James: Something which makes peoples’ monocles pop out and their toupees jump off. We need to move the story on. All week it’s been “bamboo – breeding – the new enclosure – more bamboo.” We have an opportunity to get an exciting new angle on the story.
Tychy: But supposing that all they want to talk about is bamboo? It’s probably all they can talk about. [Looking around the pub]: So… err… how will we recognise them?
James: Yang Guang will be carrying a green umbrella.
Tychy: Yang Guang is the guy?
James: Of course!
Tychy: I never get this right. When I first met my wife’s parents, I couldn’t tell which one was the man and which one was the woman.
James: That must have been rather embarrassing…?
Tychy: No, it turned out that they could no longer remember either. That chap has a green umbrella. The guy who has just walked in.
James: Hello! Over here! Yang Guang!
Yang Guang: Goodness me! Why, how splendid to meet you. I’m Yang Guang. How do you do? And please allow me to introduce my wife Tian Tian.
James and Tychy: Pleased to meet you!
Tychy: What’s your poison?
Yang Guang: Well, as we’re in Scotland, we may as well try a local beer…
Tian Tian: Or a whisky.
Tychy: Innis & Gunn is presently the most fashionable of the local beers…
James: The Scots can’t make whisky. It’s beyond them. All of the greatest whiskies are from America. Southern Comfort – now that’s a masterpiece! – and it’s heaven itself with cranberry juice.
Tychy: James’ view is not shared by all of the people in this country…
James: When it comes to the Scottish whiskies, Drambuie is a tolerable drink, but it’s the sort of thing that you would give to a little girl.
Tian Tian [looking at the next table]: Pardon my curiosity, but what are they drinking over there?
Yang Guang: I say, this might be love at first sight…
Tychy: Guinness. An Irish stout. But this is really James’ area of expertise…
James: Guinness is the ultimate in our human achievements. It’s the pinnacle of our civilisation. If you ever climb the pyramids, you’ll find pints of Guinness balancing on the tops of them. Keats, Byron, Shelley… they all racked their brains, but they could never equal the beauty of a pint of Guinness.
Yang Guang: Well, I might sample a drop…
Tian Tian: I particularly admire the colour…
Tychy: Allow me. [He goes to the bar and returns with three pints of Guinness and a half pint for Tian Tian. The pandas both try their drinks.]
Yang Guang: Oh yes, this is very good.
Tian Tian: Quite delicious in fact.
Yang Guang: You know, at our present accommodation, they’ve fed us nothing but bamboo since we’ve arrived. Most disagreeable. I give most of mine to the kangaroos when nobody is looking.
Tian Tian: It might be okay with a bit of ketchup…
Yang Guang: If they could only order some of this Guinness instead. I must bring it up.
Tian Tian: Not the only thing that pops up whenever Yang Guang is around!
Yang Guang: What a naughty girl!
Tian Tian: Listen to you – when today you’re as randy as a dog with three balls.
Yang Guang: Well, if you don’t want the bishop to rise from prayer, and my church bells to start ringing, then you shouldn’t look so darned sexy, my dear!
James: My word, this is getting a bit racy!
Tychy: I say!
Yang Guang: I’m sorry, I forgot that in this country you are still very squeamish about these matters.
Tian Tian: They’re both blushing!
James: Hang on. We were under the impression that you generally didn’t…
Tychy: That you are peaceable creatures without the stomach for…
James: That it’s exceedingly rare for you to… you know?
Tian Tian: Well, I don’t know what they teach you about pandas over here in the UK, but we are truly insatiable when it comes to making love.
Yang Guang: They’re wily devils in Beijing and they’ve concocted this myth that we hardly ever satisfy our natural passions.
Tian Tian: The zoo says, “well it’s intensely difficult to get them to breed. We’ll need millions.” The scientists now have jobs for life.
Tychy: But aren’t you almost extinct?
Tian Tian [winking]: If we weren’t almost extinct then your zoo wouldn’t be paying £600,000 per annum in fees.
Yang Guang: And we wouldn’t be presented to gormless foreigners as if we were Faberge eggs.
Tian Tian: It’s a scam! In rural China, pandas are like rats – they are everywhere, picking through everybody’s garbage, teeming down in the sewers. Under Mao, the overpopulation became such a problem that the pandas were rounded up, put on trains, and sent to camps in the interior to be gassed…
Yang Guang: Some of the stories break your heart. You occasionally hear rumours that many pandas are still imprisoned in labour camps deep in China. And that some of our newest motorways have been built with panda labour.
James: So you’re quite alright in the downstairs department?
Yang Guang: It would be a lot easier if we didn’t have arranged marriages. Imagine if a random man and woman from Edinburgh were sent to a foreign country and told that they had to produce children. The circumstances are rarely conducive.
Tian Tian: Once my sister was sent to a zoo in California with a gentleman panda who was – in complete fairness to him – a great slob of a beast, with stinking halitosis and a pot belly. But the keepers got my sister so drunk that she did not know what she was doing, and then they “accidentally” shut her up in the wrong enclosure, and then the slob panda began to seduce her, and suddenly the enclosure was surrounded by thousands of tourists cheering and clapping, there were balloons everywhere, they were letting off fireworks. My sister has never recovered from the embarrassment.
Yang Guang: Fancy a cigarette anyone?
Tian Tian: But we have to go outside, don’t we?
Yang Guang: Well, we don’t want to get into any trouble…
Tian Tian: Honestly, you people have the nerve to lecture China about “human rights,” and then you throw anybody who wants a cigarette out into the freezing rain?
Tychy: It’s only a recent innovation. The average life expectancy has since fallen by about twenty years.
Tian Tian: If they tried to introduce this in China, there would be a revolution. Tiananmen would seem like a cricket match.
Yang Guang: Come on, we’ll just have a quick cigarette. We can share one.
[Yang Guang, Tian Tian, and Tychy exit. For a minute or so, James sits and looks at Yang Guang’s pint of Guinness, which is half full. He finally reaches for the pint and drains it. He then goes to the bar, orders a new pint of Guinness, and drinks it down to about half way. He puts it back in the place of the old one. The others enter.]
Yang Guang: I’m afraid that we must be leaving soon, or we’ll miss the last bus.
Tychy: Do you have any trouble travelling incognito?
Yang Guang: I usually just pull my hat down over my eyes. Most people don’t look up from the Metro.
James: Well, it’s been a pleasure meeting both of you. And you’ve given me sufficient material for my interview. But before you go, let me quickly ask you about your names. I gather that they mean “Sunshine” and “Sweetie”?
Tychy: Oh dear, I am terribly sorry…
James: Parents can be very thoughtless.
Yang Guang: It’s quite okay. Indeed the meaning of the names is entirely a question of pronunciation. Depending on which vowel you stress, they either mean “Sunshine” and “Sweetie,” or “Deathwish” and “Fuckface.”
James: Thank you. I’ll write that down…
Yang Guang: If your interview still seems a bit threadbare, just make something up. Otherwise, the zoo press office can always give you lots of interesting facts about bamboo.
Tian Tian: I’ve had a lovely evening. It’s been wonderful.
Tychy: Oh, you’re very welcome.
Yang Guang: Well, I’ll wish you both a good evening.
Tychy and James: Goodnight!
Tian Tian: Goodnight my friends.
[The pandas exit.]
Tychy: I wouldn’t mention that they smoke – they’re meant to be role models for Edinburgh’s children.
James: I can’t remember half of what they’ve said now.
Tychy: Will your article be okay?
James: I think so. But it will only come to life when I write it.
[Yang Guang and Tian Tian previously featured in the short story “Invincible.” Ed.]