茅台数学 / Mao Tai Mathematics

茅台数学

我在中国第一次应邀参加商务晚宴是在1978年,那时的商务会谈还相当正式,过程通常有些冷淡,而且一般只在会议桌边举行。

我与一位美国客一同赴宴,他是一家美国大公司的高级经理,这是他第一次访问亚洲和中国。

在赴宴的路上,我向他强调了两件事:

首先,这次宴请是主办方少有的姿态展示,在那个年代,他们一般不和外国人搞社交活动。

第二,宴会的礼节通常会用到三种不同类型的酒:啤酒、红酒,还有茅台——敬酒是例行程序,而且很频繁。

我预先告诉他,要做好准备,为主办者的殷勤好客、为每个人的健康、为对方企业公司的成功以及为中美两国人民的友谊干杯。

我还提醒他,茅台的酒精含量比他惯常喝的酒都要高很多。可惜他自恃很擅长喝酒,根本不把我的忠告当回事儿。

在离广交会不远的一家餐厅的包间里,宴会开始了。主办者随和轻松,无所禁忌,话题广泛,涉及家庭、文化和商业。这种情况新鲜而少见。晚宴的开局不错,菜肴也很可口。

我们和主办者相互敬酒,传达对于健康、扩大商务、发展中美关系、友谊等等的祝愿。

随着茅台敬酒的进行,我发现我的朋友已经略带醉意。他讲起话来神气十足,富含哲理,天马行空,俨然觉得自己就是正在缔造中的历史的一部分,是中国商务关系初期的先行者,是站在时代前沿、代表美国人民和美国文化的民间大使。

他开始热情讴歌美国社会的历史,说美国是全世界移民的大熔炉。

接下来,他高谈阔论,情绪已经亢奋到了一定程度。但从中,我感觉到,干过好几杯茅台酒后,他的判断力开始受到影响。

我们已经说光了所有常用的敬酒辞(感谢主办者、每个人的健康、两国人民的友谊、事业成功、家庭幸福、好吃的中国菜、双方公司扩大合作,等等),在随后的很长时间里,在座的任何人随便想出一个理由,我们都为之干上一杯。

茅台酒在我们宴会桌上咕噜咕噜地流淌。

我的客户朋友滔滔不绝地讲起美国的种族关系史,坦言尽管自美国民权运动开始以来有所改善,种族不平等现象仍然普遍存在,黑人和其他少数族裔依旧无法享有真正的平等,美国的种族关系问题仍然是一个挑战。

我们的主办者认真而礼貌地听着。

随后,连续干杯的累积效应发生了作用,开始占领他的意识。

他没完没了地东拉西扯,提到美国黑人大约占当时全国2.5亿人口的15%。

之后,他停顿了一下,两眼发直,大脑的计算能力也不灵了,他说:

“等一下,……如果美国黑人占了2.5亿人的15%左右……可你们中国有10亿多人呐……那就是10亿人的15%……那你们这儿的黑人问题一定很严重……”

中方口译人员的中英文都相当出色,这番言论让他大吃一惊,因此,他非常好心地选择不译出这句话。

我赶忙趁机转换了话题。不久,那个难忘的晚宴就在极为友好的气氛中结束了。

Mao Tai Mathematics

The first time I was invited to a business dinner in China was 1978, still an era when commercial discussions were quite formal, often somewhat chilly in tenor, and usually held only over a conference table.

I had an American customer with me, who was a first-time visitor to Asia and China, and a senior executive with a large U.S. company.

On the way to the dinner, I emphasized two things to him.

First, that this banquet was an unusual gesture on the part of our hosts, who normally did not socialize with foreigners in those days.

Second, that banquet protocol usually involved three different types of alcohol – beer, wine, and Maotai – and that toasts were customary and frequent.

I prepped him to be prepared to toast to our hosts’ gracious hospitality, to everyone’s health, to the success of their enterprise, and to the friendship of the U.S. and Chinese people.

I warned him that Maotai has a much higher alcohol content than most liquors he was accustomed to drinking. He was not at all daunted by this advice, considering himself quite an accomplished drinker.

The banquet began, in the private room of a restaurant not far from the Trade Fair complex. Our hosts were relaxed and uninhibited. Conversation was wide-ranging and touched on family, culture, and business. This was refreshing, and unusual. The evening was off to a good start, and the food was delicious.

Toasts were exchanged between hosts and ourselves, conveying wishes of health, expanded commerce, improved US-China relations, friendship, etc.

As the Maotai toasting progressed, I could see my friend getting a bit tipsy. His comments became more spirited, philosophical and far-ranging. He was genuinely feeling like he was a part of history in the making, a pioneer in the early phases of US-China business relations, an informal ambassador of the American people and culture, on the cutting edge of a new era, etc.

He began to wax on lyrically about American society’s history as a melting pot of immigrants from all around the globe.

He spoke at length and with a certain degree of inspiration, but somewhere along the way I sensed that the multiple toasts of Maotai were beginning to impact his judgement.

We’d been through all the usual perfunctory toasts (thanks to the hosts, everyone’s health, friendship of our peoples, your success and that of your families, wonderful Chinese food, expanded cooperation between our companies, etc. ) and had long since moved onto any excuse for a toast which anyone seated at the table could think of.

Our banquet table became an island in a babbling brook of Maotai..

My customer friend spoke eloquently about the history of race relations in the U.S., saying that frankly, racial inequality was still widespread, despite progress since U.S. Civil Rights movement began. He said that blacks and other minorities still did not enjoy true equality, and that race relations remained a challenge in America.

Our hosts listened attentively and politely.

And then the cumulative impact of the toasts took over, and a hijacking of his common sense took place.

He rambled on to say that American blacks represented something like 15% of the total U.S. population, which was around 250 million at the time.

He then paused briefly, staring blankly while the calculator in his mind misfired, and said :

“Wait a minute…if American blacks number some 15% of 250 million…and you Chinese have more than a billion people. …that’s 15% of one billion…you must have a huge black problem here…”

The interpreter from the Chinese side, who was very competent in both English and Chinese, was so impressed by this observation that he very graciously chose not to translate it.

I engineered a change of topic in the discussion, and the memorable evening ended very amicably not long after that.


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