Sometimes people are so nice to me, and I am so hopelessly bad with people, that even the phrase "douchenozzle" is insufficient to describe the degree of shame that I feel.
Take, for example, my dear wife's family in Shanghai. They are just lovely. They are sweet, caring, they send our children little parcels with cute padded Chinese jackets that make them look like Confucius - they're just Very Nice People. They have a young boy (still in lower school) whom I sometimes chat with via Skype to improve his English - which is awesome, by the way. It feels as if I am perpetually writing them "thank you" cards.
I found myself speeding through Shanghai during a research trip to China in September. As ever, my schedule was packed so tightly with meetings (so that I could get home to see my family as early as possible, in fact) that this had the consequence of giving me no time to see anyone that I wanted to see in China. Family in Shanghai, family in Henan province, friends in Beijing. I sped through China feeling like the world's biggest "douchenozzle".
To accentuate my douchiness, after the single night that I had in Shanghai, I returned to my hotel at 11.30 p.m., after a clutch of meetings and a dinner with collaborators, to find that my wife's dear family had (i) been to my hotel, and (ii) left me a small pile of gifts. I had to pack up and check out to catch the early bullet train to Kunshan and Suzhou, and so I didn't even get to give them the common decency of a "thank you" visit. I felt as if my nozzleness had really peaked.
So, back at home, I cracked open their thoughtful, carefully-chosen gifts. They know that I like tea, and so they bought me lots of it. This was very touching, and I felt entirely unworthy of their love. Shoulders hanging in shame, I fired up the tetsubin and got ready to hate myself for the next hour or two over the teatable.
Then, something happened.
The tea started to suck. I mean, suction - of a magnitude so unfathomable that merely to call it "suction" does not quite do justice to it. This was more like hypersuction, so that nothing could escape its pressure influx. It was taidicha, it could feasibly have been saved if it had been put through humid storage mill that crushes tea into a black, dark sweetness - but, as it is, the tea is just good, old-fashioned bad.
It was a 2000 CNNP "Zhongcha Green", as pictured above, and it was as rank as the proverbial French lady's unmentionables. So bad was the tea, in fact, that I suddenly stopped hating myself for not being able to meet Biaojie.
Then, I remembered their previous gift from a trip after my graduation in 2011. It was a pair of cakes that tasted of nothing but the rubber on a bicycle tyre.
I struggled with the rest of the day, trying to make clear in my mind that the love of my wife's family and their ability to pick good tea are two entirely orthogonal axes. The inner functional product of the two is a big, fat zero. They are independent data, with no correlation. They are separate, distinct, and forever so shall they remain.
Thus, I still feel bad for not having the time to see some charming, loving members of the extended family, but I don't feel at all bad for hiding their tea in my "POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS" cupboard of bad cakes.
You wouldn't want to look in that cupboard. There's an awful lot of CNNP inside.