St. Valentine's Fire 

St. Valentine's Fire 

St. Valentine's Fire 

What the foreign papers are saying.
Feb. 15 2001 9:00 PM

St. Valentine's Fire 

The Daily Telegraph marked St. Valentine's Day with a story on mute swans, currently "enchanting" visitors at a British wildfowl reserve with their "exotic courtship rituals." But don't go to the story looking for swan smut—the paper only reveals that they "curl their necks to form a heart shape." The story adds that mute swans are "one of the few animals to find a mate for life."

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.

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Hong Kong's South China Morning Post put a crimp on lifelong mateship with a look at the matrilineal Mosuo people of China, who for 2,000 years have enjoyed a lifestyle where fleeting sexual relationships are the norm; whose language has no words for "virginity," "husband," or "wife"; and who live with their mothers for life. (Actually, many Mosuo don't know which of the women who raised them is their biological mother, because children are raised communally.) At puberty, girls get their own rooms and can invite men for overnight visits, but the guys must leave before the sun rises. (The article didn't mention gay Mosuo.) Elsewhere in China, hotels celebrated St. Valentine's Day by relaxing the rules that prohibit unmarried couples from booking double rooms. One indignant woman told the SCMP, "We cannot follow all foreign ways and customs. We are Chinese and Chinese people have their own traditions." Still, according to Britain's Guardian, 200,000 red roses were flown from Colombia to Shanghai to help celebrate Feb. 14—known as Lover's Day in China, since it was imported from the West in the late 1990s. The paper reported that on Monday night, "there was a crush around a stall selling imported cards with pictures of hearts and cats, and messages in English."

In India, several Hindu extremist groups ransacked shops, destroyed greeting cards, and wrecked restaurants to protest the widespread celebration of Valentine's Day, which they believe undermines Indian—and Hindu—culture. According to the Times of India, protesters burned an effigy of St. Valentine and "forcibly chopped off the hair of several young men who were celebrating the day on the Benares Hindu University campus." An editorial attacked the "illiberals" who want to "disrupt celebrations of something so innocuous as Valentine's Day. … The irony is that all this is happening in India with its long and celebrated folklore on sexual love. … To this day [Lord Krishna's] name is linked to that of his paramour, Radha, not to his wife Rukmini." Slovakia's Novy Cas made a similar point when it noted, "What a paradox. It is hard to believe that this righteous anger unleashed against the festival of pure love, against the patron saint of lovers, is coming from a country which introduced the Kamasutra to the world." (Slovakian translation courtesy of BBC Monitoring.)

Golfing while boats sink: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori's decision to continue his round of golf when informed of the sinking of the Ehime Maru by a U.S. Navy submarine last Saturday (Friday, Hawaii Time) has set off another round of Mori-bashing. Asahi Shimbun's presentation of his excuses was devastating: "Mori said the first report came to him while he was playing the 15th hole. 'I couldn't just stop at that point,' he explained. 'I would have held up the other parties playing behind us.' " The Japan Times reported that "a top member" of one of the parties in his ruling coalition told journalists that Mori "should step down," though the comment was later withdrawn when it was widely publicized. According to the South China Morning Post, Japan's chief Cabinet secretary, the prime minister's closest aide, told the press that he felt Mori should not have been playing golf during an important session of parliament anyway. Nevertheless, despite Mori's rock-bottom popularity, there are no obvious successors waiting in the wings, and with several recent scandals implicating senior members of his Liberal Democratic Party, none are likely to come forward soon. Regarding the sinking of the Ehime Maru, an editorial in the Asahi Shimbun urged, "The Japanese government should not be overeager to demonstrate 'understanding' to the U.S. government, but should instead make its demands clear."

I'm going to Stalin World! If you thought the recently opened Christian theme park in Florida stretched the boundaries of good taste, you ain't seen nothing yet. Britain's Independent published a travel report from Lithuania, where a former heavyweight wrestling champ and gourmet mushroom mogul has opened a park that faithfully re-creates life in a Siberian labor camp. For $1.50, visitors can examine 53 metal sculptures of Soviet heroes—including 12 Lenins, a Stalin, and an Engels—that were discarded when Lithuania declared its independence in 1990. (Sample tour-guide spiel as visitors examine a Lenin: "He was a cruel tyrant responsible for the genocide of 33 million people. We have noticed that a small bird is nesting in his thumb.") Among the park's planned enhancements are "concealed loudspeakers that play tape-recorded screams of women and children" and replicas of the cattle trucks that used to carry Lithuanians to the gulags to "deport" visitors from urban centers to the park.

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