How did a virus begin in a small village somewhere in China? Was the sauce the source?
Chinese New Year. March 2019
Li Jih’s family were out in the street market celebrating Chinese New Year. Soon their table was filled with special dishes. They ordered a whole deep-fried fish, which was supposed to encourage prosperity, dumplings for wealth, noodles for happiness and sweet rice balls to denote family togetherness. At last came the delicacy, Li Jih’s favourite dish, Bat Stew.
They all agreed the celebratory evening was a wonderful start to the Chinese Year of the Rat.
Li Jih, a glass blower, sweated in the factory's heat. As part of his day he gave exhibitions for tourists who came to his village to watch him in action. He prayed at least someone would buy his products. Today he felt very unwell, he found his breathing somewhat restricted as he blew the glass. The last piece of the day was to be a vessel for fish sauce, and the blue glass took on the shape of a fish. A small crowd watched in awe as he twisted the glass to make a spout. His final task was to make a glass stopper for the jug.
The last visitor left the factory, carrying an item of glassware purchased as a souvenir of her trip to the mysterious Orient. Li Jih, gave a relieved sigh. His head hurt, and although the fires were now extinguished, sweat dripped from his aged brow.
He picked up the blue glass vessel and frowned when he noticed a flaw half way down. He was about to throw it into the reject pile when Wang Nah, the cleaning lady, stopped him.
“Are you throwing that beautiful jug away?”
“It’s no good, I can’t let a piece of my work leave the factory with such a mistake.”
“May have it, please? I need a jug for the fish sauce my husband has fermenting at home.”
Li looked doubtful and was about to refuse.
“I won’t tell anyone the master himself blew this.” Wang promised.
Li nodded, handing over the blue glass.
Wang wrapped the item in her scarf and took it home to show her husband. They were very poor and had never possessed a thing of such beauty. She filled the jug with her husband’s fish sauce. At the rear of their house stood dozens of wooden casks of the fermenting sauce ready to sell at the markets. When Wang returned to work the following day to clean the factory, she heard the news Li Jih had been taken very ill. His wife had even called the doctor from the village to attend to him.
“He wasn't like himself yesterday,” she told a workmate, “He looked very sick.”
Wang returned home to cook her husband’s favourite dish, but to her dismay when she reached for the fish sauce from the blue vessel, she saw some of the precious liquid had leaked out from the flaw in the glass. Her black cat, Chin Chin, sat on the shelf, lapping up the delicious fishy nectar.
“Scat! Get out of here!” She threatened the animal.
Chin Chin fled to the marketplace. She sat in the sunshine, licking the remains of the fish sauce from her paws and cleaning her face and whiskers. As the light faded, the first bats of the evening left the roofs of the houses and flew from out of the caves which surround the town. Chin Chin lifted her blue, glassy eyes skyward, then jumped effortlessly onto a high wall and waited. Without warning, she leapt skyward, catching a large bat by its leathery wing. The bat screeched, fighting back, scratching the cat’s eye. Chin Chin let him go, but not before inflicting a bite.
When the night’s hunting was over the injured bat returned to the cave, blood dripping from the end of its fingers. Surrounded tightly by the rest of the colony, it folded the injured wing to cover its furry body and slept.