DEATH. DESTRUCTION. PANIC. The end of life as we know it. My journalistic friends are SO happy just now. Nothing makes press people more ecstatic than a pandemic.
When one newswire report said a global pandemic could kill up to 142 million individuals, a features editor I know almost died of euphoria. Fortunately, I had a rhino-strength tranquilizer dart in my pocket to bring her down from the ceiling.
But of course the world isn't really being swept by a swine flu virus. It is being swept by swine flu hysteria, which is not dangerous at all, and can be kind of fun.
Yet although Asia is not the source of the trouble this time, it will eventually get the blame. (Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has already identified it with Asia in a speech.) People outside the region always think of it as a dirty, germ-ridden place.
I hosted a first-time visitor the other day and she declared herself "too health-conscious" to eat a salad. This made no sense to me.
"But surely salads are good for health," I said.
She shook her head. "It's bad to drink water in Asian cities, and lettuce is rinsed in water, so I won't eat salads or anything raw."
The carvery table at the restaurant where we were dining was offering a roast leg of pork. "Not pork," she said. "I don't want to catch swine flu. I read that in Asia, pigs are kept in homes."
"That's true," I said. "I myself keep a small herd in my kitchen for bacon."
She didn't seem surprised at this. She asked: "Is the beef safe? Do you have mad cow disease here?"
I nodded. "Yes, it’s very common, particularly among women. But we have a more polite name for it. We call it Pre-Menstrual Tension." She looked confused. "I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing," she said. "Never mind. I'll skip the beef. What else is there?"
"What about some nice barbecued chicken?" I said. She jumped back in horror as if I was suggesting we dine on raw human hearts, which of course I wasn't. (I only eat raw human hearts on special occasions, such as sports finals.)
"No way," she replied. "I heard about all the bird flu you have here."
"Well, how about seafood?" I said.
She replied: "I never eat seafood when I'm travelling. It gives you the runs."
I offered: "Eggs?"
She replied: "Salmonella."
At that point, I lowered the menu. "It seems to me that the only thing you can have for lunch is a glass of water. No, hang on, you won't drink water in Asia, you said at the beginning."
She contented herself with a can of Coke. How weird is modern life when a woman who is obsessive about her health has Coca-Cola for lunch?
And me? To inflict maximum suffering on this pestilent visitor, I chose the most mouthwatering, aromatic Asian foods I could think of. I had seafood laksa, followed by chicken korma, with banana fritters and palm syrup for dessert.
If one day my dinner is going to kill me, I might as well enjoy it. Anyone want to join me one day for a nice slice of roast porc avec swine flu, with a tasty side of E. Coli salad?