Honked Awake (first time to call the cops in China)

honkyou Honked Awake (first time to call the cops in China)

It’s last Friday night and I’m dreaming a China dream. We have fellow foreigners for guests and they’re taking showers full blast, not realizing that using our first-floor apartment’s full water pressure will make the hot water run out in less than ten minutes. Alarms are going off because the hot water’s almost gone, and the alarms keep going and going and going, any second now there’ll be no hot water, wow I can’t believe the hot water hasn’t run out yet, don’t they hear the alarms…?

…and then I wake up and realize it’s not the shower. It’s 2:30am and some dipstick is outside laying on his horn, I don’t know for how long. It’s echoing off the buildings all through the neighbourhood. I think surely he’ll quit soon, but ten full minutes later he’s still going strong. So I get up and run out in my coat and plaid flannel pajama pants, wishing I had a paintball gun or eggs or something less damaging and illegal than the bricks that are always strewn around and temptingly handy for times like this.

I can hear other neighbours yelling about it to each other from their balconies as I walk. It’s not hard to find the offending motorist, obviously, a couple buildings over. One guy is standing near but a little ways away from the car. I ask him what the driver’s problem is. He doesn’t know.

“Has anyone called the police?”
“Maybe not.”

Maybe not? I stand where the driver can see me and call the police: “We’re in XX neighbourhood and there’s a crazy guy. You hear that noise? He’s been doing this for 20 minutes straight and has woken up everybody!”

I let him see me take a photo of his license plate. Then I knock on his window, which he rolls down.

“Hey what’s the problem? People are sleeping here! I’ve got a baby and a three-year-old at home. What are you doing?”
“Someone parked in my parking space! What else can I do?!” He rolls up his window and continues honking his horn.

I knock on his window again, and as soon as he rolls it down far enough…

honker Honked Awake (first time to call the cops in China)

“Don’t take my picture!”
“Then don’t honk your horn.”

I’d be happy to make that deal. But someone seems to be having trouble comprehending cause-and-effect, and it’s about to cost him.

One of my students’ fathers, Mr. Zhang, shows up. He knocks on the window, gets the same answer, tries to reason with him and gets nowhere. A third neighbour shows up, with his hoodie pulled tight around his face. He knocks on the window, gets the same answer. Then he starts yelling and cursing and kicks a huge dent in the front driverside door before bouncing a brick off the back window and running off into the night.

The driver starts yelling at us not to leave and gets out his phone like he’s going to call the police. So we leave and Mr. Zhang calls the police. They’re almost here. They find us and we lead them to the driver. The door-stomping brick-throwing hoodie-wearer shows back up to watch, grinning at me and chuckling.

The cops don’t even try to mask their incredulity. One repeatedly turns to us with an exasperated look as they listen to the guy’s explanation. I double-check with Mr. Zhang that they’re for sure taking him in for an alcohol check, and we walk home.

Mr. Zhang seems to think this is all rather humourous. Or maybe he’s laughing at my pants. Either way, we have a good time chatting on the way back to our respective beds. The End.

白酒

Pronounced: bái jiǔ
Literally: “white alcoholic drink”
Means: baijiu, the infamously strong, horribleuniquely tasting and ubiquitous liquor distilled from sorghum or other grains that is deeply imbedded in key areas of Chinese culture.

baijiu11 白酒

For more, you can browse our Baijiu (白酒) topic, or see these highlights:

Wikipedia has a handy entry on it, too.

Baijiu 101: “One does not simply… drink baijiu”

For better or worse (no, actually, just for worse), an abominably-tasting booze with an alcohol content from 30% to over 60% is waiting for every foreigner that plans to be more than a tourist in China. And you risk all manner of relational and social faux pas if you mishandle it. It’s a gastronomical landmine in your mouth and bloodstream. Culturally speaking, baijiu basically weaponizes Chinese meals for foreigners, turning dinners into cross-cultural minefields.

If you’re planning to go to China, consider this your much needed heads up about the dreaded 白酒 (bái jiǔ):

onedoesnotsimplydrinkbaijiu1 Baijiu 101: One does not simply... drink baijiu

Seriously — this post should be part of every NGO’s China orientation process. And there is plenty below for baijiu veterans, I promise. :)

But before we get to the details, let’s consider your options. “There are few things funnier than watching someone drink baijiu for the first time,” and after their initial cultural hazing, different foreigners end up having different ways of dealing with it. These broad categories won’t include everyone, but they’ll sketch out the parameters:

  1. The Fake Teetotallers, who simply refuse to drink — period — usually with some excuse like “I have an allergy” or “It’s against my religion”, and to heck with worries about creating bad feelings and disrespect and cultural inappropriateness and cross-cultural miscommunication. (The ironic thing being that for everyone I’ve known who used the religion excuse, drinking wasn’t actually against their religion but lying was.)
  2. The Eternal Fratboys, who basically get wasted every chance they get and don’t care what the method tastes like, so long as it lets them momentarily escape the fact that their bodies are pushing 30 or 40 but on the inside they’re stuck at 19. (Yes, this is sad and tragic. But you are loved, and there is hope.) Some of the people infected with expatitis could go here as well.
  3. The Cross-Cultural Diehards, who still have not given up hope that we can be culturally appropriate and send warm feelings to our boss/coworkers/neighbours/etc. without getting sloshed like squirrels that couldn’t lay off the rotten Jack-o-Lanterns. Maybe we’re just too idealistic. Maybe our love for cross-cultural challenges outweighs our sense of self-preservation. Maybe we didn’t get enough booze as children so we have a felt-need to rationalize our desire to drink and ‘Chinese culture’ is the greatest excuse ever. Either way, this third option is where you try to drink enough to fulfill your social duties (giving face, etc.) without betraying your personal standards (getting drunk like the aforementioned squirrels, etc.) and/or puking up everything you’d ever eaten in your entire life (more on this later). Many people feel this bio-cultural balancing act is actually impossible, given the current place of baijiu in Chinese culture. But that doesn’t stop us from employing all manner of creative, elaborate techniques in the attempt to do so (which are shared down below).

Now we’re in for a treat. Nankai Rob is the Most Under-Appreciated Genius of the China blogosphere. And he’s just written a 6-part magnum opus on dealing with baijiu. His anecdotes, observations, and road-tested baijiu avoidance strategies provide cultural insight that will introduce you to the baijiu basics and give you a fighting chance at staying (more or less) sober:

A Salute to Baijiu

Part One: One Reason for Baijiu Being the Draught of Satan

I’d like to begin by saying, for those who have no idea what I’m talking about, what baijiu is. Baijiu is alcohol. That I can say for sure. It is also, and I will brook no discussion on this point, the foulest thing ever brewed and willingly consumed by humanity.

Part Two: A Second Reason for Baijiu Being the Draught of Satan

An expensive Scotch, or tequila (yes, tequila; if you don’t believe me, drink a glass of Don Julio), or vodka, is like a perfectly balanced dinner party: one or two personalities are dominant, and the others are represented tastefully but completely. Baijiu is more like a knife fight. Between five inebriated circus clowns. In your living room.

Part Three: Representative Baijiu Experiences 1-2

In the interest of demonstrating the varieties of horrible-ness you can experience with baijiu, I offer up five of my own representative experiences.

Part Four: Representative Baijiu Experiences 3-5

[From #3] That night I threw up everything I’d ever eaten in my entire life. Everything. The egg-salad sandwiches I loved eating in third-grade, the lamb stew I make periodically in Tianjin, the Mexican food I eat whenever I’m in El Paso visiting my parents, EVERYTHING… I learned something fascinating about baijiu while bent over the toilet retching, however, and that is: there isn’t much difference between the taste of baijiu when you’re drinking it or puking it up.

Part 5: How to Look Like a Hero When There’s a Banquet

Few things in official Chinese life are more important than the banquet… everything from simple teacher meetings to festival gatherings are cemented with booze. It’s tradition, and it extends back quite literally thousands of years… Here’s the funny thing about all this: I have yet to meet a Chinese person who enjoys getting hammered at banquets… because it’s cultural, we foreigners are presented with an interesting situation. It’s quite possible to play the “dumb foreigner” card to get out of drinking much (though that won’t work in high-stakes business or politics), but you can also, if you play your cards right, make such an impression on the Chinese people with you that they’ll think you’re a hero.

Part 6: How to Not Get Hammered at a Banquet
Ten ways to get away with drinking less than expected.

You can see our own blogged baijiu adventures under the Baijiu (白酒) topic. Some highlights:

 Baijiu 101: One does not simply... drink baijiu

Curiosity + China = way more than I bargained for

China’s the kind of place where you can ask a totally innocuous question:

“Hey, what’s that?”

20110302 pixiu 10 Curiosity + China = way more than I bargained for

…and get the most bizarre answers, like this one from last week:

“That’s Píxiū (貔貅). Businessmen like Píxiū because it doesn’t have an anus, so it can eat fortune but the fortune can’t ‘exit’.”

“… … ah.” (See Pixiu in Wikipedia.)

20110302 pixiu 13 Curiosity + China = way more than I bargained forIt’s easy for foreigners to get used to being surrounded by stuff we can’t name, can’t read, don’t recognize or don’t understand. It becomes so overwhelming that we don’t think to ask or even want to ask. But curiosity in China is worth it. There’s a lot of crazy-to-us stuff in Chinese culture, all around us, just sitting out there in plain sight. Píxiūs aren’t uncommon; these pictures are from the front desk of the gym where we exercise.

All you have to do is ask. Take, for example, the alcoholic drinks pictured below that are often seen at the front check-out counters of restaurants. They’re usually in big glass jars filled with all manner of marinated/preserved-in-alcohol animals like snakes and seahorses and turtles and who knows what else.

20110112 specialbooze 11 Curiosity + China = way more than I bargained for

Sure, just peering into their interesting-in-a-bad-car-crash-sort-of-way depths is surprising enough for most lǎowàis that we don’t even think to try the labels. I saw these particular jars regularly for three YEARS before I finally tried to read/translate the outside of the container, and…

DSC00644Chinese penis booze Curiosity + China = way more than I bargained for

Red Ginseng Three Penis* Tonic Liquor
红参三鞭补酒
The nourish-kidneys-and-strengthen-male-virility type, Original “Folk Recipe”
滋肾壮阳 来源民间方剂

This isn’t in some scuzzy adult store in a nasty part of town (if it was I probably wouldn’t be blogging it); it’s right up at the checkout counter of a regular neighbourhood family restaurant. Much like the menu of the dog meat restaurant near our old place, which I translated as a student just to get some vocab and ended up with way more than I bargained for.

I’ve encountered too many “No way!” “Way!” moments in China. I don’t know why they so often involve body parts. But I do know that next time I ask, the person could make up a completely bogus, far-flung explanation for whatever it is and I’d totally buy it.

20110302 pixiu 14 Curiosity + China = way more than I bargained for

*P.S. — You are undoubtedly wondering, “Which three?” Well, the ingredients aren’t listed on that label. However it turns out that there’s a famous, traditional brand of “three penis liquor” 三鞭酒 that can be found on the shelves of the average neighbourhood supermarket that does list the ingredients. I found this one at the supermarket closest to us, two minutes up the road. (Cost about $2.)

20110119 82 Curiosity + China = way more than I bargained for20110119 92 Curiosity + China = way more than I bargained for

Zhang Yu’s Specialty Three Penis Liquor
张裕特质三鞭酒

The long list of ingredients begins with: “high-quality baijiu 优质白酒, edible alcohol 食用酒精, soft-ified water 软化水, seal penis 海狗鞭, deer penis 鹿鞭, dhole (Asiatic wild dog) penis 广狗鞭….” And, in case you’re also wondering, there’s a very good chance that those are Canadian seals.

P.P.S. – This is begging for a better title. How would you answer this question: “Curiosity + China = ______”?

A banquet, baijiu & Bon Jovi (my first office party in China)

This makes two karaoke parties in a row where Bon Jovi has made an appearance in the form of a passionate, Chinese-accented rendition of “It’s My Life”.

I don’t know about office parties, because all the jobs I had in North America weren’t ever office party kind of jobs. Last night’s New Years party for the magazine and associated companies (about 80 people at a hotel banquet) was my first one. I sat next to the big boss at the international table, which had (including me): three Koreans, two Japanese, a Canadian, a Scot, a Chinese (the boss), and an American. The Koreans were fun, the Japanese were almost invisible, the Scot could really drink, and the American was considered masculine because she smoked (they told her so).

The Fun
So I don’t know how to compare this to the average North American office party. Do office parties in America involve nice banquets, door prizes, co-workers singing to karaoke tracks, fun balloon popping competitions, cute homemade videos of all the staff, and good food? They should; it was actually kind of fun. Do most people suddenly get up and leave, as if given some sudden, subtle signal? That was kind of weird, like all these happy-looking people were really just waiting for their first chance to split (I don’t think they really were).

The Booze
What about the booze? Do American office parties have endless beer, wine, and báijiǔ (白酒)? You know, in a sad sort of way I’m actually thankful that East Asians are genetically predisposed to be weaker drinkers; it makes it a little easier to remain both polite (if the boss toasts you…) and un-inebriated over the course of an evening. I’m not a big drinker and I flat out refuse to get drunk, but I don’t mind doing my duty within those limits, so it’s convenient that the people whom I don’t want to offend will probably quickly reach the point where they won’t remember me avoiding all those extra shots anyway.

The KTV
And what about an an ear-splitting karaoke after-party that involves revolutionary songs from elementary school, Bon Jovi, and an impromptu, drunken, yet sincere pre-national anthem speech about loving communism by a guy who’s made it rich in China’s current economy? I have to admit, if they don’t do karaoke after-parties in America then they are seriously missing out. Chinese karaoke parties are fun. It’s loud and crowded and rènao (热闹) the way Chinese like it. Everyone gets to have fun singing their hearts out and no one really cares if they don’t sound that good (this is also true of alcohol-free karaoke parties).

I left a little after 11pm (pregnant wife at home and all) after doing my obligatory KTV duty (it’s always satisfying to get the surprised looks when a lǎowài sings in Chinese) but before they made good their threat of making the lǎowàis sing Hotel California (I don’t know why it’s always Hotel California). After a half-hour flat-tire bike ride home, I discovered Jessica still had friends over. But the holidays end tomorrow morning at 8:05!

How to: Hang with the homies and not get totally hammered

Mr. Lù invited me to have dinner with the old boys tonight. I had a total blast. Undoubtedly the alcohol helped, especially for Mr. Lù. Fortunately, I knew it would be that way, and prepared accordingly. I know enough Chinese to catch and contribute to some of the jokes, and just the fact that I can do that is apparently really stinkin’ funny for these guys. From left to right: Mr. Zhāng, Sòng, Guō, Lǘ, and Lù (Mr. Guō is apparently the one who first suggested the Chinese name they all use for me:

 How to: Hang with the homies and not get totally hammered

I knew there’d be a lot of alcohol – there always is, never mind that the invitation is literally “invite you to drink alcohol.” I was supposed to meet them at 6pm, so I ate a ton of food at 5:30. Having had a few practice rounds with these guys in the past made it a lot easier this time to relax and have fun without worrying about either drinking too much or not being kèqi (客气) enough when refusing more drinks. And, thankfully, Chinese cups are smaller than North American cups, plus East Asians are genetically among the weakest drinkers in the world. In the middle of it all I managed to record the interview I need for an upcoming magazine article, despite Mr. Lù’s protests that I not record when he’s been drinking.

 How to: Hang with the homies and not get totally hammered

It was nice that their invitation came when it did. It’s easy to read the news right now and be tempted to think all kinds of negative, suspicious things about Mainlanders. People can say whatever they want in the news about Mainlanders and the issues surrounding the Olympics – but the Tianjiners we know are great.

 How to: Hang with the homies and not get totally hammered

The longer we stay here, the easier it is to know how and when to refuse too many drinks. It’s no joke, though, that if you’re going to eat with Mainlanders, especially if you’re a guy, you’d either better go in with a plan or be ready to get hammered.

Drinking, driving, and kèqi dancing

Saturday was a great first for us. We spent the entire day with non-English speakers, and had no one like a teacher or a more advanced language student with us to bail us out. Since the people we were with didn’t have any English they were willing to use, we had to rely on what little Mandarin we have to communicate. It also meant that we couldn’t watch more experienced foreigners for social and cultural cues. We had to rely on our own knowledge and instincts to navigate the daunting world of politeness and face with people we’d only just met, but who had no English skills, and with whom we were sharing a huge meal and spending the entire day. A fun little adventure that produced some interesting cultural anecdotes.

(Browse the photo gallery here.)

The Deal: Teach English for 90 minutes, get a day on the tax payers’ dime
 Drinking, driving, and kèqi dancingIn return for speaking English to a room crammed wall-to-wall with forty 13-16 year-olds for ninety minutes, this middle school in Jì Xiàn (蓟县 – Ji County, north of Tianjin city, here’s a cool map) drove us out from Tianjin (almost two hours), treated us to a huge lunch, and spent all afternoon taking us around sites of interest before driving us back home. There are numerous centuries-old temples nearby, plus the Great Wall, which we’d already camped on. We got in the taxi at 7:30am and got home just after 7pm. Outside of that ninety minutes of “teaching,” there was no English. It was a really tiring day but fantastic language practice.

Celebrity teachers
We walked into the classroom at 10am and the students immediately started talking excitedly to each other and pointing. Aside from tourists at the tourist sites, they don’t see that many foreigners in town. Plus, I’m sure that every time I go to places like Jì Xiàn I’m perpetuating the stereotype that foreigners all have big noses. We were their third or fourth time for foreigners with this particular Saturday deal. We divided them between us into two groups and tried to do some interactive circle-game stuff. It was fun, and pretty low pressure for us. We tried to get them talking about Fuwas and every related thing we could think of (colours, sports, animals), make group stories, sing songs, that kind of thing.  Drinking, driving, and kèqi dancingThe really bizarre thing was after we’d taken the big group picture at the end, when the female students lined up to get Jessica and I to autograph their notebooks. Felt kind of weird, but, whatever.

We headed for lunch with our language engines geared up and our culture radars turned on; we had to navigate the ‘rules,’ which are only slightly less foggy than when we first arrived, on our own. It was good language and culture practice, and provided some great anecdotes.

Loading up a Taxi? Do the kè qi (客气) dance
You might not think cramming five people into a little car takes culture skills, but it does. We had two older female teachers with us, plus the driver. The principal was in a separate carload. One of the teachers told me to get in the front seat, since I’m so tall. I almost automatically went for it; I towered over the teachers and the back seats are so small that it’s a chore just to get my size 13 shoes in and out. But then I realized I was instead supposed to resist her repeated insistence enough so that she could sit in the front seat while still maintaining the appearance of hospitality, generosity, politeness, unselfishness, consideration, etc., etc.

 Drinking, driving, and kèqi dancingThis type of game – resisting offers and having to know when you should finally accept and when you shouldn’t – happens all the time, with almost everything. It’s still not natural for us. You could say we do this a bit in the North America – “Why don’t you stay for dinner?” “Oh, I don’t want to bother you and I’ve got some stuff I gotta do…” “Really, it’s no problem….” We have our own little social rituals where we implicitly feel out whether or not we’re imposing on one another (and we’re affirming one another’s self-determination and individuality in the process). But in the West we resolve these exchanges much quicker and with much less force. In China, people often insist with force far beyond what would be necessary to convince someone in North America that your invitation is actually genuine, yet they are still sometimes seeing it as mere politeness and expect that you will know not to accept. It’s our tendency as Westerners to accept too quickly, or, feeling unsure about the person’s true intentions, to refuse too much and cause offense.

But I played this one right, I think: after arguing back and forth a few times, I moved toward the back seat and started to get in, at which point she felt free to move toward the front seat since I was “forcing” her to take it by getting in the back first.

How to: Sit down at the dinner table
 Drinking, driving, and kèqi dancingWe arrived at a huge, ridiculously fancy restaurant and entered a private dining room lined with statues and display cases of expensive looking trinkets. The table was big and round, as usual, and where each person sits matters. The chair most facing the door is the most honoured seat. The chairs with their backs to the door are the lowliest seats. Everyone should know their proper place, but guests should still make a show of humbleness by moving toward a seat that is below their proper seat. A good host will give his guests face by telling them to sit in a better seat. We didn’t know how low to go, so we moved toward the seats closest to the door, and the principal, who had the biggest face at the table (figuratively speaking), and to whom everyone deferred during the polite dinner conversation, made a small show of getting us to sit near him on the other side of the table.

I felt bad for Mr. Hǎo, our taxi driver, who sat opposite of us. He was basically only there as hired help and was almost ignored the whole time. No one made any toasts to him (people toast for seemingly every conceivable opportunity, as it’s the excuse to drink), and he couldn’t have any alcohol anyway since he was driving (we suspect he may have been under orders from our school not to drink, since it’s apparently not uncommon for cab drivers to drink and keep on working). I only made one toast to everyone at the end, since we haven’t had any instruction on how that’s done yet, but I made a point to include him.

How to: Drink, toast, and be kè qi without getting totally hammered
The principal, who was the big man in the room, turned to me before the food started coming and asked what kind of alcohol he should order: beer, wine, or bái jiǔ (白酒), which is kind of like whiskey. I hadn’t ever been the guy who gets asked this before. We’ve heard plenty of stories about Chinese drinking culture, and I’ve had one or two experiences with it myself, but this was the first time in a more formal setting. My goal was to be as polite and appropriate as possible without drinking too much. I answered by saying that we usually only drink alcohol on special occasions like Christmas or our anniversary, and he replied that this was a special occasion so what kind of alcohol should we drink?, so I told him beer, knowing that I could get through more glasses of that than any of the other choices, and that we’d probably have to get through a few glasses.

 Drinking, driving, and kèqi dancingThe glasses are small, but it’s expected that when toasting you’ll do some gān bēi (干杯), which literally means “dry glass” and is equivalent to “bottoms up!” and “cheers!” while synonymous with “make a toast.” In this situation it means when someone toasts you and you drink, the polite thing to do before sitting down is to hold your glass up toward them so they can see that the bottom is empty. That’s gān bēi, and it’s easy to do with beer and the little Chinese cups that are like over-sized shot glasses. But with bái jiǔ it’s a whole different story. Plus, they either fill up or top off all the drinks after each toast so you’re always tipping a full glass.

The trick is not just drinking your limit and then calling it quits, because pretty much the only time people drink is when someone’s getting toasted. The trick – for people who care about not drinking too much – is spacing out your alcohol tolerance over however many toasts you’ll have to participate in, so that you can give each person their due without drinking more than you should.

The boss’ first toast was to us, the guests, and he said, “Gān bēi!”, so I gave him that one, but indicated that I only gān bēi once. They tried a few more times, but didn’t push too hard and seemed to be OK with me not draining my glass every time. Then half-way through the meal they ordered bái jiǔ anyway and tried to get us to drink that. At first I said no, but then they said just a little, and I was surprised when they really only did give me just a half-glass.

One interesting toasting detail: when you clink glasses, the relative position of the rims indicates who is higher than whom. Between people of generally equal status there can be a little struggle as both try to be lower than the other; sometimes you end up clinking just above the table.

 Drinking, driving, and kèqi dancingThe boss apologized to me twice – once near the end of the meal and once when we were leaving to return to Tianjin. All I could catch was that he was afraid he’d created offense somehow, or something like that. The more he drank the faster he talked, and we don’t catch everything they’re saying anyway, so I couldn’t catch it all. But that lets me know that I can still do better when it comes to refusing too much alcohol, as we must of confused him at least a little (our lack of Mandarin doesn’t help either!). Still, it seems like if we’re going to share banquets with people and refuse to get even a little drunk, we’ll have to make a break with people’s expectations at some point and risk a little offense or misunderstanding. We’re trained to respect and accommodate culture, and although we can see how the drinking functions on different levels, in the end it still seems like culture and kè qi are just excuses for a bunch of guys wanting to flaunt their status, curry favour, and, of course, drink a lot. Or maybe the culture and kè qi expectations surrounding drinking developed for the purpose of accommodating peoples’ vices. Either way, we choose misunderstanding over getting drunk.

A local friend we described this to after we returned to Tianjin said it sounds like the school’s administration is living it up on tax dollars (apparently this is not uncommon). Plus, they may be either fulfilling a requirement to have foreign English teachers, or generating more prestige (and, therefore, higher school fees) for the school by bringing foreigners in every weekend. We’d been offered this interpretation of the situation before we went, and lunch was the event that most seemed to confirm it. Aside from the drinking, there was way more food than the nine of us needed; I don’t think we more than half finished any one dish.

Driving – Glad we’re not
 Drinking, driving, and kèqi dancingAfter sitting in the passenger seat of a taxi for about 4 hours in one day, I am really glad that we hardly spend any time in cars in China. We talked with the driver, Mr. Hǎo, most of the way there and all the way back. He really got talking on the way home, and by this time he was really getting into the game where you have to describe all the words you want to use but that we haven’t learned yet. One day I’ve got to write up one of these conversations, because I bet they’d sound hilarious in English.

Even though the city traffic seems to make more and more sense the longer we’re here, I sure wouldn’t trust myself to drive in it. Mr. Hǎo was a great taxi driver: he loved to talk and was willing to put up with our poor Mandarin for hours, he refused a lot of free alcohol on the day he was driving (they don’t all do that), and he wasn’t near as adventurous as other cab drivers we’ve had. But knowing that even the best drivers are willing to let go of the steering wheel at 120km/hour to dig their tea bottle out of their backpack or illustrate the finer points of pigeon selection with hand gestures makes me glad that most of the time we stick to our bikes.

Touristy stuff
 Drinking, driving, and kèqi dancingThe town is small, but they have a developed tourism centre. We went to some temples, some of which were really interesting. Plus, they let us gong the bells and beat the drums. We never got to do that in Taibei, but that may be because the temple bells and drums we saw in Taiwan are still regularly used for their originally intended purposes.

This afternoon reminded us how easy it is to accidentally imply things in Chinese culture. If you’re a guest and you show interest in something, your hosts may assume you want them to buy it for you. Being a good host is very important, and apparently anticipating your guests’ wishes and buying them things can be part of the deal. This happened to us once before already, and happened twice in Jì Xiàn. We asked about this one locally made drink they had at lunch and ended up going home with two cans, and when we were looking at prayer hanging-cards in the Guanyin temple and they started to go buy us some.

It was a long day – our brains were fried by the end – but well worth it.