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…

“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.

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):

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: