Homework with whisky and singing

Today I had whiskey with dofu chasers.

On the way out to the park to do some homework, I stopped at the bike repair guy’s corner to see if Mr. Lu would tighten my bike seat. Every time I went over a bump the seat would go vertical. He told me to sit down with his buddies for a snack, which turned out to be peanuts, shredded dofu, and whisky, with the dofu as the chaser. We ended up ‘chatting’ for almost an hour (not that I have anywhere near enough Mandarin to sustain a conversation that long).

We’ve read and heard lots about Chinese drinking customs, about how they should be avoided at all costs, and how they’re hard to avoid. At informal occasions like mine today, but especially at banquets, there can be a lot of toasting with strong drinks. It’s mostly the men; apparently it’s a manly-man thing to drink a lot, and there can be lots of goading and pressuring to get reluctant participants to drink more than they should. (Ironically, ethnic Chinese have one of the lowest genetic tolerances for alcohol, meaning that on average they get drunk easier than everyone else. Manly-man indeed…) Our friends that have lived here long enough, especially those that work in some sort of official capacity, have had to face the banquet scene a few times. They told us they just tell people something like, “We’re Christians so we don’t drink,” even if they do drink occasionally, and the rationale was that your only other choice is to get hammered. I never understood why it was apparently so hard to just stop after one drink. Can’t you just tell people no?

Today I got a small taste of how hard it can be. I only had one, but man I had to fight to keep it at one! These guys were persistent, to the point of trying to grab my cup and fill it for me, or trying to fill it when I was holding it and not paying attention for split second, or giving me all kinds of arguments and guilt trips (I imagine… Mr. Lu doesn’t slow down or simplify his speech for foreigners like others sometimes do so I don’t know what he was saying aside from the non-verbals). I wonder if a little bit has to do with you giving them face by accepting their hospitality, and saying no can be a little loss of face or something. Since you have to work so hard to refuse more, to the point of almost making a little scene, I can see how the pressure would be even greater at formal banquets where there’s a lot more face going around.

Still, tough rocks. I’m not going to be your drunk foreigner entertainment, and I’ve got more interesting ways to affirm my masculinity.

But we still had a good time. After the snack, I found a bench in the park and ending up talking with someone else for another hour. Then he saw one of his friends and we sat and talked with him. Jessica found us by then, and he and his friend (an erhu musician) sang us this song:

I’d tell you what it’s about, but, ah… it has something to do with “Who are you?” and the army… I think.

While I was talking in the park, this was going on. I promise you won’t get this stuff back home:

The guy I was chatting with asked me if I liked it. I told him it was interesting.

Tomorrow is May 4th, officially one of the most important holidays in China. Workers get a week off of work. Every gate on every apartment building around us (hundreds) is flying a Chinese flag. Fireworks almost every night. You can click here to see how a government site explains the significance of the May 4th Movement. It would be interesting to compare this to what is written in your history textbooks. From said government site:

Under the influence of the October Revolution in Russia, China’s May 4th Movement arose. During this great anti-imperialist, anti-feudal revolutionary movement led by patriotic students, the Chinese proletariat for the first time mounted the political stage. The May 4th Movement marked the change of the old democratic revolution to the new democratic revolution. It enabled Marxism-Leninism to further spread and link up with the Chinese people’s revolutionary practice, and prepared the ideology as well as the cadres necessary for the founding of the Communist Party of China…


8 thoughts on “Homework with whisky and singing”

  1. GREAT POST! LOOOOVE the video.. makes me feel like I am really there! .. well.. sort of.. The guys all seem so nice! .. heres a question.. do the Ladies of the house get out much? or is the park a more manly place?

    I cant wait to show the kids.. you better stop making this China thing so neat or I will have three kids going to China before I know it! :)

    I loved the singing.. by the way!

    happy Friday!

  2. Those guys were really nice. Everyone spends a lot of time outside, especially the retired people, men and women. I always see women sitting and chatting or exercising. Every morning below our bedroom window a group of retired women does exercise to music. But there does seem to be more men sitting around doing nothing than women, as the videos seem to show.

    People live in much smaller places here so they go out to relax and play. Our Taiwanese boss thought it was strange when he visited North America and everyone seemed to disappear off the streets in the evening.

  3. hey Joel! that’s so wild about the drinking story…that sounds exactly like the story Peter Hessler was telling in his book. i just finished it this week and it was amazing! please tell Jess thank you again for recommending it!

  4. Ha, yeah, except he got hammered, and all those folks were his supervisors, co-workers, and government cadres at a big banquet. That was a fun read, eh? I imagine it’s a little easier to refuse the bicycle repair guy on the corner, but I suppose we’ll find out eventually.

  5. This whole drinking thing reminds me of how people in Texas want to make all the other “non-texans” drink Dr. Pepper. funny huh..

    by the way.. did you guys get to take your texas couch with you?

  6. Yeah, but sugar and caffeine don’t have quite the same consequences (doesn’t stop me from abusing them, though!). We took three suitcases with us from Taiwan. The couch (mercifully) had to stay.

  7. haha, that is true…i must say that i’m quite grateful that women are not targeted in this way. :) at least not as much, anyway.

  8. I haven’t attended a Chinese wedding yet, but I’ve heard that the bride and groom are supposed to go around to each table and toast each person… I don’t know how anyone can survive that, esp. considering they use the Chinese equivalent of ‘white lightening,’ but we’ll see when we attend our first weddings. So if you wanted a socially acceptable opportunity to get hammered as a woman, maybe weddings are the ticket.

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