Why I’m glad Qingdao is the beer capital of China

Being male in China means navigating the drinking culture, which varies from region to region. If you want to be healthy and not get drunk on a regular basis, this can be challenging. Not drinking would seriously hinder your social interaction with other men (never mind your ability to conduct business). That’s just how thoroughly embedded into the culture alcohol is. A lot of people — foreigners and Chinese — don’t see any middle ground; it’s either get sloshed or don’t have many male friends.

Just the other night a neighbour came over for a Christmas dinner. He brought me baijiu as a present but said he’d prefer to drink beer with dinner, and to drink slowly. That started a conversation about drinking in China, during which he explained that for two thousand years it’s been proper social etiquette for a host to display generosity by getting his guests drunk, and that only recently has this begun to slowly change toward the more “civilized” drinking of the West, where, in polite company, people can enjoy a little alcohol together but there’s no expectation or obligation to drink extreme amounts. (Turns out most adults don’t like getting routinely wasted — who knew?! ;) )

But that was an exceptional situation. Typically in Qingdao, a half-complete dinner between male friends looks like this:
restaurantbeersIt’d be easy to find bigger bottle displays to photograph; I just happened to snap this mid-meal on the way back from the bathroom the other night. To North Americans it might look like a lot of beer for a family restaurant, but to me it looks like *not baijiu*. Qingdao is the beer capital of China, and that means that — unlike our foreign friends in other parts of China — I don’t have to choose between dealing with baijiu or having male friends.

Because as we all know, one does not simply drink baijiu.

Imagine this in the average North American family restaurant

Imagine this, from the front counter of a neighbourhood restaurant, suddenly appearing one night in an average North American restaurant:
Chinese_health_drink
Perhaps, you can’t believe your eyes. But it’s exactly what it looks like: a full set of some male animal’s genitalia (seal, I’m guessing) soaking with gǒuqǐ berries and some other, unidentified ingredients in báijiǔ, China’s infamously impression-leaving hard liquor.

These health tonics in glass barrels on restaurant counters are pretty common in our area. For a fuller description, see:

Curiosity + China = way more than I bargained for

Drink this for your yang

Drink this for your yang

What, there’s a lineup of huge glass jars of whole snakes, lizards and deer penises soaking in booze on the drink counter? Well what did you expect to find there? This is China; China’s a whole nother version of normal.

Our preschool staff had Teacher’s Day dinner at an extravagant BBQ buffet, which included all-you-can-drink beer and traditional Chinese health tonics:

lizardjiu

Lizards, snakes, various roots, gǒuqǐ berries (枸杞), etc. of various combinations soaked in hard Chinese liquor (白酒):

lizardjiu

These kinds of tonics are not uncommon in Chinese restaurants around here. They’re usually intended to 补阳 (supplement your male qualities).

These things aren’t especially notable within China, and all the ingredients are available at the nearby traditional market (photos!), though this is the first time I’d seen these traditional drinks lined up in a ritzy buffet right next to the Coke and coffee machines. But if we’re talking outside of China… there’s just no end to the stuff around here that would raise a few eyebrows outside of China.