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.

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!